Home Books & Miscellany Nemonte Nenquimo: Monito Ome Goronte Enamai *

Nemonte Nenquimo: Monito Ome Goronte Enamai *

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Nemonte Nenquimo: Monito Ome Goronte Enamai *
Namonte raises her hand soiled with petroleum photographed by Mitch Anderson/Amazon Frontlines

MC: You have a natural wisdom and a knowledge inherited from your ancestors. Nowadays, do you transmit this knowledge orally or you rely on modern school education school too?

NN: Each family teaches their children. Both parents pass the knowledge orally in our culture. Our grandparents are passing away so we would like to have a written record [a book or a documentary). Kids already read and also go to school but they should not forget about their roots, their culture. I agree that they can learn from Western culture but they should never disregard their ancestors. They must have an own vision, their “cosmic vision”. There are valuable things to learn from white people but some stuff is banal and could destroy our traditions and customs. I travel, I am not always in the forest but I have a clear vision, I am aware of my actions. I defend the forest and protect our lives, our nature and self-determination. I don’t change. It worries me that some Wao people no longer embrace our community life because of what they see in the outside world. This is a great worry for me. That is why we highlight our roots and we make it clear not to take the bad examples from the white people.

MC: How can we live in balance with nature?

NN: First, we eat healthy and we have a wholesome living space. We [Wao people] are bound by the same connection, we share our food. If a family needs something, we just give it to them; we exchange food, fruit, meat and sembrillo [what the Wao harvest] with those who are in need.

We do not look at other families and judge their existence. This seems to be common in white culture. We do not compete; ours is a pure spiritual existence.

MC: You said “Everything begins in the “omere”; the forest”, right?

NN: Yes, “omere”… That means forest or woods. Our language is the Wao Tededo. We say that the forest nourishes us.

Nemonte and the women of the Wao photographed by Mitch Anderson/Amazon Frontlines

MC: What makes you happy, what gives you joy?

NN: Freedom! To breathe pure air, without pollution, I am happy when I have food, clear water and clean air from nature – the way that nature intended it to be. In this way one lives in peace and quiet, with no worries. You only go out to saw or to hunt. Another thing that makes me glad is that we share with our neighbors; live with them, help each other and live united. There is no place for individualism. We ALL exist and vibrate in harmony and this is what makes for peace. Concordance is happiness. Other people have a different spirit. They think that money gives them a better life or that an individual who has better clothes or a bigger house is a better person. Money also attracts vices such as alcohol. I have seen families ruined and remaining restrained by domestic violence due to alcohol. Waoroni men are not violent; they do not ill-treat women. There is equality. Each of us helps the other [men and women] to keep children healthy and happy. There is no room for envy.

MC: My view is that people who live in contact with nature, even from western cultures are different. There are also people who still are in a very low level of empathy and spirituality. What else do you believe in?

NN: Our God is spiritual. We have shamans as guides. They advise as, they tell us what is going to happen according to their visions. Grandparents [men and women] have spiritual powers too. They say to us: “This is wrong or such-and-such will happen.” In places where the Wao live amidst white people, they [the Wao] do not practice this anymore; it is very sad. They have lost the will to saw “yuga” or to hunt for meat. There are fights, divisions, they are confused.

MC: I understand. It is when people from outside get inside your community culture and “poison” you with things that are of no good for the spirit…

NN: Yes, that is true. I insist that Wao people should contribute, even if it is little. We are givers. To be compassionate makes us happy. We also share love and wellness. I am fond of living that way, mine is a life without fights, violence or alcohol. I live in harmony, free and happy. It is simple: love and compassion. I fight for that reason. After so many years I still believe and stand for my rights. It is the only way to protect our territory and life. You have supermarkets, hardware stores… We have the same things. In the Amazonía we have medicine, fruit, our fish, animals and places where we go to worship our spiritual gods.

MC: Do you think that there is room for hope in such a destructive world?

NN: Yes, of course I do! And it will be achieved through the fight for unity. We have to make strategic alliances. I am sure that there are lots of people in the world who want to reconnect with nature. People have become aware that they live in small places like apartments, they long for better places. I hope they join indigenous people to preserve the forest. We ask other countries, the UN, activists, environmentalists and others, to join us in our claim because our cause is for all human beings. Capitalism and governments do not tell the truth because it is hard to remain reconciled with the earth when all you think of is money from oil, wood and mines.

MC: I agree, the felling of trees and digging of mines are both so harmful…

NN: Right! We want to make alliances with other indigenous people and white people too – mostly women, I should say because women know how to deal with leadership in a different way. I see that men are the leaders in your culture and that women are left as vice president or awarded low profile roles. To me it is clear that what men think is more important. It would be much better if men and women could work together for the sake of the planet. I hope for equality.

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María Verónica Cabeza writes poetry, prose and is also a photographer. She lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She writes in Spanish and English and is a regular contributor to magazines in Argentina and elsewhere.

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