Posted by: calloftheandes | March 27, 2014

Waorani Tribal Members in Ecuador Charged with Avenging Killings

A year after an elderly couple in Ecuador’s indigenous Waorani tribe were speared to death near Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, approximately six Waorani men are jailed in Orellana province on accusations they avenged the couple’s deaths by killing up to 30 people. The incarcerated Waorani are facing charges approved as part of Ecuador’s new penal code—genocide.

Ompore Omeway and Buganey Caiga, both Waorani, were speared to death on March 5, 2013. The account of their violent deaths is based upon testimony of a witness, Nemongona, also of Waorani descent. After the killings, the suspicions of fellow Waorani fell on the Taromenane—a group whose lifestyle hidden within the jungle yields little or no contact with the outside world.

Walking with the couple before the ambush, Nemongona had fallen behind, thus escaping the killing. The public prosecutor in Ecuador’s Orellana province placed the deaths of Omeway, 70, and Caiga, 64, as occurring near the village of Yarentaro.

Spokespeople from various sectors (nongovernmental, governmental and Waorani) point to different antecedents as possibly explaining the motivations behind the killings. One generally accepted theory centers around deaths of Taromenane from contaminated food dropped from an aircraft.

Another explanation was that the Taromenane viewed Omeway as a liaison between their world and that of the cowode (outsiders). When his advocacy failed, the relationship went awry.

A third group that has chosen to live in isolation, the Tagaeri, have reportedly killed cowode as well. Though the Taromenane and Tagaeri people are genetically related, their cultural paths diverged decades ago when one of the subgroups embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ following contact with evangelical missionaries.

A Cycle of Violence

Last spring a Waorani leader claimed that his fellow Waorani had staged a revenge attack as retaliation on the Taromenane later in March 2013, bringing back two young indigenous girls kidnapped after the massacre. Ecuadorian media initially reported as fact these claims by Kawatipe Yeti, president of the Nacionalidad Waorani del Ecuador (NAWE or Waorani Nation of Ecuador) at the time of the killings.

“According to him (Yeti), the principal evidence is the presence of the two Taromenane girls,” reported La Hora newspaper. When helicopter flyovers produced no obvious massacre site and authorities were dubious, Yeti said, “They don’t see photos of death, so they doubt what people say.”

Only the older of the two girls (about 6 years of age) was later “rescued” by Ecuadorian authorities. She was placed in government care for a period of time and later released to live in Bameno, another Waorani village. The younger girl reportedly continues to reside in Yarentaro.

In May a Waorani leader, Orengo Tokari, told Día a Día Televisión (Day to Day Television) that he had organized and led a March 29 raid on the Taromenane. (Taromenane death tolls in the varied accounts ranged from five to Yeti’s statement of 30.) Portions of the Tokari statement (who described himself as a nephew of Omeway) matches another claim.

An unnamed source stated that automatic weapons were acquired (did not say from whom), then transported in boxes by boat and later in pickup truck to finally reach the settlement where the guns were used. Some discrepancy in casualty tolls may be attributed to Waorani numerical counting in which “many” describes any number above four.

The “official version” of what happened comes from a statement released by the Organización de la Nacionalidad Waorani de Orellana (Waorani Nation Organization of Orellana or ONWO) in April 2013, based upon conversations with families and relatives of Omeway and Caiga. The statement also lamented about the loss of land to “deforestation, agriculture and cattle ranching.”

The ONWO account stated that the Taromenane had “expressed their anger to Ompore and Bogueney about the noise, unknown crop planting, too many cowode, trees being cut down and [oil rigs].” The Taromenane had demanded advocacy by the Waorani couple with the outsiders, but “evidently, Ompore and Bogueney could not help,” indicating this may have provoked the attack.

Ecuadorian Attorney General Galo Chiriboga had indicated last spring that Ecuador’s government would exact justice for the deaths and not repeat the error of 2003, referring to internecine violence by Waorani fighters against the Taromenane. No formal charges followed those killings. An international body, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, later requested of Ecuador protection for the nation’s non-contacted peoples, and Ecuador granted the request.

