Cultural adaptation to Amazonian habitats


Material Information

Cultural adaptation to Amazonian habitats the Siona-Secoya of eastern Ecuador
Siona-Secoya of Eastern Ecuador
Physical Description:
xviii, 348 leaves : ill., maps ; 28 cm.
Vickers, William T
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Human geography -- Ecuador   ( lcsh )
Indians of South America -- Ecuador   ( lcsh )
Human beings -- Effect of climate on -- Ecuador   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis--University of Florida.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 330-346).
Statement of Responsibility:
by William Taylor Vickers.
General Note:
General Note:

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 000179015
notis - AAU5529
oclc - 03145729
sobekcm - AA00004922_00001
lcc - F3722.1.S45 V52 1985
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in 2011 with funding from
University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries with support from LYRASIS and the Sloan Foundation


The present study was made possible by the support of several insti-

tutions and the assistance of many individuals. The funding for the

initial year of the research was provided by a Doherty Fellowship for

Advanced Study in Latin America from the Henry L. and Grace Doherty

Charitable Foundation. I would especially like to thank Mrs. Alice M.

Garrison, secretary for the fellowship committee at Princeton University

for her helpfulness in the administration of this grant.

An additional six months of field work and support for the writing of

the dissertation was provided by Research Fellowship No. IFol MH58552-01

from the National Institute of Mental Health. Thanks go to Mrs. Carolyn

Hanke of the Graduate School of the University of Florida for the admin-

istration of this fellowship.

During the period of the field work from September 1973 to March

1975, I was affiliated with the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e

Historia (I.N.A.H.) of Ecuador, and I would like to thank its director,

Arquitecto Herngn Crespo Toral, for his astute observations and sugges-

tions regarding my research topic. During the summer of 1972 I made a

preliminary survey of potential research sites in Ecuador, and it was

Arq. Crespo who first suggested that 1 consider a lowland group in the

Aguarico River region. He was also most helpful in providing letters of

introduction and other documents pertaining to my affiliation with I.N.A.H.

I am most indebted to the members of my supervisory committee for

their support and guidance during the past three-and-a-half years.

Dr. William E. Carter, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the

Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida, has

served as my committee chairman and advisor, has provided invaluable

insights into research design and implementation, and has been a careful

and sympathetic critic of my analysis. His continuous support and his

attention to a number of administrative details that arose during my

absence from the University are deeply appreciated.

Dr. Charles Wagley, Graduate Research Professor of Anthropology, has

been most helpful in providing suggestions for the research and the dis-

sertation based on his own intimate knowledge of the Amazon and its

peoples. His studies of the cultures of Amazonia provide a standard to

which all students of the region may aspire. I would like to thank the

other members of my committee, Dr. Alexander Moore and Dr. Theron A.

Nunez of the Department of Anthropology, and Dr. Raymond E. Crist,

Graduate Research Professor Emeritus of Geography, for their interest

in the research, their analytical insights, and their instruction and

support throughout my graduate education.

Within the Department of Anthropology I would like to acknowledge

the assistance of Dr. Paul L. Doughty, Department Chairman, who counseled

me on some of the ins-and-outs of research in Latin America, Dr. Maxine

Margolis, whose courses in ecological anthropology and theory influenced

my theoretical approach, and Dr. Charles H. Fairbanks, who, as Department

Chairman when I first enrolled at Florida, saw fit to provide a graduate

assistantship to a very naive beginning student. Appreciation is also

due to Mrs. Lydia Deakin, department secretary, and Mrs. Vivian Nolan,

secretary for the Cencer for Latin American Studies, for their high

competence and good will in dealing with the bureaucratic and institu-

tional aspects of my graduate studies, and to Mrs. Sioux Remer and Mrs.

Adele Koehler who assisted in the preparation of the graphics and in the

typing of the dissertation, respectively.

Dr. E. Jean Langdon of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice has

been most kind in sharing her insights and publications on the Siona

Indians of Colombia, and in offering constructive suggestions and en-

couragement. Dr. Norman E. Whitten, Jr. of the University of Illinois

provided useful information on how to approach the research situation,

including the establishment of affiliations with host country institutions

and meeting the diplomatic requirements of the Ecuadorian government.

Dr. Clifford Evans and Dr. Betty J. Meggers of the Smithsonian Institu-

tion provided maps of the research area and scrutinized the archeological

surface collections made in the field. I would especially like to

acknowledge the influence of Mr. Robert J. Agro, currently a doctoral

candidate at the University of Wisconsin, who first introduced me to

anthropological concepts as we were serving as Peace Corps volunteers in

highland Ecuador in 1964. A number of anthropologists with related areal

or topical interests have assisted the investigation by providing in-

formation pertaining to the research area or methodology, including Dr.

Robert L. Carneiro of the American Museum of Natural History, Dr. Gerald

Weiss of Florida Atlantic University, Dr. Thomas Rhys Williams of the

Ohio State University, and Dr. Scott S. Robinson.

Dr. Daniel Ward of the University of Florida provided plant presses

and information on the methodology of collecting plant specimens in the

tropics. Dr. Homer V. Pinkley of the New York Botanical Garden has

generously donated his efforts in the time-consuming analysis of the

specimens collected, and in sharing the results of his own research on

the ethnobotany of the northwest Amazon.

Assistance with the analysis of the soil samples collected in the

field was provided by Dr. Kamal Dow, Dr. R.G. Poultney, and Ing. Jorge

H. Cdceres of the Instituto Nacional de Investigacione~ Agropecuarias

of Ecuador, and Dr. Arvel H. Hunter of Agricultural Environmental

Systems, Inc. of Raleigh, North Carolina. Mr. Bernard Fassett, a

geologist with the Cayman Oil Co. of Quito, provided a modern large-

scale map of the Ecuadorian Oriente that was most helpful in the research.

Jay and Edith Louthian, former residents of Iquitos, Peru,and close

friends of the Secoya Indians of the Santa Maria River, shared their

knowledge of the indigenous peoples and provided copies of many historical

maps and publications dealing with the region. Their cooperation has

made a significant contribution to this study.

Many members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (S.I.L.) in

Ecuador extended hospitality and kindnesses to my wife and me during

our field work and during our periodic travels to and from Quito, includ-

ing Orville and Mary Johnson, Verla Cooper, Bub and Bobbie Borman, William

Eddy, Jerry and Brenda Long, Roy and Edith Gleason, Carolyn Orr, Mary

Sargent, Mark and Phyllis Newell, Jim and Kathleen Yost, John and Irene

Harssema, Ron and Ruth Durie, Dick and Nancy Whitmire, Ned and Kathy

Thomas, Jonathan and Roseann Johnson, Don and Helen Johnson, Paul and

Norma Duffey, Roy and Lois Allen, Pat Kelley,Linda Liversedge, Pat Erwin,

John Lindskoog, and Lois Pederson. The aviation and medical services

which the S.I.L. provides to the Ecuadorian Oriente facilitated the re--

search to a considerable degree.

Thanks go to David and Ruth Chandler, Boyce and Nancy Drummond, and

Dr. Thomas C. Emmel of the University of Florida for sending essential

items to Ecuador during our field work. Additional logistical and

psychological support was provided by my mother, Mrs. Mary T. Vickers,

who perfected the art of resupply via manila envelope correspondence,

and always managed to include news from home and interesting reading


I would also like to express my deep appreciation to my wife Edite,

who participated in the jungle living and contributed to the research

for 18 months with good will, courage, and patience. In addition to

keeping our household together under primitive conditions, she elicited

important substantive data on female and childhood activities in Siona-

Secoya culture, and was tied so well into the information network of the

women that she often learned of significant events within minutes or

hours of their occurrence. The scope and depth of the research were

enhanced by her presence.

