Sacred Ground

By Julie Chapman

I sat in the shade of a thatched roof, surrounded by walls constructed of branches laced together with leaf fibers and on a floor made from sliced bamboo stalks. Rain clouds dotted the sky while the sun’s rays warmed the air. Sweat appeared upon my forehead. A slight breeze stirred from the sheet of paper that I waved from side to side.

 

Small brown faces with eyes the color of dark chocolate stared back at me. The Achuar children of the Ecuadorian rainforest, ages three to 15, had gathered with our group of ten Americans, who were on a cultural exchange with Pachamama Alliance, an U. S. nonprofit that partners with Achuar people to help them protect their homeland.

The children stood and introduced themselves in Spanish, their second language. “Me llamo Patricio,” one boy said as he told his name. A 15-year-old girl said, “Me llamo Marisol,” and stated her age. After the youngest had sat down, we were next. “Me llamo Julie,” I said. I told them my age and I heard stifled giggles. Their perception of a 50-year-old woman is one of frailty and wrinkles and I seemed to belie that image.

Our journey to Tiinkias included an hour ride in a tiny Cessna, an hour-long hike to the river, a two-hour canoe trip and finally another hour hiking through deep mud. We asked questions about life in the jungle. When Marisol said that she enjoyed grammar and math, many nodded their heads in agreement. Their favorite non-school activities are fishing and swimming in the cool water of a nearby watering hole. When one of them held up a soccer ball, we decided to play. Tall sticks outlined the goals on their homemade field. Girls and boys, all barefoot, gathered with four of the American adults. My heavy boots made walking in the mud bearable, but running a challenge, so I went barefoot, too. After dividing the group into two teams, we began. The children were competitive and cheered with each good play. Smiles and laughter followed the ball.

In the 1960s, Christian missionaries moved deep into the Amazon River Basin and profoundly changed the lives of the indigenous people they encountered. Previously the natives had lived a nomadic existence; now they have established small villages. They began to wear clothes brought from the outside world and educate their children in school settings. Groups of Christian Achuars exist, but the majority has kept their ancestral spirituality of the forest.

In 2008, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s new government created a constitution where nature has inalienable rights. Giving nature a voice is a first in environmental rights. In 2011, he appealed to the world to help Ecuador keep their fossil fuel in the ground in the Yasuni National Park by raising half of what Ecuador could make through oil drilling. This controversial plea gathered some support, but not enough money to propel their economy into the future. Facing crippling indebtedness to China, Correa’s government agreed to allow the Chinese drilling rights. The indigenous tribes that live in these regions are gravely concerned. Oil spills are common where drilling has occurred, along with strife, disease and pollution.

With the surplus of oil money from China, Ecuador’s economy is in a state of growth. Roads and highways across the country are improving, as is the school system. Ecuadorians who live in the capital, Quito, are pleased with the progress. With the advent of auto loans, the number of cars on the roads has doubled. Denizens of the capital say that they are finally proud to be Ecuadorians. In contrast, the tribes of the Amazon are fearful that their way of life will be tragically altered.

These two viewpoints are at odds. One is for progress and leaving the Third World status behind. The other wants the old ways to continue. This dichotomy is complicated and challenging, with no easy solution.

What did I learn from my visit? Upon reflection, I realize that the rainforest and nature in general need protection. When people live in close relationship to nature, nature’s rhythm becomes their own — a slow underlying pace that keeps us present. I witnessed this in the rainforest and also observe it in my life in the Lowcountry. Many in the Charleston region interact with the ocean, its inhabitants and the tides on a regular basis.

God created the earth to bring us sustenance and joy, and treating the earth with respect shows God our thankfulness. My blog, sacredgroundwriting.blogspot.com, has a comprehensive list of energy-saving strategies and an in-depth description of my time with the Achuars.

 

Julie Chapman, through her Sacred Ground column, brings a faith-based perspective to being open to God’s presence in travel and throughout our daily lives. She resides in Mt. Pleasant with her four children who love to travel as much as she does. You may contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.