Quemperi by Camila Torres

Two white men arrived in Quemperi in the morning. They were two white blemishes in the perfect brown and green of the rainforest. They were no children of Mama Sacha, and their mere presence disturbed her eternal peace. To the white men, it seemed as if the grass and bushes were becoming taller and thicker; as if mosquitos’ bloodthirst was growing, biting their eyes, ears and necks; and as if the mist was becoming warmer and wetter only to suffocate their airways.

From the top of a tree half a mile away, Jarawi observed as these white men cut open the jungle, trying to make their way into his home.

Jarawi hurried back to his village, jumping from tree to tree. He was desperate to inform their apuk that “pale invaders” would be arriving at their doors any moment now. As he landed at the entrance of the village, Jarawi called Apuk Antay’s name.

Apuk Antay was the oldest and wisest of them all. His eighty-six years of life had carved deep wrinkles into his brown face and had raised heavy bags under his eyes. Still, his courage and strength hadn’t wilted by the years’ passing.

Hearing Jarawi’s call, Apuk Antay emerged from his onka, a magnificent house made of toquilla palms sewn together in a wooden frame. He approached Jarawi at a firm but slow pace and maintained a stoic expression as Jarawi recounted his sighting. For two seconds they stood in silence staring at each other’s eyes. Apuk Antay took his thumb and index finger to his mouth and whistled a loud and imposing melody that filled the depths of the rainforest.

Every Waorani in proximity froze as they recognised their warning whistle. Women and children ran into their onkas, hoping the thin walls would provide enough refuge for them. Warriors came running to the centre of the village, saluting Apuk Antay as they arrived. Their heavy and determined steps made the earth tremble. Trees and leaves resonated with their war cries and birds flew into the sky, fearing the wrath of these men. They formed before Apuk Antay, raising and lowering their chonta spears in unison as they carried on with their cries.

Chun!” Apuk Antay shouted. Everyone went silent.

Turis! Today our home is being challenged by pale intruders. Don’t be afraid, as we have faced these threats many times before, and we have always prevailed. Their fake god won’t win us over as long as Mama Sacha continues to hold us in her bountiful embrace!”

The warriors roared in agreement, raising their spears to the sky.

“Jarawi and Iskay” Apuk Antay interrupted. “Follow me. We will meet the intruders as they enter our home. The rest of you, keep your families and onkas safe. Be ready if more invaders were to arrive. If they do not leave at once, we will make sure our enemies die at the ends of our spears!”

An uproar followed Iskay, Jarawi and Apuk Antay to the fatal encounter.

It took longer than expected for the Waorani to meet them. The white men had barely moved from where Jarawi had seen them. The Waorani intercepted the intruders, making their blue eyes grow with surprise and fear. Face to face, Jarawi almost felt pity. Not even the rags they called “clothes” had protected their fragile skins from mother nature’s touch. They had cuts and scratches from head to toe. Their white t-shirts and beige shorts were tinted by streaks of mud, blood and yellow sweat stains. It was almost impossible to call them pale men anymore. Perhaps “pink” fitted them better now, as the sun had shown no mercy to their skin.

The white men backed away, intimidated before the three naked men in front of them. They held their hands up in the air. Still, the Waorani maintained their hostile gaze.

“Leave,” said Apuk Antay in a language the white men couldn’t understand. Iskay translated it into Spanish.

The white men had been learning Spanish for months. Nevertheless, their accents were deeply American.

“We are here to offer you salvation,” said one of them, his hands trembling in the air. “Our father’s infinite love had sent us to warn you–”

“Spears up,” Apuk Antay commanded coldly. Jarawi and Iskay obeyed, aiming their spears at the white men’s faces.

They fell to their knees, talking profusely, waving their hands in the air. Their babbling was unintelligible even to Iskay, who spoke Spanish the best among them. Jarawi and Iskay were about to pierce their muddy skulls when two familiar words escaped the mouth of one of the foreigners: Mama Sacha.

The warriors halted their attack, taken back by such sacrilege. Jarawi was the first to recover. His face flooded with raging blood, his hands tightening around his spear, his body ready to strike.

Apuk Antay raised his hand, signalling Jarawi to stop. Jarawi stumbled but managed to suppress the blow. He gave a questioning look to Apuk Antay, but, as always, remained composed.

“Iskay, translate what these shunshos have to say.”

Iskay, who had maintained his attacking position, lowered his spear and stared at Apuk Antay, confused. Apuk Antay nodded, and Iskay commanded them to talk.

“Dear brothers, we are here to warn you. Murderous men are coming. They are planning to raid your northern villages, kill your people and destroy Mama Sacha.” The men finally lowered their hands letting them rest on their laps.

“Don’t you dirty her name with your filthy mouth!” Jarawi shouted, cursing them with his fuming gaze.

Chun! Wawki Jarawi, chun!” Apuk Antay said. “If they know Mama Sacha, we should at least hear them.” He signalled the white man to resume talking.

“Keinehua appeared to me in a dream,” said the other white man. “He showed me legions of men arriving in Quemperi. I saw them destroying your onkas, taking your women and children while all your warriors were slaughtered in your plazas. They burned everything to the ground, and their insatiable fire consumed all Mama Sacha, leaving her black as a corpse.”

The three Waorani felt chills down their spine. They weren’t as struck with the apocalyptic prediction as they were with the foreigners’ knowledge of Keinehua, their most revered spirit.

“I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. He even left this under my pillow that night.” Without losing eye contact with Apuk Antay, the man reached into his black backpack and took out a thin but large velvet box.

His moves were slow and careful, ensuring he wouldn’t startle the Waorani. He waited for Apuk Antay’s permission to open the box, and when he nodded, the man revealed its content. Resting on the velvet interior was a grey feather, twice as long as the man’s hand. The Waorani men felt naked for the very first time.