The Siona-Secoya Indians of Ecuador are the subjects of the present

study, and in the ultimate analysis it was they who contributed the

essential information for this dissertation. We found them to be friend-

ly, open, and intelligent people of great charm and wit. At one time or

other nearly all of the inhabitants of the settlements of Eno, Cuyabeno,

and Shushufindi assisted in the field work. Among those who provided

in-depth data on specific aspects of their culture were Fernando Payaguaje,

Esteban Lucitande, Elias Piaguaje, Maria Yaiguaje, Luis Payaguaje, Victor

Yiyocuru, Celestino Piaguaje, Cecilio Piaguaje, Matilde Payaguaje, Emilio

Lucitande, Sim6n Piaguaje, Genaro Yiyocuru, Gabriel Yiyocuru, Delio

Yiyocuru, Dionisio Yiyocuru, Gabriel Piaguaje, Sim6n Lucitande, Celinda

Piaguaje, Marcelo Piaguaje, Reinaldo Lucitande, Maruja Payaguaje, Mauro

Piaguaje,Victoriano Crillo, Fermin Rogelio Criollo, Dario Payaguaje,

Belizario Piaguaje, Enrique Piaguaje, Margarita Piaguaje, Nieve Piaguaje,

Alejandro Payaguaje, and Bolivar Yiyocuru. We thank them all.

In the preparation of this dissertation I have attempted to present

the primary data contributed by the Siona-Secoya in a manner that is

consistent with their perceptions. Insofar as this has been accomplished

the credit must go to my informants. I alone am responsible for any

errors of omission or interpretation of these data.









. iii


. . . ix

. . . xv

. . I xvil



The "Tropical Forest Culture" Type. .
Methodological Critique of Two Classic Studies.


The People . . .
The Land . . .


The Precontact Period .
The Early Mission Period.
The Nineteenth Century. .
The Modern Period .

. 32

. 33
. 37
. 44
. 45
. 54


Introduction. . .
Site Selection. . .
Seasonality . .
Bordering . .
Slashing. . .
Felling . .
Burning . .
Planting. . .
Weeding . .
Harvesting. . .

I :



Fallowing . . 84
Stresses on Horticulture. .. . 85
Efficiency in Horticulture .. . .. .85


Hunting . . 95
\Fishing and Aquatic Hunting.. .. 105
-Collecting Animals and Their Products ........ 11 1
I\Collecting Plant Products .. 114
Ritual in Hunting and Fishing . ... 118
Efficiency in Wild Resource Procuremein .. 123


Calorie Requirements. ............. 131
Protein Requirements. ........ .. 133
Distributional Requirements . 136
The Ongoing System . . 138


Creation Myth . . .147
Cosmology . .... 151
Science . . .. 155
Shamanism . . 157
The Yag4 Ceremony . ... .163


Kinship . .. 170
The Drinking Party. . ... 184
Inti ba?iki . . ... 196


\Basic Sexual Concepts . ... .205
\ Courtship and Marriage. . .207
\ Married Life. . . 211
Pregnancy and Childbirth. . .. 212
Population Policy . . .. 215
Individual Development. . .. 219
Maintenance . ... .. .237





2. SOIL ANALYSIS . . 256

3. FLORA . .. . 261

4. FAUNA . . . 283

5. CULTIGENS .. . . 303

6. STRESSES ON HORTICULTURE. ............ 325

BIBLIOGRAPHY . ... . 333



Table Page

1. Energy Expenditures per Hectare for Intercropped Siona-
Secoya Gardens in Secondary Growth at Shushufindi
(1973-1974). ... . . .. 86

2. Production per Hectare for Intercropped Siona-Secoya
Gardens at Shushufindi (1973-1974) . ... 87

3. A Comparison of Man-Hours of Labor Expended in Various
Phases of Shifting Cultivation in Tropical America 88

4. Yields for Siona-Secoya Hunters at Shushufindi (October
1973-March 1975) . ... 104

5. Annual Collecting Yields for a Household of Four at
Shushufindi. . . ... 117

6. Relative Annual Contribution of Subsistence Modes to a
Siona-Secoya Household of Four at Shushufindi (1974) 129

7. Estimated Annual Production for Various Subsistence
Modes at Shushufindi (1974). . .. 130

8. Estimated Daily Calorie Requirements for the Siona-
Secoya of Ecuador (Based on FAO Method of Computation) 132

9. Mean Daily Intake for Five Siona-Secoya Individuals at
Shushufindi (Based on a Sample of Three Days Each) 134

10. Components of Siona-Secoya Diet at Shushufindi (Based
on a Sample of Fifteen Individual Daily Intakes) .... .135

11. Comparison of Kill Probabilities for Selected Game Species
for Consecutive Dry Seasons (Dec.-Mar. 1973-4 and 1974-5)
at Shushufindi . ... .. ... 140

12. Rainfall at Linoncocha . ... 254

13. Rainfall and Temperature for Shushufindi (October 1973-
September 1974). . . ... .. .255

14. Soil Samples from Siona-Secoya Settlements at Cuyabeno
and Shushufindi . ... 260


Table Page

15. Flora............ ...... ........ .262

16. Fauna. . . ... .... .284

17. Cultigens of the Siona-Secoya. . ... 304

18. Maize Losses in Sample Gardens . ... 330

19. Plantain Losses in Sample Gardens. . ... 331

20. Manioc Losses in Sample Gardens. . 332



Figure Page

1. Location of the Siona-Secoya in Northeastern Ecuador. 24

2. Eighteenth Century Jesuit Missions among the Encabellado. 40

3. Age-Sex Distribution of Siona-Secoya in Ecuador, March
1975. . . ... .... .50

4. Siona-Secoya Gardens and House Sites at Shushufindi 60

5. Siona (Aguarico) Kinship Terminology, Male Speaking 173

6. Siona (Aguarico) Kinship Terminology, Female Speaking .. 74

7. Secoya Kinship Terminology, Male Speaking ... 175

8. Secoya Kinship Terminology, Female Speaking ... 176

9. Siona-Secoya Affinal Kinship Terminology (Male Speaking). 183



Modern linguistic research on Western Tucanoan languages has been

conducted by Wheeler (1962, 1966, 1970), Wheeler and Wheeler (1962), and

Johnson and Peeke (1962). Langdon (1974) presents an excellent review

of the general status of Western Tucanoan language studies to the pre-

sent. An attempt has been made to make the linguistic symbols presented

in this dissertation consistent with those of Wheeler (1970) and Langdon

(1974), a linguist and cultural anthropologist respectively, who are

students of the Siona Indians of the Putumayo River in Colombia. This

has been done in the hope that it will lessen the confusion for future

researchers, and in spite of the fact that the symbols employed in my

fieldnotes are slightly different. For example, the high central vowel

I becomes i in the dissertation, the nasalization of a vowel is indicated

as E rather than 9 (or e), the glottal stop is ? rather than ', and ny

becomes n.

It should be noted, however, that there are significant variations

in linguistic usages between the Siona of the Putumayo, and rhe Siona

and Secoya of the Aguarlco who arc the focus of the present study. Inso-

far as possible, I havi -ttmnpted to transcribe the usages as heard in

the village cf Shush ufacndi on the Aguarico River in Ecuador.

In addition, it should be mentioned that the bilingual :clhools

established by the Simmer Institute of Linguistics in Western Tucanoan

communities utilize a -modified Spanish alphabet which gives some words

a strikingly different appearance. For example, /wek/ ("tapir")

becomes huequi, /kinawea/ (a variety of maize) becomes quEnahuea, and

/yahi/ ("sweet potato") becomes yaji.

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



William Taylor Vickers

August, 1976

Chairman: William E. Carter
Major Department: Anthropology

This study investigates the subsistence ecology of the Siona-Secoya

Indians of northeastern Ecuador in light of the "Tropical Forest Culture"

paradigm in current use by anthropologists. During the late 19th and

20th Centuries the work of scholars such as Ratzel, Mason, Wissler,

Stout, Cooper, and Steward gave rise to a list of culture traits which

attempted to characterize the societies of the tropical forest lowlands

of South Atmerica. The organinationa] f iatlure2- of this Tropicaj Forest

Complex are (3) a tendency toward small setl-lpments and a low overall

population density; (2) fre7quient movenmnt of settlements; (3) endemic

warfare ai.d *wicchcrat.; and k4) a loir levei J oL sociopolitical cohesion

characterized by autonomous village-level societies with headmen.

Attempted explanations to account for the features of Tropical

Forest Culture fall into two schools: (1) those seeking cultural-

historical. sociological, or political causes; and (2) those seeking an

economic or ecological cause. The present study argues that the first


approach is in error, and that there are no purely sociological causes

of the Tropical Forest Complex. Rather, the organizational features

are seen as functionally dependent aspects of a cIultural system adapted

to the exploitation of the tropical forest environment with a technology

based on hunting, fishing, gathering, and shifting horticulture. The

primary weakness of the second, or "ecological," school of scholars is

that they have tended to emphasize unifactorial casation to account for

the dynamics of Tropical Forest Culture (e.g. soil depletion, unreliable

horticulture, competition for riverine resources, or game depletion).

The quantitative and qualitative data presented in this study of

the Siona-Secoya indicate that unifactorial explanations of the Tropical

Forest Complex are overly simplistic as ecological conditions are highly

variable through time and space, and that factors such as soil depletion,

competition for land, and game depletion may all serve as limiting fac-

tors in specific times and places. It is also argued that the social

organization and symbolic system of the Siona-Secoya are not mere epi-

phenomnena or superstructuree," but servP. important regulatory functions

in the overall ecological adaptation of these people.



Perhaps in no other area of the world have so many environmental

and ecological hypotheses been offered to account for the structure and

characteristics of society as in the tropical forest regions of South

America. Yet, these explanations are based on surprisingly little

scientific research. The tropical forests continue to constitute some

of the least understood habitats in the world. Two reasons for this

are the inherent complexity of tropical forest environments, and their

relative inaccesability from the traditional centers of research. Since

so many of the theoretical interpretations of tropical forest culture

are based on environmental and ecological assumptions, a new generation

of studies based on detailed quantitative and qualitative field methods

is needed. This study is an attempt in that direction.

This research deals with the Siona-Secoya Indians of eastern

Ecuador, and how their adaptation to an Amazonian environment influ-

ences the nature of their society. Its findings are relevant to the

current intense debate on Amazonian culture history and the significant

forces shaping the indigenous cultures of the region. The purpose of

this chapter is to present the theoretical background of the research.

Firstly, the theoretical construct of "Tropical Forest Culture" is

introduced. This is a societal type which is broadly recognized, al-

though not immune from debate on its diagnostic features and geographic

distribution. Next, there is a discussion of the theories which attempt


to account for this Tropical Forest type. Finally, a critique of the

methodologies employed in two classic studies of the ecological adapta-

tions of Amazonian peoples is presented.

The "Trovical Forest Culture" Type

The study of thf lowland Indians of South America through the years

has given rise to thb "Tropical Forest Culture" concept, which has

developed from attempts to classify the aboriginal groups into culture

areas and types. Some of the more significant contributions in the

evolution of the concept include those by Ratzel (1885-88), Mason

(1896), Wissler (1917), Stout (1937), Cooper (1942), Steward (1946-59),

Kroeber (1948), Murdock (1951), Steward and Faron (1959), and Galvao

(1960). These contributions have been reviewed by Galvio (1960) and

Dole (1967).

As the Tropical Forest Culture concept evolved from criteria based

on mere trait listings of elements, such as the presence of manioc cul-

tivation, hammocks, and canoes, to more dynamic aspects of culture such

as sociopolitical organization, a constellation of features said to be

characteristic of Tropical Forest Culture have appeared repeatedly in

the literature. These features include: (1) a tendency toward small

villages or settlements, and a low overall population density (Steward

1948c:6 and 1949:675; Stewar.I and larcr 1959:453; Beniett 19!49:14;

Goldraan 1963:4; Meggers 1971,99); (2) frequent movement of settlements

and/or migration (BenneZt 1949:14.; Fr'cde 1963:12.5; Goldman 1963:3,33;

Steward 1949:675; Steward and Faron 1959:293,300; Meggers 1971:100);

(3) warfare and/cr witchcraft complexes (Heggers 197 :110-112; Steward

1949:704-705; Steward and Faron 1959.30'4,L53); and (4) a low level of

sociopolitical organization characterized by autonomous village level

societies with headmnen (Steward 1948c:', 1949:672,697,700; Steward and

Faron 1959:301,453).

Wagley has given a succinctsummary of these characteristics:

A large series of traits and behavioral patterns, which we
call the "Tropical Forest Corple-", diffused from one group
to another and was perfected over many generations. Theirs
was an ecological system highly adapted to the total
Amazonian environnent. Yet one can see that this tropical
forest aboriginal adaptation with its t' hroloJ.',', crops, and
use of the soil and the rivers provides a good example of
how limits were placed on sociopolitical development in
these cultures. Villages were generally situated in one
locality for five to ten years before they were moved as
their inhabitants sought virgil forest lands. The population
was sparse; certainly no more tnan one million people lived
scattered irregularly over the area. The sociopolitical
unit was limited to a single village, a group of villages
without patterns of leadership strong enough to insure co-
hesive or tribal action, or occasionally to tribal groups
which lived in larger villages situated in especially
favorable parts the varzea and were politically organized
under chieftains. Trade on any regular basis did not exist,
and warfare was chronic (1974:12-13).

As archeological and ethnological research has expanded in the

lowlands of South America in recent years, a number of questions have

arisen in regard to the Tropical Forest concept, and about the classi-

fication of specific cultures in the "Marginal," "Tropical Forest," and

"Circum-Caribbean" categories in the Handbook of South American Indians.

Steward acknowledged the limitations of his classification in his

summary statement on South American cultures:

The classification, like previous ones, used principally
the general element content of the cultures rather than a
systematic comparison of -he patterns. Special weight was
accorded one or another feature in each case. The Marginal
peoples were distinguished by their lack of farming and
their generally simple cultures; the Tropical Forest peoples
were identified by their agriculture and various material

traits, which were adapted to the tropical rain forests;
the Circum-Caribbean and Sub-Andean peoples were grouped
together because of their class system and temple cult;
and the Andean peoples...were distinguished by their
Central Andean technology, material culture, and ritual
complex (1949:671).

Bamberger (1968) and Dole (1967) ha've questioned the classification

of the G6 peoples as Marginals on the basis of reevaluations of their

subsistence patterns. Dole writes:

The distinction between the Marginal as a hunting type and
the Tropical Forest as a horticultural type is actually a
distinction in cultural level...But it has by no means
been clearly established that the "Marginals" in Brazil
were merely hunters. In fact it has become increasingly
apparent in the past few years...that many of them, in-
cluding the G6 speakers of eastern Brazil, did have culti-
vated plants aboriginally. Moreover their cultures bear
significant similarities to the Tropical Forest type and
differ fundamentally from the Marginal hunters and gatherers
such as the Fuegians of southern South America (1967:xxiv-

Recently there has also been greater recognition of the level of

cultural development attained in the flood plain areas of the central

and lower Amazon and certain other areas, such as the Mojos plains of

eastern Bolivia. The flood plain, or varzea, constitutes only about ten

percent of the Amazon Basin, but its potential for human habitation is

great due to the annual renewal of its soil with the silt deposited by

seasonal flood waters, and the abundant wildlife resources associated

with the riverine habitat.

Although the literature on the aboriginal cultures of the varzea

is scanty (reviewed in Meggers 1971), there is little doubt that this

habitat supported a denser population than the terra firme, or inter-

fluve areas, and that there were features such as pan-village chieftains

and more elaborate forms of warfare and defense which indicate a higher

degree of sociocultural complexity. Lathrap has postulated a model to

account for the dynamics of migration in the Amazon which is based on

competition between human groups for the rich resources of the varzea:

The pattern of outward migration suggested...could best
be explained by intense and continuing population pressures
of the flood plain of the Central Amazon, the most favor-
able environment for the support of the tropical forest
culture. Such continuous expansion by groups moving out
to colonize further areas of flood plain progressively push
smaller or militarily weaker groups farther upstream or
off the flood plain entirely (1973:93).

Denevan has also pointed out that the peoples of the Mojos plains

of eastern Bolivia had large permanent villages and constructed cause-

ways and canals in order to develop their periodically flooded lands.

He states:

...the Mojos tribes appear less unique and more a part
of a pattern of dense agricultural settlement which may
have existed throughout the major flood plain areas of
tropical South America (1966:346).

It is now recognized, therefore, that the varzea cultures did not fit

all of the traditional characteristics of Tropical Forest Culture

because they had somewhat larger and more permanent settlements, and a

higher degree of sociopolitical organization.

The Circum-Caribbean theory has also come under attack. Steward

proposed that the elements of the Circum-Caribbean Culture had spread

along the northern coast of South America and thence up the Amazon,

giving rise to the Tropical Forest level of culture from Marginal level

antecedents. Archeological investigations by Rouse (1953) in the

crucial lowlands of British Guiana, however, have demonstrated that

Tropical Forest artifacts are lower in the stratigraphy than

Circum-Caribbean. Lathrap has argued that the Circum-Caribbean con-

struct should be dropped in favor of a revised Tropical Forest concept:

I do not accept the view...that there was a sharp contrast
in cultural level between the Circum-Caribbean...and...
Tropical Forest peoples...Those who make a point of it
neglect the accounts of the earliest European explorers...
who consistently noted dense populations, extensive poli-
tical units, powerful chiefs or kings, priests, temples,
and idols along the mainstream of the Amazon...Since there
were vast differences in the level of cultural complexity
between the riverine groups and the groups inhabiting the
interfluvial uplands, Tropical Forest Culture must be
defined in terms of shared cultural elements rather than
as a uniform level of cultural achievement (1970:46-47).

It is evident that the criticisms of the traditional Tropical

Forest Culture type have not been made in order to demolish it, but

rather to broaden and redefine the construct in the light of continuing

research. The constellation of features traditionally used to charac-

terize Tropical Forest Culture is now seen as most typical of the terra

firme peoples who inhabited the land away from the major flood plains,

or approximately ninety percent of the Arazon Basin.

Theories Accounting for Tropical Forest Culture

Since the present study deals with a tribe of the Upper Amazon,

and does not attempt to deal with the very special conditions of the

varzea, the pattern of small settlements and low population density,

movement and migration, warfare and witchcraft complexes, and village

Level societies is pertient. Attempted explanations to account for

these features fall iuto two classes: (1) those seeking cultural his-

torical, sociological, or political causes (such as internal tensions,

competition for women, and revenge warfare), and (2) those seeking an


economic or ecological cause. Each of these two approaches will be

reviewed briefly, and then the thesis of the present study will be


A prominent proponent of the first approach is Chagnon, who de-

scribes Yanomamr garden site selection in th( following manner:

...the area within which che new site is selected is
determined almost exclusively by political factors. A
Yanomam6 group would remain indefinitely in Lhe area it
settled were it not for the threat of raids from warring
neighbors (1968a:39).

and of their migratory behavior, Chagnon says:

...a village will fission after it reaches a population
of about 150 because internal feuds and fights are so
frequent that peace can only be maintained with great
difficulty...By the time a village approaches 100 to
150 people...fights over women are so frequent that the
group elects to fission rather than attempt to keep an
uneasy internal peace (1968a:40-41).

Chagnon denies any territorial motive in YanomamB warfare:

The conflicts are not initiated or perpetuated with
territorial gain as an objective or consequence...The
Yanomam5 exemplify a type of society in which aggres-
siveness and warfare are admired, but their commitment
to this way of life cannot be explained in terms of
land shortages. The critical aspect of the cultural
ecology is neighboring, hostile villages (1968 b:110,

Harner has voiced a similar opinion on Jivaro warfare:

"War," in the Jivaro meaning, is conducted not to wreck
vengeance upon any particular individual, bjt to secure
as many heads as possible from an alien tribe...A less
emphasized war objective is to capture women. No case
could be found of war pursued to seize territory (1972:

Goldman has also explained the motivation for Cubeo warfare in

terms of attacks "to seize women" and "revenge" (1963:162). And he has

interpreted the fissioning of Cubeo communities solely in terms of

cultural values, structural organization, and psychological processes:

Fission is an objective social process, a by-product of
Cubeo cultural principles of autonomy and social equality.
It is promoted, as well, by another cultural principle
that...I would describe as a low tolerance for psychic
discomfort. That is to say, in the absence of political
constraint and of economic necessity the Cubeo find it
easier to leave an uncomfortable situation than to endure
it (1963:279-280).

Goldman is very explicit in his emphasis on structural analysis

and it is evident that he views the social system of the Cubeo as having

dynamics independent of the economic sphere, which can only be under-

stood by internal analysis of the social structure:

...the simple horticultural societies...are not mere
victims of inhospitable environments...rather...they
constitute a range of cultural systems with character-
istic modes of equilibrium and adaptation that do not
readily foster economic expansion and higher levels
of social and political integration...a culture is only
partly a functional system adapted to the satisfaction
of basic needs...Much of the form of a culture represents
a style of life that...cannot be explained simply in
terms of function, equilibrium, or adaptation. A style
of life must be studied in its own terms...(1963:294).

The preceding statements of Chagnon, Harner, and Goldman have been

presented as examples of "sociological" (i.e., nonecological) approach

in the interpretation of Tropical Forest Culture. The present study

will argue that this approach is in error, and that there are no purely

"sociological" causes of small village size, high mobility, warfare and

witchcraft, and a low level of sociopolitical elaboration. These are

not unrelated traits, rather they are functionally dependent aspects of

a cultural system adapted to the exploitation of the tropical forest

environment with a simple technology which is neolithic in its use of

plant domesticates, but paleolithic in its tool inventory and dependence

on wild animal resources rather than domesticated animals. One purpose

of the present study is to demonstrate how this system functions in a

specific case, that of the Siona-Secoya.

The second school of interpretation of Tropical Forest Culture

consists of those seeking an ecological explanation for its features.

Their chief weakness is that they generally have tended to emphasize a

single factor, such as soil depletion, unreliable agriculture, compe-

tition for land, or protein capture, in accounting for the dynamics of

Tropical Forest Culture. That is to say, these theories are primarily

unifactorial. The proponents of unifactorial ecological explanations

of Tropical Forest Culture are introduced below.

Meggers presents a scheme for classifying land in terms of its

agricultural potential, and views soil depletion as the major limiting

factor in the tropical forests:

Here agriculture can be undertaken, but its productivity
is minimized by limited soil fertility...When the natural
vegetation cycle is broken by clearing, planting and
harvesting, the delicate balance between what is taken
from and what is returned to the soil is upset. The
soil is poor to begin with, and exposed fully to the
detrimental effects of the climate, it is quickly ex-
hausted of plant nutrients (1954:803).

She then argues that this condition limits the development of Tropical

Forest Culture:

The settlement pattern consists of semipermanent villages
composed of communal or single family houses of pole and
thatch construction.


Although it represents an increase in security
and food supply,.slash-and-burn agriculture is not
sufficiently productive or permanent of locale to sup-
port large concentrations of population or stable
settlements. This is reflected in the sociopolitical
organization which remains basically along kinship
lines, the headman or chief having limited authority
and few if any privileges (1954:807).

Lowie likewise stated, "The impermanence of settlement in a particular

locality is usually owing to the exhaustion of the soil" (1948:18).

In explaining the seminomadic behavior of the Siriono, Holmberg

has suggested that one of the major factors is the "sporadic and un-

certain" yields of slash-and-burn cultivation, and the "enormous" effort

required to clear agricultural plots (1969:67). This contention will be

examined in some detail in the portion of this chapter dealing with


Lathrap's model of migration in the Amazon is also unifactorial in

that it postulates competition for the alluvial lands of the floodplain

as the primary process leading to the distribution and differentiation

of tribal groups. The distinction between the floodplain and interfluve

habitats is a valid one, but not all of the migration in the Amazon is

accounted for in Lathrap's model, nor does competition for riverine

resources explain everything about the cultural ecology of the Siona-


Another unifactorial hypothesis is that the movement and low popu-

lation density of tropical forest peoples is due to the rapid depletion

of wild protein resources in inhabited areas. As Harris suggests:

General agreement now exists that the limiting factor in
Amerindian tropical forest populations is not a declining
margin of caloric efficiency or a drop in calorie rations
as mediated through the availability of forests suitable
for swiddens (Carneiro 1961). Attention has shifted


accordingly to the role of protein capture (Ross 1971;
Morren 1973; Gross 1975). These inquiries suggest that
tropical forest habitats are characterized by low over-
all animal biomass seems likely that
availability of animal biomass is the principal limiting
factor...(n.d. :15-16).

Siskind has also cited animal protein resources as the primary limiting

factor for the Sharanahua of eastern Peru:

The settlement at Curanja had been there for ten years.
It was the site of a Dominican mission and, within a year
after the mission was closed, the village dispersed.
There had been continual references to the poverty of
game, but no one ever suggested that it was difficult to
find land for their gardens. It would appear that game,
not agricultural land, is the limiting factor (1973a:228).

Unifactorial theories such as those which have been discussed may

seem elegant, but the evidence presented by the Siona-Secoya indicate

that they are overly simplistic. This study will argue that a model to

account for the characteristics of Tropical Forest Culture must be more

complex and sophisticated in terms of ecological processes if it is to

reflect the reality of the interaction between environment, culture and

man in the Amazon.

There is no one adaptation to environment. Ecological conditions

are highly variable through time and space, and subsistence strategy and

technology must be sufficiently flexible to cope with variations in

resources if a culture is to survive. The evidence from the study of

the Siona-Secoya will indicate that the culture is organized so as to

have a great capacity for flexibility in coping with environmental

realities and variations. A substantial body of quantitative and quali-

tative data will be presented in support of a more complex adaptive

model. These data indicate that factors such as soil depletion, compe-

tition for land and protein capture may all be valid limiting factors


in specific times and places, but that none of these can wholly account

for the structure of Tropical Forest Culture. It will also be argued

that the social organization and symbolic system of the Siona-Secoya are

not mere epiphenomena or "superstructure" but serve important ecological


Methodological Critique of Two Classic Studies

With few exceptions studies of Amazonian cultures have been too

superficial in their treatment of ecological factors. However, Meggers'

statement that "no ecologically oriented field studies have been made as

yet in the Amazonian lowlands" (1971:6) is not completely accurate. The

following section consists of a review of two classic studies which did

focus on the subsistence ecology of Amazonian societies. Each of these

studies has made a significant contribution to our knowledge of Amazonia.

The purpose here is not to demean them, but rather to illustrate the

need for better methodological approaches in the collection of ecolo-

gical data so that our understanding of Amazonian peoples may continue

to develop.

Holmberg studied the seminomadic Siriono of eastern Bolivia in

1940-41 (1969) in an attempt to investigate the relative importance of

"basic drives" on human learning and cultural forms. He stated his

research focus in the following manner:

It was logical to assume that where the conditions
of a sparse and insecure food supply exist in human society
the frustrations and anxieties centering around the drive
of hunger should have significant repercussions on behavior
and on cultural forms themselves. Hence, I took as my
general problem the investigation of the relation between
the economic aspect and other aspects of culture in a
society functioning under conditions of a sparse and in-
secure food supply (1969:xviii).


The difficulty in dealing with Holmberg's study of the Siriono, however,

is that we are never told precisely just how "sparse and insecure" the

food supply of these people is. The data on Siriono subsistence re-

sources are subjective and imprecise:

Although agriculture has been practiced for many
years by the has never reached a sufficient
degree of development to prevent their remaining a
fairly mobile people...the sheer physical effort involved
in adequately clearing a patch for planting is enormous
...hence the Siriono have doubtless experienced greater
rewards from the collecting of wild vegetable products
and fruits, some of which...are available and abundant
the year around, than they have from the practice of
agriculture, whose yields are sporadic and uncertain

These statements raise some interesting questions, but they appear to

be Holmberg's impressions, rather than conclusions generated by quanti-

tative analysis of Siriono subsistence activities.

The Siriono are said to have an underdeveloped agriculture that

requires very high labor inputs and whose yields are unreliable. Modern

studies of aboriginal slash-and-burn systems, however, generally agree

that this method is a reliable and relatively efficient mode of pro-

duction (Carneiro 1957, 1964; Carter 1969; Conklin 1957; de Schlippe

1956; Freeman 1955; Geertz 1963; Pospisil 1963; Rappaport 1968). For

example, the technoenvironmental efficiency (calories produced for each

calorie expended in food production) of Tsembaga Maring vegetable food

production with shifting cultivation in New Guinea is 18:1. Harris


The slash-and-burn mode of production permits the
Tsembaga to satisfy their calorie needs with remarkably
small investment of working time only 380 hours per
year per food producer in the cultivation process. High
productivity of slash-and-burn techniques accounts for


the continuing importance of this form of agriculture
throughout the tropical regions of the modern world

I do not mean to suggest that the Siriono's cultivation need be as

efficient as the slash-and-burn of the Tsembaga, but rather that shift-

ing cultivation is not inherently "sporadic and uncertain."

There is internal evidence in Holmberg's study that indicates that

the Siriono relied on their agriculture to a significant degree:

Although a more or less permanent Siriono hut is
encircled by familial garden plots, by no means are all
the gardens planted just outside the hut. A hunter who
is accustomed to a certain lagoon...may plant
a small garden there so as to have vegetable foods avail-
able when he returns on subsequent trips...these hunting
parties...would often last two weeks, during which time
we would make our headquarters at his gardens (1969:

Another point in Holnberg's ethnography that weakens his contention

that Siriono slash-and-burn agriculture is unreliable is the fact that

during the year he spent with them, they only spent two months in

nomadic hunting and gathering activities (1969:xxii-xxiii). Holmberg

also erred in his belief that the chonta palm fruits eaten by the

Siriono were "collected" (1969:64). Chonta is in fact a planted palm

and its fruits are harvested:

The pejibaye, or peach palm (Guilielma utilis or
Bactris utilis) is one of the spiny-trunked palms with
hard, dark wood covnonly called "chonta" in South America.
In many cases it has lost the capacity to produce fertile
seeds and is reproduced by planting sprout cuttings...
The palm is said to be unknown in a truly wild state
(Sauer 1950:525).

These palms continue to produce even after a house site where they have

been planted is abandoned. The Siona-Secoya also visit their former


settlement sites during the chonta bearing season so that the fruit may

be harvested, as apparently do the Siriono. The fruit should properly

be considered as a product of shifting cultivation rather than as the

collecting of a feral species.

The importance of cultivated foods in the Siriono diet is also

evident in the following statement by Holmberg:

Although meat is the most desired item in the diet of the
Indians, it is by no means the most abundant. Maize,
sweet manioc, and camotes (when available) constitute a
very important part of the food supply (1969:76).

On the one hand we are told that the yields of the slash-and-burn culti-

vation of the Siriono are "sporadic and uncertain," while on the other

that cultigens are an important part of the food supply.

It is possible that there may be other factors which limit the ef-

ficiency of Siriono shifting cultivation. These might include elevation

and drainage of the land and soil fertility. Holmberg does tell us that

most of the land consists of bajuras which flood during the rainy season

and have a "heavy clayey topsoil," and which are unsuitable for cultiva-

tion (1969:3). Yet there are some alturas which "are considered to be

the richest agricultural lands." Holmberg estimates the total popula-

tion of the Siriono to have been about 2,000 at the time of his study,

although a number of these had abandoned the indigenous life style. The

band of Aciba-eoko consisted of 94 individuals and that of Eantindu 58.

Therefore with a generous hypothetical estimate of 1/3 hectare per per-

son of land in cultivation to meet subsistence needs, and a twenty year

fallow period (assuming a two-year cropping cycle on each plot), these

two bands would require no more than 313 and 193 hectares respectively

to maintain a viable system of shifting cultivation (with a wide


margin for error). Once again, the lack of basic data in the ethno-

graphy make it impossible to determine if there was sufficient altura

type land available.

Perhaps the best way to determine whether or not a society has a

sparse food supply is to made a quantitative and qualitative analysis

of its diet by measuring the caloric intake of its individuals, or a

representative sample of them, over a period of time. This is commonly

done by noting the foods eaten and the weights of the portions consumed.

Caloric requirements do vary, of course, depending on body size, physical

activity, climate and whether or not the individual is pregnant or

lactating, but these variables may be accounted for with a reasonable

degree of precision. If such data were available for the Siriono it

would clarify much of the ambiguity in Holmberg's report.

One of the first major attempts to utilize quantitative methodology

in the study of aboriginal human ecology in the Amazon was Carneiro's

study of the Kuikuru of the Upper Xingi River in Brazil (1957). He

comments on Kirchoff's (1931) comparative study of tropical forest

tribes in the following manner in his introduction:

Nowhere in the article are we presented with a de-
tailed picture of the ecological adjustment of any one
people. This is not said to discredit Kirchoff, since
no account containing information of this sort was
available to him at the time he was writing [1931]

Carneiro sets for himself the task of remedying this situation, at least

in terms of the Kuikuru:

My aim in this dissertation is not to demonstrate
the proposition that subsistence determines social
structure, but rather to indicate how it has done so in
the case of the Kuikuru...(p. 32).


Although it is Carneiro's stated objective to present a detailed

account of the Kuikuru ecological system, he curiously devotes almost

all of his attention to manioc production. It is evident that manioc

is the most important cultigen, and Carneiro uses quantitative data on

manioc yields to support his contention that sedentary and permanent

villages are possible in the Amazon. The only other Kuikuru cultigens

appear to be maize, sweet potatoes, beans, cayenne pepper, sugarcane and

the semidomesticated piqui (Caryocar butyrosum) and mangaba (Hancornia

speciosa) trees (1957:122, 124, 163, 115). From the evidence Carneiro

presents the Kuikuru would appear to have a remarkable lack of diversity

in their diet when compared to other societies practicing shifting

cultivation, such as the Miskito (Nietschmann 1973), the Campa (Weiss

1969), the Tsembaga (Rappaport 1968), the Hanunoo (Conklin 1957) and

the Siona-Secoya discussed in this dissertation.

Carneiro tells us that the Kuikuru "barely exploit the wild food

resources of their habitat except for fish...simply through lack of

interest in them" (1957:114). They only hunt a few monkeys, five

species of birds, a few insects, as well as collecting wild honey.

Carneiro suggests that the reason the Kuikuru pass up so many potential

food resources is the "principle of least effort":

Per unit of time or of labor, the raising of manioc
provides much more food than does hunting. The relatively
small number of wild foods that are obtained by hunting or
gathering are all of the nature of delicacies rather than
staples...Monkey meat and other wild foods are consumed
for reasons of palate and sociability, and not because of
the dictates of bioenergetics (p. 125).

One of the problems with the "least effort" concept is that it is based

entirely on the quantity of food in terms of calories. It is also

-L -

important to consider the qualitative values of foods.

Carneiro has himself laid the groundwork for a critique of the

"principle of least effort":

Since manioc flour contains only about 1% or 2% can hardly provide enough of the essential
amino acids. Fish, in general, have a protein content
of 15% to 30... and it seems certain that the Kuikuru
obtain most of their amino acids from this source (p.

and is possible that wild food contributes a significant
amount of vitamins and trace elements to the Kuikuru diet
(p. 121).

Although some modes of food production may be less "efficient" in terms

of the ratio of calories expended in their production to calories pro-

duced, they may provide essential nutrients for the maintenance of

physical well-being, and therefore their contribution to the diet cannot

be considered solely in terms of caloric efficiency.

Rappaport also emphasized the point that less efficiently produced

foods can make important nutritional contributions to the diet:

...pig husbandry is expensive in terms of the caloric
expenditure demanded of its practitioners, and...the
maintenance of pigs may also demand, as it does among
the Tsembaga, the cultivation of acreage in excess of
that required for the support of the human population
...pig husbandry might better be regarded as a means for
converting carbohydrates into high-quality protein and
fat...Melanesian pigs, as Vayda, Leeds, and Smith point
out, cannot be regarded as luxuries. They are a very
expensive necessity (1968:66-68).

In the case of Carneiro's study it would be desirable to have a more

detailed analysis of the contribution of each component of the diet as


the energy expenditure entailed in providing that component.

Carneiro's methods for calculating input-output factors for manioc

production are also open to question:

In the course of their routine agricultural activities
during the rainy season we were able to observe the Kuikuru
men, on the average, work on their manioc plots once every
2 or 3 days. Ordinarily they leave the village about
7:00 a.m. and return about 11:30 a.m. If this work pattern
is extrapolated to the year as a whole, which I believe may
be done validly, we find that by simple calculation that the
average Kuikuru man spends 657 hours a year on agricultural
pursuits (1957:135-136).

The structure of Table 4 (1957:158-159) also suggests that Carneiro

computed "average" values on a small sample and then generated the bulk

of his figures by extrapolation (e.g. average weight of edible starch

per tuber multiplied times the average number of tubers per hill multi-

plied times the average number of hills in a manioc plot multiplied

times the number of manioc plots equals the total weight of edible

starch produced by all Kuikuru gardens, or 83,612,800 grams). Carried

to the extreme it would be possible to estimate the entire yield of

manioc from a sample of one tuber, or one hill of tubers. A major

problem with Carneiro's data is that it is not possible to determine

what percentage of the information is based on direct measurement, and

what percentage is derived by extrapolation.

Inference from a sample is not inherently bad, for in most situa-

tions it is impossible or inconvenient to measure the entire population

of phenomena. Sampling is almost mandatory in human ecological studies

for it is impossible for the investigator to be in all places at all

times. However, if an inference is to be made from a sample, care must

be taken to assure that the sample is as representative as possible. In


field situations external conditions may impose limitations on tech-

niques that may be employed, and as a result anthropologists frequently

use a nonprobability sample of availability. Since some doubt may

remain about the procedure, detailed information should be provided on

the methodology employed. This should include the intent or goal of

the procedure, the actual measuring techniques or instruments used, the

method of sample selection, the size of the sample and any special

conditions or circumstances which affected the collection of the data.

In many cases it may not be possible to obtain the sample desired. This

is why it is important that the conditions of the research be fully

explained. This should be no less true in anthropology than in other

sciences, and it is especially important in anthropology since it is

often much more difficult to control the conditions encountered in

ethnographic fieldwork.


The People

The Siona-Secoya are nime~Aers of the Western Tucanoan gruup, one of

the two branches of the Tucanoan linguistic family. In aboriginal times

the Western Tucanoans were an important people occupying a large terri--

tory. They are frequently mentioned in the accounts of explorers,

Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries, and travellers. Yet they are little

known anthropologically. The Western Tucanoans included the Coreguajes

of the northern tributaries of the Caquetd and the Tamas and Macaguajes

of its southern tributaries, the Sionas and Oyo of the Putumayo River,

the Encabellados of the Aguarico and Napo, and the Coto (Orejon,

Payagua) from near the junction of the Napo and the Amazon. In addi-

tion, there were many smaller groups or local subdivisions of the

aforementioned major groups.

To date, the best information available on Western Tucanoan peoples

is from the Sionas of the Putumayo. This important river system has

attracted outsiders since the early historical period. First the

Franciscans in the 17th and 18th centuries, followed by a hiatus during

the 19th century, and then the onslaught of the rubber era during the

early 20th century. Following the collapse of the rubber boom the area

continued to be penetrated by whites, and this process received added

impetus from the discovery of oil in the Orito area in 1963. Descrip-

tions or accounts of the Sicna in the 20th century include those by



Hardenburg (1910, 1912) who described the exploitation of the rubber

period, Castellvi (1939, 1953), Chaves (1958), Calella (1937, 1940-41),

and Mallol de Recasens (1964-65). Research on native plant use has been

conducted by the botanist Schultes (1942, 1957). More recently,

':ler, a Summer Institute of Liu'.'istics missionary, has made a study

of the Siona language (1962, 1970) ~and Langdon (1974) has made an

excellent study of the Siona medical system. Langdon's work also

contains historical and ethnographic data for the Putunayo region. The

other western Tucanoan groups are less well known.

The present study deals with thie -!ester: Tucauoans of the Aguarico

River. The Aguarico is a northern tributary of the Napo River, which in

turn is one of the larger and more important tributaries of the Amazon.

For as long as myth and recorded history can recall, the land along the

middle and lower Aguarico has been the home of Western Tucanoan speaking

peoples. Its main affluents, the Eno, the Shushufindi and the Cuyabeno

are traditional hearths of Western Tucanoan culture as well. This area

of exuberant green forest drained by the swift mud-brown Aguarico, and

the slow, silent, black Cuyabeno, is the focus of the current research.

Many terms have been applied to these peoples of the Aguarico and

Napo by the outsiders who came into contact with them. The early

Franciscans and Jesuits called then Enc:nbellados because of their long

hair, which was sometimes worn in elaborate braided coiffures. Travel-

lers of the 19th century called them Pioj6 after their negation /peohi/

('there is none"), which supposedly iec the Indian response to any

request ior food. These naw.e? .ean little to the people themselves.

"S.ona' and :Secoyv" are the terns of self iJentification these Indians

use when speaking to outsiders. "; .: word Siona consists of two


morphemes: the -:, n stem /sio-/, m.ean ing "garden," ,nd the suffix /-na!

indi;catin-,- "ri c. ena towr.'ard." i complete m-ianing of the term, there-

fore, is "to the garden." In their own language, however, the Sioha of

the Aguarico are known as /sa?niwu ba:i/, or the "up ,-iver people," indi-

cating their resLidence upstream f:ro:' 1-h, mouth of t.:;.- Agu i,:o.

The term "Se--ya" i:; taken frrcm the strea'-: na-.'i /sekaya/, a

tributary of the Santa Maria River ir Peru, which i:- an affluent of the

Napo (see Figue ;1). Oral tradition holds that the homeland of the

Secoya is the qu~brada of the same name. The native name of the Santa

Marfa River is /wahoya/ ("river of battle"; see p. 200), and in their

language the Secoya are known as the /wahoya bai/.

Although related, the Siona of the Aguarico, or /sa?niwu bai/,

should not be confused with the Siona of the Putumayo, or /gatiya bai/

("cane river people"). On the basis of linguistic data, genealogical

analysis and kinship terminologies it is evident that the Siona of the

Aguarico have a closer affinity to the Secoya to the east than to the

Siona of the Putumayo to the north.

The people studied in this dissertation are referred to as "Siona-

Secoya" in order to reflect the social reality of the Aguarico region.

In the early 1940's many of the Secoya of the Sant; M"aria iJgraLed into

Ecuador to escape the abuses of a w -ite patron and -':ttleci w-i.h Siona

kinsmen on the Cuvabeno. The children of these Secoya intermarried with

Siona and Siona-Cofan at the village of Puerto Bol..var. In 1973 most

of the families at Puette Bolivar began migrating :o the village of

Sbushufindi on the Aguarico. Shushufindi was the primary research site

for this study, although visits were made to other settlements. The

Western Tucanoans of the Aguarico, therefore consist primarily of Siona





- 0


o -
^ ~ >-


and Secoya who have inter--arried (there are also a few Cof$n, Siona-

Cofan, Angotero and Miacaguaje individuals in the same communities). They

share a similar cultural tradition, speak mutually intelligible dialects

of the same language and have been linked through marriage for at least

four generations. Furthermore, intermarriage will increase in the

future due to the structure of the marriage rules and the availability

of potential marriage partners. For these reasons the hyphenated term

"Siona-Secoya" is used when referring to the culture in general terms,

and to shared cultural elements between the two parent groups. To elect

for one term over another (as the missionaries have tended to do) is to

sacrifice accuracy and to deny the importance of one group in favor of
another. Only in cases of specific historical events, or where a trait,

practice or artifact is associated with one group, but not the other,

will the single terms "Siona" and "Secoya" be employed.

