Posted by: calloftheandes | September 17, 2018

Ecuador: Witness to Violence against Missionaries, Dawä Embraced Their Beliefs

by Ralph Kurtenbach

Watching from the opposite shore of the Curaray River, Dawä witnessed the fatal spearings of five young missionaries by six Waorani, including her husband, Kimo Yeti (also spelled Kemo or Quemo). In the aftermath of the 1956 attack in Ecuador’s rainforest —the plane’s canvas wings shredded, one victim face down, partially submerged in the river—also lay the body of missionary pilot Nate Saint.

Dawa in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador (Photo by Brian Reed, I-TEC. Used with permission.)

The announcement decades later of Dawä’s own death came from Saint’s son, Steve. His weblog entry affectionately remembers the Waorani woman as “Dawä, My Tribal Grandmother.” He said her July 15 death had resulted from complications of gall bladder surgery in a Puyo hospital, at the edge of Ecuador’s Amazon region.

Decades on, people take varied perspectives on the efforts by Saint’s father, along with Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully and Roger Youderian to contact the indigenous group then known as savages, or Aucas. However, at the heart of matter lies an undeniable—and to many unexplainable—fact: forgiveness of the killers by the missionaries’ surviving family members.

“The prayers of the widows themselves,” wrote Elisabeth Elliot in the 1957 book, Through Gates of Splendor, “are for the Aucas. We look forward to the day when these savages will join us in Christian praise.”

Dawä was born in about 1935. Her world carried a constant threat of attack or reprisals by other Waorani. At eight years old or so, she survived one such killing spree that left many of her immediate family dead. Kimo, who helped to carry out the raid, then took her as a child bride.

In the 1956 missionary killings, Dawä had hidden in the jungle, later relating her helplessness to end the massacre. In the skirmish, a missionary’s weapon discharged, injuring her wrist, according to one account. She later considered it a warning shot not intended for her, since she was well concealed.

Two years later a Waorani runaway, Dayömæ “Dayuma” Cænto, returned to the tribe. She was accompanied by Nate Saint’s sister, Rachel Saint, and Elisabeth Elliot.

The homecoming for Dayuma posed a dangerous venture for her as well as for her two companions, but the result was the first extended nonviolent Waorani encounter with outsiders. Tutored by Dayuma, the women continued to learn Waorani and began teaching the people the gospel.

Dawä was an early Waorani follower of Christianity—the first, according to Saint, who wrote that she plied Dayuma for a careful explanation of “all she knew about Wængonguï (the creator) and the Good Trail [that] Itota (Jesus) had marked with His blood.” Other accounts have noted Dayuma’s conversion as the first. Kimo meanwhile, built a house for the two missionary women, receiving threats from fellow tribesmen that the house would become for him, a grave. But the threats were not carried out against Kimo.

Earlier high levels of violence had made Waorani lives short and trauma-filled. Subsequent studies have since documented that pacification occurred as tribe members became Christians.

“Of the reported deaths spanning up to five generations, only two individuals purportedly died of natural causes in old age,” wrote Dr. Jim Yost, a Summer Institute of Linguistics anthropologist whose studies accompanied living with the tribe from 1974 to 1984.“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 or outsider] shootings and captures; snakebites accounted for another 5 percent and illness 11 percent.”

Analyzing the Waorani collective psyche, Yost said, “In the first decade that I lived among the Waorani, I doubt a day ever passed that I didn’t hear the wrenching stories of past atrocities.”

To Yost, Dayuma’s re-entry to the tribe in 1958 created her status as a cultural broker between the diverse populations (for example, the various Waorani groups as well as the Quichua who she had lived with). From that period, the gospel’s influence allowed for “an increase in scale for Waorani society,” Yost said.

Increase in scale entails growth in numbers, population density, breadth of social relationships, economy, all owed to reduced hostilities (internecine and with outsiders) and fewer deaths by infanticide. Yost said that this period also saw “the end of the notion that all outsiders [cowode] are cannibals and the development of a sense of trust in the [cowode].”