Yet another claim by a would be avenger of the deaths surfaced in August when Ramón Inkeri from the village of Guiyero (where he is president) claimed he had led a spearing raid on the Taromenane. Inkeri’s account lacked female hostages and lacked the attackers themselves when a Miami Herald reporter asked to interview them. Jim Wyss wrote that “when we asked to visit some of the men, he said they were out hunting.”

The Waorani and Christianity

The ONWO statement asserts that the Waorani were taken to live in communities established by missionaries, facilitating the arrival of oil companies, their roads and platforms built on lands that had been abandoned.

Retired Reach Beyond medical missionary Dr. Wally Swanson, however, viewed the gospel’s influence among the Waorani as a great benefit. Serving at the mission’s former Hospital Vozandes-Shell when polio began to strike down the Waorani of the jungle in the late 1960s, he helped to save many Waorani lives.

His Ecuadorian medical license studies on Waorani morbidity and mortality had revealed to him that revenge killings had been decimating the group. Swanson said that interviews with tribal members produced no one who could recall a nonviolent death among Waorani men, going back four generations. “Seventy-five percent of the women and children who had died—that they knew about and could remember—had died the same way,” he said.

Anthropologist Dr. Jim Yost reported similar findings after his documentation of the Waorani culture on behalf of Summer Institute of Linguistics. “Of the reported deaths spanning up to five generations, only two individuals purportedly died of natural causes in old age,” Yost wrote. “Forty-four percent of the deaths were a result of intratribal spearing, and 5 percent were due to infanticide. Seventeen percent were a result of [cowode] shootings and captures; snakebites accounted for another 5 percent and illness 11 percent.”

In 1956 Waorani warriors speared to death five North American missionaries who had attempted to make friendly contact. Two years later Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint, both surviving family members of those killed, moved into a Waorani community to share the gospel and begin putting the Waorani language into written form. Among the early converts to Christianity were the same men who had killed the five missionaries along the Curaray River. Peaceful interaction between the Waorani and the outside began in 1958.

The homicide rate quickly dropped dramatically and Swanson’s intervention at Rachel Saint’s request helped many of the tribe survive a polio outbreak of the 1960s. But as Yost observed upon arriving in the 1970s, “there were many things happening—oil exploration, timber, tourism—all kinds of things that could influence the culture and cause it to change dramatically without being documented.”

Christians Not Exempt from Violence

After leaving Ecuador and returning to the U.S., Yost has kept in touch with the Waorani. At a 2006 Waorani conference marking the 50th anniversary of the missionary slayings, he said at Toñampare in the Ecuadorian jungle, “These are some of the most beautiful people on earth. I love them.” Many of them were crowded around him, shoulder to shoulder with relatives of the five slain missionaries.

Amid a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation of killers and their victims’ relatives however, sorrow and even vengeance continue to complicate the Waorani picture. At the 2006 conference, a Waorani man publicly confessed his involvement in a spearing raid—to him a lapse into the lifestyle of his unevangelized ancestors.

Other accounts overflowed with hope of a growing church among the Waorani. One church leader, Kawi, recounted the story of a young Waorani, Toña, who felt God wanted him to evangelize tribal members who had not yet heard of Christ’s sacrifice for them. He was the first Waorani to be killed in efforts to evangelize the tribe.

Kimo, at right, attended a baptism of Waorani in January 2006 at the Curaray River

Kimo, at right, attended a baptism of Waorani in January 2006 at the Curaray River

“We’ll continue to see results of that fruit of what Toña did and what the five [missionary martyrs] did,” Kawi said, addressing the crowd in a village named to honor the memory of Toña.

Indeed, at a baptismal service at that Waorani conference in 2006, some of Kawi’s listeners were the descendants of those who decades before had killed Toña.

Sources: Reach Beyond, Aucas Downriver, El Comercio, Twenty Years of Contact: The Mechanisms of Change in Wao (“Auca”) Culture


  1. […] following year (2014) approximately six Waorani men were imprisoned in Orellana province for what court proceedings determined were their roles in avenging the couple’s deaths by killing up to 30 Taromenane and kidnapping two girls as war […]

  2. […] year after the elderly Waorani were killed, approximately six Waorani men were imprisoned for what court proceedings determined were their roles in avenging the couple’s deaths by killing up to 30 […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: