Last month, the Delaware College of Art and Design exhibited “The Ese’Eja People of the Amazon: Connected by a Thread”, exploring the life of one of the few extant foraging societies of Peru and Bolivia through photographs, daguerreotypes and artifacts. The images were made by University of Delaware MFA graduate Andrew Bale and University of Delaware photography faculty Jon Cox. The items were curated by Dr. Monica Dominguez Torres and Dr. Vicki Cassman, also University of Delaware faculty members.
The show illustrates a worldview, a way of life, a heritage and the contemporary challenges facing these resilient people as Amazonia loses many of its indigenous cultures along with the deep knowledge and wisdom these cultures have of the interconnectedness of nature.
As this National Geographic article notes:
The Ese’Eja believe they climbed down to Earth from a cotton thread in the sky. The elders in their community point out the exact spot in the forest of this legendary descent. A traditionally nomadic community, the Ese’Eja have a long history that demonstrates a spiritual connection with the Amazon. Their nomadic lifestyle began to change in the late 19th century when rubber was discovered and rubber tappers created permanent settlements in the Amazonian region.
The Ese’Eja hunter-gatherer way of life was further disrupted with the arrival of missionaries from the 1910s to 1930s. Ese’Eja children were taken away from their families to live in mission schools in Puerto Maldonado. Permanent settlement initiatives of the Ese’Eja people continued when the Peruvian military government of Velasco introduced indigenous peoples land rights reform in the early 1970s giving land titles to individual communities. However, the title and actual acreage was only a small percentage of the Ese’Eja original ancestral home range. These newly demarcated boundaries limited and even excluded Ese’Eja access to sacred sites and many of the traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering areas that they relied on before the land reform policies of the 1970s.
The Ese’Eja have limited access to their ancestral lands due to conflict over land rights with the Peruvian government. Carlos Dejaviso Poje, president of the Ese’Eja Nation says: “I worry most about losing the indigenous knowledge of our people. It would be a cultural genocide if we lost our customs and we didn’t know how to value what our ancestors valued.”
Here are a few images from the exhibition: