|approx. 2,500 (various post-2001 est.)|
|Regions with significant populations|
Waodani settlements: approx. 4,000,Nomadic "uncontacted" Tagaeri, Taromenane, Huiñatare, and Oñamenane: approx. 250,
|Wao Tiriro, many also speak Spanish.|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Kichwa, Shuar, Achuar, Siona, Secoya, Shiwiar, Záparo, Cofán|
The Huaorani, Waorani or Waodani, also known as the Waos, are native Amerindians from the Amazonian Region of Ecuador (Napo, Orellana and Pastaza Provinces) who have marked differences from other ethnic groups from Ecuador. The alternate name Auca is a pejorative exonym used by the neighboring Quechua Indians, and commonly adopted by Spanish-speakers as well. Auca – awqa in Quechua – means "savage".
Their ancestral lands are located between the Curaray and Napo rivers, about 50 miles (80 km) south of El Coca. These homelands – approximately 120 miles (190 km) wide and 75 to 100 miles (120 to 160 km) from north to south – are threatened by oil exploration and illegal logging practices. In the past, Huaorani were able to protect their culture and lands from both indigenous enemies and settlers.
In the last 40 years, they have shifted from a hunting and gathering society to live mostly in permanent forest settlements. As many as five communities – the Tagaeri, the Huiñatare, the Oñamenane, and two groups of the Taromenane – have rejected all contact with the outside world and continue to move into more isolated areas.
The word Waodani (plural of Wao "person") means "humans" or "men" in Wao Tiriro. Before the mid 20th century, it included only those kin associated with the speaker. Others in the ethnic group were called Waodoni, while outsiders were and are known by the derogatory term Cowodi. This structure duplicates the in-group/out-group naming conventions used by many peoples. It reflects a period of traumatic conflict with outsiders during the 19th and early 20th century rubber boom/oil exploration.
The name Waodani (or the alternative English spelling Waorani) represents a transliteration by English-speaking missionary linguists. The phonetic equivalent used by Spanish-speakers is Huaorani (reflecting the absence of w in Spanish spelling.) The sounds represented by the English and Spanish letters d, r and n are allophones in Wao Tededo.
The Waodani are subdivided into the Huamuno Dayuno, Quehueruno, Garzacocha (Yasuní River), Quemperi (Cononaco River) Mima, and Caruhue.
In traditional animist Waodani worldview, there is no distinction between the physical and spiritual worlds, and spirits are present throughout the world. The Waodani once believed that the entire world was a forest (and used the same word, ömë, for both). The Oriente’s rainforest remains the essential basis of their physical and cultural survival. For them, the forest is home, while the outside world is considered unsafe: living in the forest offered protection from being attacked and enslaved by Spanish Conquistadors, cultural deprivation from Jesuit and Franciscan Missionaries and Inquisition tribunals.
Today the Waodani struggle to maintain their cultural beliefs and presently, Waodani Shamans are working as hard as they can to preserve their spiritual and cultural beliefs and their story has been recorded in the book Waodani Shamans of the Forest by Bradford Keeney Phd. In short, as one Waodani put it, “The rivers and trees are our life.”  In all its specificities, the forest is woven into each Waodani life and conceptions of the world. They have remarkably detailed knowledge of its geography and ecology.
The Waodani believe that all life exists spiritually and physically and do not observe a separation between these states of being. To the Waodani as many other cultures the directions North, South, East and West are sacred. They believe that a person who dies walks a trail to the afterlife from the West to the East, which has a large anaconda snake lying in wait. Those who have not led a good life will not escape the snake and not be able to travel east, instead they will journey to the West and return to Earth to become animals, often termites. This underlies a mix of practices that recognize and respect animals, but does not shield them from harm for human use.
Hunting supplies a major part of the Waodani diet and is of cultural significance. Before a hunting or fishing party ensues the community Shaman will often pray for a day to ensure its success. Traditionally, the creatures hunted were limited to monkeys, birds, and wild peccaries. Neither land-based predators nor birds of prey are hunted. Traditionally there was an extensive collection of hunting and eating taboos. They refused to eat deer, on the grounds that deer eyes look similar to human eyes. While a joyful activity, hunting (even permitted animals) has ethical ramifications: “The Guarani [Waodani] must kill animals to live, but they believed dead animal spirits live on and must be placated or else do harm in angry retribution.”  To counterbalance the offense of hunting, a shaman demonstrated respect through the ritual preparation of the poison, curare, used in blow darts. Hunting with such darts is not considered killing, but retrieving, essentially a kind of harvesting from the trees .
While never hunted, two other animals, the snake and the jaguar, have special significance for the Waodani. Snakes are considered "the most evil force in the Guarani [Waodani] cosmology", particularly the imposing (though nonvenemous) anaconda, or obe. A giant obe stands in the way of the forest trail that the dead follow to an afterlife with the creator in the sky. Here on earth, snakes are a bad omen, and killing them is traditionally considered to be taboo.
Their Shamans identify with Jaguars spiritually. A Waodani may become a shaman at any age but must be chosen. In the Waodani belief system, jaguar shamans are able “to become as or enact as a jaguar, at this time they can telepathically travel through time and distance to communicate with other Guarani [Waodani] and shaman anywhere.” This skill has been documented throughout world history in many spiritual cultures and is taught through initiations often called the ancient mysteries in European, Asian and Middle eastern texts.
Plants, especially trees, continue to hold an important interest for the Waodani. Their store of botanical knowledge is extensive, ranging from knowledge of materials to poisons to hallucinogens to medicines. They also relate plants to their own experiences, particularly that of growing. Among trees, certain kinds are auspicious. Canopy trees, with their distinctly colored young leaves and striking transformation as they mature to towering giants, are “admired for their solitary character … as well as for their profuse entanglement” with other plants. Other significant trees are the pioneer species of the peach palm (used for making spears and blowguns, as well as for fruit), and fast-growing balsa wood, used for ceremonial purposes. Peach palm trees are associated with past settlements and the ancestors who live there.
As with many peoples, the Waos maintain a strong in-group/out-group distinction, between Waodani (people who are kin), Waodoni (others in their culture who are unrelated) and Cowodi. The use of Waodani as a term for their entire culture emerged in the last fifty years in a process of ethnogenesis. This was accelerated by the creation of ONHAE, a radio service, and a soccer league.
The Waodani notion of time is particularly oriented to the present, with few obligations extending backwards or forwards in time. Their one word for future times, baane, also means "tomorrow".
Spears are amongst the hunting tools of the Waodani culture therefore available in person to person conflict.
Their main hunting weapon is the blowgun. These weapons are typically from 3 to 4 metres long. The arrows used are dipped in curare poison, which paralyzes the muscles of the animal which is hit with it, so that it cannot breathe. Kapok fluff is used to create an air-tight seal, by twisting the fibers around the end of the dart or arrow. With the introduction of Western technology in the 20th century, many Waodani now use rifles for hunting.
Around the time of World War II, inter-clan killings greatly increased. At this time, it was estimated that up to 60% of all Huaorani deaths were due to murder. Some of the Huaorani trace the beginning of the killing to the breakdown of clan relationships around ten generations prior to this time.
Prior to this period, large gatherings frequently brought distant clans together from time to time to celebrate and arrange marriages, among other activities. These were organized by informal tribal leaders (although the Huaorani had no chiefs or formal leadership in general).
Guarani schools were set up to teach the Bible and beliefs of Christianity by missionaries. New systems of government were also introduced.
Currently (2012), the Huaorani have about 6,800 km² of land, about one third of their original territory. Some work with tourism companies, and others obtain education until university level. Half of the small children attend schools in Spanish, but others still spend their days living off of the land.
In 1990, the Waodani won the rights to an indigenous reserve covering some 6,125.60 square kilometers. The protected status of Yasuní National Park, which overlaps with the Waodani reserve, provides some measure of environmental protection. Additionally, the government has created a protected zone to avoid contact with the Tagaeri. However, much of their land is illegally logged as corporations exploit these people, so forcing them onto smaller and smaller parcels.
- Laura Rival: Trekking through History. The Huaorani of Amazonian Ecuador. Columbia University Press, New York, 2002, ISBN 0-231-11844-6.
- Lawrence Ziegler-Otero: Resistance in an Amazonian Community; Huaorani Organizing against the Global Economy. Berghahn Books, New York, NY 2004, ISBN 1-57181-448-5
- Clayton Robarchek and Carole Robarchek: Waorani: the Contexts of Violence and War. Cengage Learning, Mason, Ohio 2002/2008, ISBN 978-0155037977
- Kane 1995:1999
- Seamans 1996
- Rival 2002
- Kane 1995:44
- Rival 1993
- Rival 2002
- A film about the missionaries who were killed by the Waodani.
- Acclaimed documentary about the Huaorani community near Yasuni.