Apuk Antay took the feather into his hands and confirmed it belonged to a harpy eagle, to Keinehua. Jarawi and Iskay got closer for a better look at the feather. They recognised the white and grey gradient, as well as the black horizontal stripes that adorned Keinehua’s body. All three stood in silence as Apuk Antay stroked the feather up and down. Jarawi’s eyes danced between the feather and his leader’s face, trying to decipher what he was thinking, but Apuk Antay’s eyes were not focused on the feather on his hands but somewhere far away. 

Keinehua, the wisest of all spirits, had protected the Waorani from foreign invasion many times before. With a high pitched cry, he used to alert them to the intruder’s arrival. But now, its mighty cry hadn’t been heard by the Waorani, but by a scrawny pale male. Apuk Antay tried to suppress his emerging resentment but found himself stroking the feather roughly.

“Keinehua has sent us on a mission to save you all,” the white man said, breaking the dense silence.

Apuk Antay gave him a harsh look, but said, “Jarawi, Iskay, walk behind these men. We’ll bring them home.”

Jarawi and Iskay’s eyes grew with disbelief, but Apuk Antay was already walking back to their village. Iskay, still confused, commanded the men to stand up and follow Apuk Antay. As the white men cautiously rose, Jarawi gave Iskay a pleading look, but he had regained his composure.

Following Apuk Antay’s lead, brown and white men alike made their way into the Waorani’s village.

The arrival of the white men left the warriors speechless. Guarding outside their onkas, they were waiting for Apuk Antay’s order to attack but were left in shock when it never came. They held tightly to their spears as they saw the intruders enter Apuk Antay’s onka. Shaman Ukumari was summoned to the meeting, and the warrior’s curiosity and impatience grew, as Jarawi and Iskay, who remained outside to keep guard, hadn’t given any explanation to these bizarre events. For the first time, Quemperi had gone completely silent. Even animals and plants had gone mute, as if trying to listen to the mysterious meeting occurring in Apuk Antay’s onka.

Forty minutes passed and still no news from inside the onka. Tupak, a young and restless warrior, finally broke the silent spell that Quemperi had fallen into. With his spear in his hand, he approached Jarawi and Iskay.

“What is going on inside there? What happened to making sure our enemies die at the ends of our spears? For all we know, our enemies could be drinking chicha now!”

It was not only Jarawi and Iskay who were dumbfounded by Tupak’s obsolesce, but the other warriors shared offended looks at their younger brother’s rebellion. Iskay tried to placate Tupak with no success. Whispers and gossip rose into commotion throughout the village. Women and children peeked from their homes. Yawar, the strongest man in the village, joined Tupak in the revolt.

“Yes! How dare the intruders sit at the same table of all-knowing Ukumari! Their heads should already be on our spears!”

Most of the village’s warriors had reached Apuk Antay’s onka to protest, and Jarawi and Iskay were struggling to prevent them from breaking in.

Pakta!” Apuk Antay shouted from inside his house.

All noise was extinguished, and Apuk Antay emerged. The warriors scattered, leaving room for Apuk Antay and Shaman Ukumari’s exit.

“Turis,” began Apuk Antay, “Keinehua has sent messengers to warn us once again. Evil forces are coming from the north. Our brothers and sisters in northern villages are in danger. We must go to their aide.”

The uproar resumed.

“Keinehua would never talk with these pale kupa!’ Cried one of the warriors in the multitude. ‘He always sang for us! We can’t fall for our enemies lies!”

Shaman Ukumari raised the feather the foreigners had brought, once again bringing hush.

“He left this under their pillow.’ Ukumari said. Supay Keinehua has never lied to us. We shall hear his warning and aide our brothers.”

“We do not follow pale men!” another warrior protested.

“You will be following me,” replied Apuk Antay. “We are leaving tonight. Get ready.”

Looking back at that day, Jarawi wished he had caressed the walls of his home before leaving. The concrete walls that now trapped him couldn’t compare to the fresh and light touch of toquilla leaves. The truth is they were rough and irregular, but the sound they produced when the wind hit them had always helped Jarawi sleep. Sometimes at night, Jarawi still pretends to hear their gentle swoosh. It helps him remember where he came from and forget where he is now. 

His grey room is decorated only with a painting of Holy Mary and a wooden cross above his bed. He doesn’t hate his bed – the mattress is comfortable, and the blankets keep him warm – yet he can’t help but resent its comfort.

He hasn’t gotten used to the cotton pyjamas they make him wear. He finds clothes asphyxiating. The only thing he hates more than clothes are the rosary beads he’s forced to wear. They are not only uncomfortable and heavy to carry around his neck all day, but they show who owns Jarawi now.

Today, as usual, Jarawi watched through the window of his room. The Christian settlement he was sent to is not far from where Quemperi used to be, so every day he looks to the bit of forest outside his room and imagines his village. He pictures it on its best days: kids playing around a campfire, women laughing with their husbands as the elderly prepare chicha. Of course, he knows this is not how Quemperi would look now. From what he has heard, an oil company works there. He has also heard stories of black rivers, black soil and black animals. He hopes these rumours are false, but the burning smell that sometimes reaches his room tells him otherwise.

Today black smoke paints the sky. Jarawi can do nothing but stare at the toxic fog that slowly but inevitably asphyxiates Mama Sacha’s lungs.

About The Author

Camila Torres Suarez was born in Quito “La Carita de Dios” Ecuador. She wrote her first novel when she was fifteen and now, as a twenty year old, she is a creative writing student at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is a passionate and driven writer who strives to touch people’s hearts. She loves reading, watching movies and her family.

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