MIWAGUNO, Ecuador – Residents of some indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon are choosing to rely on the natural remedies used by their ancestors as they battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 3,200 indigenous people have contracted the coronavirus and 49 have perished, according to figures from Ecuador’s Health Ministry, but elders in this Waorani settlement on the edge of Yasuni National Park where nobody has died of COVID-19 have more confidence in traditional healing than modern medicine.
“We took natural, ancestral medicines, such as boiled lemon water and wild garlic,” Miwaguno’s leader, Juan Enomenga, told EFE.
And the faith in the wisdom of their forbears extends to combining the remedies with religious rites to ward off COVID-19.
The Waorani have nothing to lose by following the teaching of “our grandparents and mothers,” Enomenga said.
Another element of Miwaguno’s response to the pandemic is barring strangers from entering. Because the community depends economically on the sale of craft items, the artisans set up a makeshift marketplace at a sports and recreation center from homes.
The money from selling necklaces and bracelets to outsiders generates an income that allows Miwaguno to survive amid the twin threats of COVID-19 and the oil companies that are despoiling the environmentally sensitive region.
The 3,700-strong Waorani population in Orellana have acquired an international profile thanks to the prominence of Nemonte Nenquimo, named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020 for her role in winning a court ruling that protects the group’s ancestral home.
Miwaguno was the first Waorani community to be touched by COVID-19, in June, four months after the virus was detected in Ecuador, where the pandemic death toll is approaching 14,000 and confirmed cases have topped 206,000.
“We were frightened because we thought that if someone became infected, it was going to kill the whole community, that nobody would be saved,” Enomenga said, recalling the initial reaction when a 21-year-old woman in Miwaguno tested positive a few days after coming down with what she thought was the common cold.
Because she was pregnant, the patient was hesitant to take any medication. And community elders decided not to report the positive test to the nearest hospital.
“If we died, we would die here,” Enomenga said, adding that the woman was treated successfully with ancestral methods.
The community is making a special effort to protect the elderly, known in the indigenous language as “pikenani,” who are not only the most vulnerable to COVID-19, but the custodians of the vital ancestral knowledge.
“Almost 15 of us became infected and we were treated with natural medicine,” 80-year-old coronavirus survivor Pego Enomenga told EFE.
Like most of Miwaguno’s inhabitants, she is a skilled artisan. Pego’s specialty is crafting blowguns used for hunting in the jungle.