Richard Thornton | May 9, 2017 | 23
Primitive tribe in Ecuador’s rain forest keeps tapirs as pets!
Through the eons the Wareoni People of Ecuador have also evolved back to ancestral physiques, which enable them to climb trees like monkeys. The men rarely get much taller than four feet and have splayed feet like a chimpanzee.
The Waorani People live on a tributary of the Amazon River in eastern Ecuador. For untold thousands of years they were barely even in the Stone Age. Apparently, after arriving in the Amazon Basin from their place of origin, they forgot how to make sophisticated blades and points. Their stone implements were little different than the crude stone flakes and hammers made by Homo Erectus. Even today, all of their hunting and war weapons are made solely of wood. Their primary weapons are 10-12 feet long blowguns and 6 feet long arrows, shot from bows that are taller than the archer.
They also have minimal skills at making pottery. Most of their cups and jars are made from semi-domesticated gourds. They live off on a diet primarily consisting of manioc beer, spider monkey meat, peccary meat, fish and semi-domesticated fruits that have no English name. They do not know how to catch fish with hooks or nets. Despite living next to a river, which is abundant with fish, fish meat is a rare treat that they occasionally obtain with long river cane spears.
YET . . . even with this primitive technology, the Wareoni selectively domesticated certain plants and animals long ago. This calls into question the relatively late date to which anthropologists assign the appearance of agriculture in the Americas. Even though they were semi-nomadic hunters, living in crude seasonal huts, they developed distinct domesticated crops from a local species of manioc (cassava) and several other indigenous plants, plus domesticated a local parrot, white-faced Capuchin monkey and TAPIR as pets. Like many other indigenous peoples of the Americas, they also keep Dixie Dingos (Carolina Dogs) as pets.
We will get back to telling you the fascinating story of the Waorani people, but the fact that a primitive Amazonian tribe would be voracious hunters of peccaries, most species of monkeys and most species of birds, yet keep tapirs, Capuchin monkeys and parrots as pets seemed odd. These are completely domesticated pets. They are not fenced, caged or kept on leashes. When a Waorani band migrates to a new clearing in the rain forest, the pets accompany them willingly as part of the family . . . just like their pet dogs. They could easily escape, but don’t.
Around the world primitive hunter-gatherers typically eat anything that is edible . . . which they can catch. Why would the Waorani expend extensive efforts to hunt peccaries, yet spoil rotten a family of the somewhat larger tapirs in their village? Why would they risk their lives to climb trees in order to kill spider monkeys with curare tipped blow darts, but cuddle and feed a Capuchin monkey, when they return to camp?
Of course, parrots are kept all over the world as pets. Indigenous Americans from Chaco Canyon in New Mexico to the Andes and Amazon Rain Forest kept them as pets long before they were brought back to Europe to entertain the nobility. However, elsewhere parrots are usually kept in cages. Waorani parrots use the huts of their human companions as the locales of their own nests. They can come and go as they please, but apparently figured out that life was more pleasant when domiciles are shared with humans. The Waroani encourage this cohabitation by feeding the parrots fruits that they find out in the jungle, while hunting. Parrots do seem to have an affinity for humans, however.
What made the tapir, Capuchen monkey and parrot usually immune from the Waorani cooking fire? Why do their dogs almost never leave a Waorani campsite unless told to? Why would these animals voluntarily stay with Waorani families? A BBC explorer asked these questions to a Waoarni, living in a jungle clearing. They quickly responded that these animals were Waorani in ancient times. Apparently, that means that these animals are more intelligent than the animals, which the Waorani normally hunt. That might be true for the tapir, but the spider monkey is probably equally intelligent as a Capuchen monkey.
Although they look similar, the peccary and the tapir have different family trees. The peccary of the Americas is a member of the Suina biological classification sub-order along with Old World pigs. Peccaries first evolved in Europe during the Miocene Epoch then migrated to North America. The tapir evolved in North America and then along with the peccary migrated to South America about 3 million years ago. Tapirs also migrated to Southeast Asia, while peccaries died out in the Old World and their close cousins, the pig thrived.
Although the tapir looks very similar to the original ancestor of the elephant, the tapir’s closest relatives are the horse, donkey and zebra, who also evolved in North America. A male tapir can reach six feet long . . . over twice the size of peccaries in the Amazon Basin.
Peccaries are adept at hiding or running in dense undergrowth to escape jaguars. They can produce one to three piglets and breed annually. Tapirs are too large to hide in dense undergrowth and produce a single offspring about every two years. Thus, peccaries are able to replenish losses from predators such as humans or jaguars at a higher rate.
The BBC explorer was told that this particular pet tapir had been mauled by a jaguar, when she was taken in by the Waorani family. Perhaps that is another explanation for pet tapirs. The tapirs figured out that jaguars would not bother them, if they hung around with humans. Maybe dogs also started hanging around humans, when they figured out that wolves wouldn’t bother them.
The “protection from predators and competitors” seems to also the explanation for why Capuchen monkeys would voluntarily hang around a Waorani campsite, when they smell other monkeys roasting over an open fire. In the “old days” Capuchen monkeys were often used by organ grinders and entertainers, because they had an affinity for humans.
The White Faced Capuchen Monkey is considerably smaller and less aggressive than the Spider Monkey. The Capuchen is also much more vulnerable to raptors and snakes. In many regions of South America, the number one cause of death among young Capuchen monkeys are attacks by eagles and hawks. Perhaps the Capuchen monkeys figured out that Roasted Monque au Capuchen was never on the Waorini menu, even though barbecued Spider Monkey was!
In our second article on the Waorani, you will learn more about their unique cultural traditions and physical traits. They are proof that once humans arrived in the Americas, individual ethnic groups continued to evolve in order to adapt to local conditions. For example, while the Quechua and Southern Arawak Peoples, living to the west in the Andes Mountains, evolved to have genetic traits suitable for high altitudes, the Waorani in the Amazon Rain Forest turned into monkey men!
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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