The Siekoya People of the Ecuadorian Amazon

Adventure

"Pure magic", I say to myself as I remember that Siekoya means People of Colors.

After having spent the night at Wilmer’s nice house, tucked imperceptibly amidst the lush jungle vegetation and a few steps from the southern banks of the Aguarico River, Will, my native guide, takes me on a short pre-breakfast hike following a nature trail around the house. Huge ficus trees, bromeliads and hundreds of species of plants testimony the amazing biodiversity of the area. My guide’s enthusiasm is contagious and his knowledge vast. The rainforest and its immense plant life are home to hundreds of species of insects, colorful butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, monkeys and even amazing tree-sloths. Birds are one of the main highlights and, as it is early in the morning, they are quite active. We stop to watch the incessant activity of the colorful “caciques”, with their brilliant yellow-rumps shining in the morning sun and their rare hanging nests making the upper branches of the taller trees look like Christmas trees. 

Cacicus Cela "Cacique" (photo credits: Geoff Galice)

Will belongs to the Siekoya ethnic group, one of the smallest in population of Ecuador’s more than fifteen nationalities. This is their land, the southern shores of the Aguarico River, an important tributary of the Amazon, on Ecuador’s north-central Amazonia. They are hard-working, amicable people, dedicated to some basic farming, animal raising, natural medicine and they have a special skill for art. Their language, Cosmo vision, dresses and body painting are not the same as those of the other indigenous groups living in the Amazon rainforest. They are very proud of their ancestral traditions and origins.

After the hike, we take a short canoe ride upriver, to the house and estate of Will’s father, located also by the shores of the great Aguarico River. Don César is one of the patriarchs of the Siekoya people, a charming man in his early sixties who, in addition to his native Siekoya language, speaks Amazon Kichwa, good Spanish and understands several English words. Doña María, his wife, is an equally charming lady, with beautiful long and of a very intense black hair. The spontaneous welcome already tells me they are perfect hosts. George, the younger son, his wife and three children complete de Piaguaje family. We are invited for breakfast and we sit around the table following a subtle yet well-rehearsed protocol. Delicious plantain patties, bread, cheese, fresh orange juice and very aromatic coffee are gracefully served over large oval plant-leafs used as table mats. Every word said by Don César is loaded with wisdom, fascinating stories plus facts and figures about the Siekoya culture. A man of good humor too, his conversation is salt-peppered with laughter, which speaks of people who live simple, pleasant and uncomplicated lives, in harmony with Mother Nature.

Canoe ride on the Aguarico River (photo credits: Wilmer Piaguaje, Siekopai Nationality)

By the time we are finishing breakfast, a small group of Siekoya children, lively boys and girls, arrive into Don César’s house for their daily painting session. César and his family are renowned painters and they rapidly mount their portable painting studio. Using natural plant fibers, seeds and other natural elements, they compete in depicting in small rectangular pieces, color-filled stories, all with an underlying theme referring to the magical Siekoya legends and traditions. As all traditional Siekoya houses, only the bedrooms are kept private and fully indoors. The large seating-dining and kitchen areas only have a wooden floor, above the ground level, and the classic thatch roofs, masterfully woven from local palms to make them water-proof. Watching the painting session with the children is a great experience. As the morning progresses, Will now invites me to visit the small Siekoya town of San Pablo, the main hub of his ethnic group. Another short canoe ride brings us to the small town. David, one of the community leaders and Nancy, a native guide, show us around the village, their Siekoya Culture Interpretation Center and the five rectangular pools, now empty, where they have a project to develop a Fish-farm, to raise basically “paiche”, a typical Amazonian member of the catfish family, as well as trout.

Will has arranged to bring along in his day-pack picnic lunches for the two of us, consisting of fruits, manioc chips, small chicken sandwiches and bottled water. The scene could well be called “luxury in the middle of the jungle”. We enjoy the picnic break under the shade of a large tree, overlooking the Aguarico River. Every minute here is a learning experience as Will tells me more interesting stories and anecdotes.

Don César and Doña María (photo credits: Wilmer Piaguaje, Siekopai Nationality)

By mid-afternoon we return to Don César’s house and I am invited to join him and his wife to work at their beautifully crafted “Ethno-Botanic Garden”. This is an open-air Botanical Garden, with plants classified in rows by families and uses: medicinal, nutritional, decorative. They are labeled with small weather-proof cards with their indigenous names and Spanish translations.  Today they are cleaning up the weeds and I happily join in the task. Don Cesar also shows me the area he is cleaning up to develop a native trees’ showcase. 

By sunset, the huge kapok tree that stands by the Piaguaje family house starts to fill up with toucans, woodpeckers, noisy parakeets: an amazing congregation of birds, arriving for the night. Don Cesar shows up in his best gala outfit: a pastel-blue, knee-length robe with bright yellow edges around the V-neck and arms. He wears all the accessories of his rank as a respected elder, including necklace, bracelets and ceremonial designs on his forehead and cheeks. His wife, Doña Maria, wears a yellow skirt and a beautifully embroidered white blouse.  It is dinner time and, as we devour a delicious golden-braised duck, under the dim light of a lamp and a few candles, conversation flows once more around the fascinating myths, legends, origins and ways of life of the marvelous Siekoya people. “Pure magic”, I say to myself as I remember that “Siekoya” means “people of colors”.

 

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Sharing ancient knowledge (photo credits: Wilmer Piaguaje, Siekopai Nationality)