The Achuar

The Achuar are a group of indigenous peoples in the Amazon, with a rich, ancient culture who work to preserve their environment and community, and partnered to create The Pachamama Alliance.

The Achuar: Ancient People of Ecuador

Smiling Achuar Community
Young Achuar men during a cultural exchange with visitors

The Achuar are a group of indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin, currently numbering around 6,000. Their ancestral lands – nearly 2 million acres in all – straddle the modern borders of Ecuador and Peru, a remote area that has allowed them to preserve their way of life with little outside influence or colonization.

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The Achuar are located along the Pastaza River basin in Ecuador.

Achuar Wisdom

The Achuar have lived in and with the Amazon rainforest for thousands of years, and their wisdom represents an invaluable resource for organizations and people concerned with the loss of this irreplaceable treasure.

As custodians of the rainforest, the Achuar maintain a rich culture, including systems of economic and social organization based on the intricate natural rhythms of their environment.

A Self-Sufficient Dream Culture

All aspects of their culture reflect a spirituality oriented around dreams and visions. The Achuar have many ancient, refined rituals to access dreams and integrate them into daily life. Shamans, as the keepers of this ritual knowledge, play a central role in Achuar ceremonial life and community health.

Throughout their history, the Achuar have been self-sufficient and autonomous, sustaining their family groups through hunting and gardening. Once semi-nomadic people, most Achuar now live in small villages, a result of contact with Christian missionaries in the 1960s.

Meeting the “Modern” World in the Rainforest

Achuar Men with SpearsAchuar men with hunting spears

Oil concessions in the rainforest were first granted in the early 20th century by the Ecuadorian government, with further access granted in the 1960s, when exploration and development increased precipitously. Other industries, such as lumber, rubber, and industrial agriculture, had a similar history in the region.

While their remote territory largely protected them from colonization, the Achuar did experience some change to their ancestral way of life and observed the destruction of neighboring indigenous cultures and communities.

By the 1980s, Achuar elders and shamans were having visions of a grave and imminent threat to their people and culture. As industries moved systematically closer and closer to their ancestral lands, they recognized that the roots of this threat lay far beyond their rainforest home.

Visionary Partnerships

Achuar Guide Smiles with Journey Participant
A Pachamama Journeys participant with Achuar guide after participating in a traditional face painting

The Achuar believe that retreating in fear from a powerful vision represents a lost opportunity to transform it from a potential source of domination into a connection with ancient wisdom and individual purpose.

Achuar elders and shamans courageously moved toward the threatening vision, initiating a coalition with related – but traditionally warring – indigenous communities, including the Shuar people.

Joining Eagle & Condor

They also initiated a partnership with committed individuals living in the modern world. This partnership grew into The Pachamama Alliance, and was based in the belief that all people on this planet have a critical stake in the well-being of the rainforest, whether they live according to ancestral traditions or those of the so-called “modern” world.

In addition to their own dream culture, the Achuar’s call for this partnership was informed by the Eagle & Condor prophecy, which they share with other indigenous peoples of Central and South America.

Innovating in Ecuador & Beyond

An Achuar mother and child

From the beginning, the Achuar partnership with The Pachamama Alliance has been a powerful and successful example of intercultural collaboration and mutual exchange.

Redefining Sustainability

One of the first initiatives was the Achuar’s development and implementation of an integrated resource management plan for their territory. The overarching goal of this plan and subsequent initiatives is to ensure the long-term wellbeing of the Achuar lands and culture, and establish their right to self-determination at the local, national, regional, and international level.

Four general areas of action support the overarching goal:

  • Developing sustainable economic enterprises
  • Recording traditional Achuar knowledge and practices
  • Strengthening their ability to defend their lands against outside encroachment
  • Building up their governing federation and its leadership

The Pachamama Alliance’s primary role is to provide access to technical expertise and funding that further such action.

Two notable successes that have evolved from this partnership are the Kapawi Eco-Lodge and the inclusion of Rights of Nature in the 2008 Ecuador Constitution.

“Changing the Dream of the North”

While the Achuar expressed that their work with Pachamama in Ecuador was important, they also insisted that it was equally important for their Northern partners to “change the dream of the North” – to work within their own “modern” culture, shifting it from wasteful consumerism to a less destructive, more sustainable paradigm.

Guided by the Achuar’s teaching, The Pachamama Alliance has developed a number of initiatives to promote education and awareness in the “modern” world. These initiatives have enjoyed growing global success, and, along with continued achievements in South America, demonstrate the potential power of joining ancient and modern wisdom.

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