Ethno-Botanical Parque Omaere
In 1993, Teresa Shiki, a Shuar ethno-botanist, with two other women purchased 15 hectares (37 acres) of land and formed an ethno-botanical park on the outskirts of Puyo, Ecuador. The goal was to communicate to the general public (and especially to students) the importance of plants to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon and the rest of the world. When purchased the land was a dairy and pasture for the milk cows and had been clear-cut of timber then planted with pasture grass. The women's goal was to reforest the land with plants that are medicinal, edible, ceremonial, and used for construction and are endemic to the indigenous people of the area. Teresa's dream came true, through the help of many people and a few organizations Omaere Foundation was created and the park opened for visitors. The word "Omaere" means "silva" (forest) or, "the natural" in the indigenous Huaorani language.
In 2000 Parque Etnobotánico Omaere was illegally taken over and occupied by the Kichwa Organization OPIP (Organizacion de Pueblos Indigenas de Pastaza) and much work was lost. The park went without maintenance, all the equipment was taken (including an entire building) and park attendance fell to zero after three years, and the park was abandoned. Teresa re-claimed the park and the Board of Directors then set about repairing the damage to the park and encouraging attendance. Teresa is a Shuar herbal healer, ethno-botanist, environmental activist and social educator who maintains and teaches the cultural history of plant medicine within the indigenous communities. Since the reclaiming of the park the three traditional houses and a shaman's hut have been repaired, trails have been re-opened and park attendance is healthy and increasing.
Visitors at the Omaere traditional Shuar garden
Parque Omaere sponsors training and seminars that relate to the education and preservation of indigenous culture. Youth under the age of twelve years are free and older students half price, large families and groups receive a twenty percent discount and with enough notice school groups are free. Each group touring the park has a guide that points out and explains the beneficial plants and their importance to indigenous cultures of the region. Each trail through the park leads through a different habitat and has a variety of different plants in each zone. After being freed from the cattle the old forest has reasserted itself to blend with the planted species to form a naturally functioning system. There is great similarity and yet many differences between the different areas of the park with each area supporting specific plants and organisms.
The Puyo River from Casa Huaorani- Parque Omaere on right
The preservation of indigenous culture is equal to the preservation of plant wisdom at Parque Omaere. As the Amazonian people are exposed to modern consumer culture they are forgetting much of their ancient knowledge. Religious groups working in the territories, the government and the military support and promote this severing of the ancient ways. The conversion to Catholicism and now Evangelist Christianity has dramatically altered village life from the traditional methods. Young men are told that they should not have long hair in their traditional style, they are told not to use the plant medicine but to rely on the pharmaceutical drugs, told their philosophy and native religion is false, they are told that their native dress and language mark them as uncivilized and savages. They are told that the modern world will never help them unless they become more like the people in the modern world. The amount of knowledge lost in the last generation is staggering and pressure to separate these people from their cultural roots mounts every day. This is why visits to traditional houses and stories about each culture are part of the tour, along with the plants, at Parque Omaere.
Typical home of the Huaorani natives
A major effect of the Evangelization of the Amazon has been to leave many of the communities without adequate medical help, medical supplies, food and other services. They are told to live in a new and better way but are left without the support or means to accomplish this and are being caught between cultures. This amounts to ethnic and cultural rape of the indigenous Peoples. As their traditional knowledge disappears (potentially forever) and the communities become ever more dependent on outside aid for survival the overall health of the people declines. The increased pressure on the communities to have income sources to pay for the medicine, hospital fees, food, clothes, cooking supplies and transportation has taken it toll in the cutting of forest for cattle pasture and the conversion of lagoon habit into fish farms. As medicine supply cabinets sit empty in the communities, guides at Parque Omaere teach visitors about the benefits of using the native plant medicines and their importance to the forest cultures. It is a race to save this knowledge before the civilized world stamps it out forever.
Variety of Floripondio- used to heal damage to bones
Shamanism has long been called evil, black magic, occult, the work-of-the-devil and has been targeted for extermination by all monotheistic religions of the world. Herbalists, Hearth Witches and Shamans have been curing people for eons and still do to this day. Today only a small percentage of the human population has access to adequate modern health care and many people, even those in large cities, go to local shamans and faith healers embedded within their communities, unknown by the officials and doctors, for their treatments. Healers of many cultures understand and use the life energy but do not leave this world as the shamans do. The ability to travel between the worlds to heal a patient, get important information for the community, or help in some other spiritual fashion is the domain of the shaman.
The Ayahuasca vine is used to access the spirit world
When asked, shamans and healers say that it was the Ayahuasca vine that taught their ancestors about the plant medicine and how to communicate with the plant kingdom in order to survive in the forest. For thousands of years this system of knowledge has served the communities of the Amazon and in traditional communities it still thrives. If this system did not work the people would have either died out or found something that did work thousands of years ago. To say that this source of knowledge and healing is the work of the devil is to close the door on a Natural Wisdom that surpasses our own and could help us lead healthier lives.
Parque Omaere is dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of this knowledge to future generations of indigenous people. As this matches the philosophy of Condor People and we will be continuing to build on this relationship. Fundacion Omaere and Parque Omaere are principal partners with Condor People in the Morona Reserve and we are thankful for their support, knowledge, the introductions to other indigenous people and groups.