Manari Kaji Ushigua is on a mission to defy god.
The Sápara nation, an aboriginal tribe living in the Amazon rainforest along the border of Ecuador and Peru, faces a threat to their livelihoods and the afterlife itself. China National Petroleum Corporation, the second largest oil company in the world, has won a bid from the Ecuadorian government to begin drilling for oil in the Sápara’s ancestral territory.
Ignoring the wishes of his late father, and the gods that spoke through him to command the Sápara to abandon the rainforest, Manari is fighting to defend the land of his people.
Formerly numbering at 20,000, the Sápara have endured centuries of exploitation from other indigenous tribes. By the end of the 20th century, enslavement and the destruction of their land as a result of the Amazon rubber trade had driven their population to under 600.
Standing in room W4525 of the Melville Library at Stony Brook University, garbed in the traditional dress of the indigenous shamans, Manari shared his story and the teachings of life among the Sápara.
“There are spirits among the oil lagoons underground,” Manari said in Spanish. He spoke with the help of a translator. “And those are connected to the spirits in the mountains, and the plants.”
Many students in the journalism program at Stony Brook had become interested in the plight of the Sápara through “Secret Reserves”. Pablo Calvi, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism, extended the invitation to Manara to visit the university.
“I was excited to meet Manari for the past month because it would mean looking Pablo’s story, and the indigenous story, in the eye,” Demi Guo, a student in the School of Journalism said. “Their plight is universal. It isn’t just about Standing Rock or the conditions on the Shinnecock reservation.”
The Sápara nation has joined with organizations within Ecuador, along with other indigenous peoples within the international community, to petition against the extraction of oil within their lands.
All photos by Kevin Urgiles