Modern accounts of the Waorani show them struggling to leave behind some of the old ways. Minkaye Ænkædi, a participant in the 1956 killings, insisted on the title Gentle Savage Still Seeking the End of the Spear for a 2013 book. This was “because it has been stated in the outside world that the days of spearing among the Waorani are over, which is far from the truth.” Kimo, who followed his wife in placing faith in Christ, collaborated with Minkaye on the book, as did another of the killers, Dyuwi Tani (also spelled as Yowi Tañi or Yowe Täñe).

In this milieu, for some Waorani, growing old has been a blessing accompanying the gospel. When in March 2014, Dayuma died in her sleep, she was past 80. Dawä attained an approximate age of 83 years.

Steve Saint said that Dawä was a key figure in the Waorani story, yet her death would not be broadly mourned, as “not many people know who this very special woman was.”

Dawä was a Waorani trained community/village health practitioner (ILV staff photo used by permission).

Dawä continued living in the Ecuadorian rainforest where she was born, even as both Dayuma (in 1957) and Kimo (in 1966) accompanied Rachel Saint abroad and appeared on the platform during evangelistic crusades of Reverend Billy Graham.

Pat Kelley, who served with SIL and later with Reach Beyond, lived among the Waorani, doing language and education field work. Today she and Waorani friends remain in touch. She found Dawä a strong woman, alternately defending her culture or confronting when it conflicted with what became her own personal Christian convictions, principles and lifestyle. Dawä and Kimo, unable to have children, raised several orphans and she mentored a wider group of Waorani girls.

“Almost daily,” Kelley said “they heard her words of wisdom and ‘admonitions’ while working with her in garden patches, bathing in the river, trekking in the jungle or when at the end of a day they gathered around her house in the village of Tzapino.”

“On the occasions when her own words,  ‘Ba, ämopa!!” – ‘I say, No!’ wasn’t enough,” Kelley wrote, “she was not hesitant to then invoke a ‘Wængonguï, “Ba!!’ angantapa.’ – ‘God says “No!!’ It was typical of her lifestyle . . . much to the end.” For decades, Dawä, a trained community/village health practitioner, cared for the community’s physical and spiritual health.

For Steve Saint, the missionary widows’ prayers for the Waorani have been accompanied by ministry efforts. After Rachel Saint’s death, he accepted the tribe’s invitation for his family to live with them in Ecuador. He did so, and then moved back to the United States after a year, explaining that he did not want to create a dependency upon him.

Saint also developed an organization,  Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center (I-TEC), to help the Waorani and other indigenous groups innovate ways of adapting to encroaching dominant cultures.

Left to right, Paa, Dawä, Kimo and Ken Fleming at a Waorani Christian conference in Ecuador in 2006.

Dawä is survived by Kimo as well as the Waorani who respected her Christian influence.  In addition, she leaves a legacy. Her detailed account of the 1956 event revealed a supernatural dimension.

Decades after the killings, one of the widows, Olive Fleming Liefeld, and her daughter, Holly, visited the Waorani in Ecuador. With interpretation by Rachel Saint—then with some three decades of living with the Waorani—Dawä told of strangers above the trees singing over the bodies on the beach. Kimo, sitting with Dawä, Rachel and their visitors, said he too had seen and heard the music.

Responding, Holly offered that the Waorani had made it up. But immediately, Rachel Saint discounted Holly’s conjecture, because “she had heard the Waorani tell stories for many years, and had verified their accuracy again and again,” wrote Liefeld.

Years later Steve Saint, writing in Christianity Today, said that Dawä’s account has been confirmed by three of the killers—Kimo, Mincaye and Dyuwi, although the latter “describes what he saw more like lights, moving around and shining, a sky full of jungle beetles similar to fireflies with a light that is brighter and doesn’t blink.” The experience drew Dawä to God when Dayuma spoke of Him.

According to Saint, Dawä “didn’t know what this kind of music was until she later heard records of Aunt Rachel’s and became familiar with the sound of a choir.”

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