The Land

The traditional territory of the Western Tucanoans stretched over

an area of about 82,000 square kilometers (31,500 square miles) between

lat. 10N. to S. and long. 730. to 77LW. in what is presently part of

modern day Ecuador, Colonbia and Peru. This tcrr:itory lies east of the

Andean foothills and its elevator ranges from about 300-100 meters

(approximately 1,000-400 feet) from west to east. The geology of the

Aguarico Basin is characterized by old alluvial beds of the Quaternary

which give way to Cretaceous-Tertiary and Paleozoic sediments to the

west, and then the metamorphic formations of the Andes (Tschopp 1953:

2304; Grubb et al. 1963:570).


The climate corresponds to K6ppen's Af or tropical wet (with no

month drier than 60 mm of rainfall). Data collected at Limoncocha

(a Summer Institute of Linguistics base camp on the Napo) 32 kilometers

southwest of Shushufindi shows a mean annual rainfall of 3375 mm (132

inches) for the period 1971-74. The month of least rainfall for this

period was December with a mean of 172.5 mm (6.79 inches), and the month

of greatest rainfall was March with a mean of 411.2 mm (16.19 inches).

Generally speaking, the "dry sea-o&" runs from December through February,

cnd tie "wet season" from March through July. The people of the region

refer to August as a "little dry season" (verano), and the Limoncocha

data for 1971-74 show a mean rainfall for August of 253.8 mm (9.99

inches) which is slightly below the mean monthly rainfall for the entire

year of 281.2 mm (11.08 inches). From a temperate zone perspective

there are no truly dry months, but rather wet months and somewhat less

wet months. However, this should not obscure the fact that seasonal

variations in rainfall do have a significant influence on human activi-

ties within the region, especially those relating to subsistence (Siona-

Secoya reckoning of seasons will be discussed in Chapter IV).

Appendix 1 contains climatological data from Limoncocha as well as

for the first twelve months of the fieldwork at Shushufindi (October

1973 to September 1974). This twelve month period was somewhat wetter

than usual, with a total rainfall of 3665 mm (144.29 inches). The high

total was primarily due to heavier rainfall than usual in May, June and

July, which culminated with heavy floods in July that washed away the

steel and concrete bridge and pipeline crossing the Aguarico on the Lago

Agrio-Coca highway, as well as destroying many houses along the banks of

the river. The mean annual temperature recorded at Shushufindi was


25.90C (78.70F), with a mean maximum temperature of 31.10C (87.90F)

and a mean minimum temperature of 20.80C (69.40F).

The mature vegetation of the Aguarico-Napo region is of the type

classified by Richards (1952) as Tropical Rain Forest, and subsequently

reclassified by Grubbet al. (1963) as Tropical Lowland Rain Forest.

It is characterized by three strata of trees with heights ranging from

24-45 meters (80-150 feet), large woody climbers, common occurrence of

epiphytes, and frequent occurrence of buttressed trees, some of which

are very large (Grubbet al. 1963:596). In addition to this primary

growth, there are a number of other plant associations which develop

under specific ecological conditions. These include the secondary

growth characteristic of islands and banks of certain rivers, the secon-

dary growth developing from abandoned gardens and habitation sites,

associations of lowland areas and perennially flooded soils, and vine

associations (bejucales) among others. The Siona-Secoya are sophisi-

cated in their recognition and utilization of the various floral associ-

ations (see Chapter IV and Appendix 3). The fauna of the area under

study is typically Amazonian in character (see Chapter V and Appendix 4).

The Aguarico, the major river of the study area, rises in the

Pimampiro and Due spurs of the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes. As it

descends the steep eastern slopes of the Andes it carries a heavy load

of silt along with it. For this reason its water is characteristically

muddy brown in color. Only during the drier months, when the river

drops dramatically, does the water show any semblance of clarity. The

Spanish named the river Aguarico ("rich water") because they discovered

flecks of gold in its currents, and to this day there is some small

scale prospecting carried out on its upper reaches. The Siona-Secoya


call it /haiya/ or "big river."3

For over half of its course the Aguarico is swift and treacherous.

There are innumerable rapids and submerged logs just below the surface

of the cloudy water. The last major rapids are just above the mouth of

the Eno River, about 13 kilometers (8 miles) upriver from the village

of Shushufindi. The Aguarico is navigable for 160 of its 480 kilometers

(Acosta-Solis 1965:23). The Eno itself is a small tributary that enters

the Aguarico from the right bank (proceeding downstreamm, as is the

Shushufindi downriver. While both the Eno and Shushufindi are smaller

than the Aguarico, their waters are similar in color and the vegetation

along their banks is generally similar to the larger river, except for

its sandbar and island associations with their characteristic stands of

caia brava (Gynerium sagittatum).

A full day's journey by canoe downriver from the Shushufindi brings

one to the mouth of the Cuyabeno River, which enters the Aguarico from

the left bank, or north side. This is a river that has figured promi-

nently in Siona-Secoya history, but that has always had a certain aura

of mystery or foreboding about it. They call it /siokiya/ which trans-

lates as "river of refuse," and explain that it was given this name

because the water carries much litter, especially the leaves from the

trees along its banks. To the outsider the name seems bizarre, for the

slow dark waters of the Cuyabeno appear pristine in comparison to the

silt-laden Aguarico. The river is strikingly different in appearance

from the Aguarico, Eno and Shushufindi. It is a small stream which

rises completely within the jungle between the San Miguel and the

Aguarico and runs eastward and then southward in a sinuous twisting and

turning course, doubling back upon itself time and time again. Numerous


bends have been cut off as the river has shifted its bed, creating oxbow

lakes straddling its path. Its banks are low, at times only a meter or

two above the level of the river. When the rains commence the currents

rise and flood vast areas along either side, refilling the oxbows with

fish. There are only a few places along the river where the banks are

elevated above the flood level.

The waters of the Cuyabeno are dark, not dirty, and its surface is

calm. Brilliantly colorful flowering trees overhang its banks and an

astonishing variety of birdlife is in evidence along its course, in-

cluding ringed kingfishers (Ceryle torquata) which dart along the water

before approaching canoes, and long necked anhingas (Anhinga anhinga)

which walk along submerged on the bottom and stick their heads above the

surface of the water to observe you as you pass. For these reasons the

Cuyabeno has a quality of beauty and intimacy that the other rivers

cannot match.

Further downstream from the mouth of the Cuyabeno two historically

important tributaries enter the Aguarico: /s6kora/ (corrupted to

Zancudo in Spanish) from the right bank, and /bi?ikiya/ ("caiman river")

from the left (see Figure 1). The latter is notorious for its confusing

maze of waterways and swampy terrain. Near the mouth of the Aguarico

the quebrada Cocaya enters from the left.

There was considerable Western Tucanoan settlement around Pantoja

at the junction of the Aguarico and Napo Rivers until comparatively

recent times. During the early mission period there were also Encabel--

lado farther up the Napo and on the lower Tiputini River. The Santa

Maria River runs parallel to the Napo (below the mouth of the Aguarico)

before entering it from the left bank, and is the traditional home of


the Secoyas. To the northeast are the Angusilla ( /unk isiya/ ) and

Yubineto, two tributaries of the Putumayo which are currently inhabited

by groups of Secoyas and Angoteros. In aboriginal times Encabellado

territory extended even farther eastward to the Curaray on the Napo, and

the Campuya on the Putumayo. South of the Napo, on the Curaray, lived

the Awishira, dreaded enemies of the Encabellado. To the east were the

/?6ma bai/ or "howler monkey people" (Coto in Spanish), who were related

Western Tucanoan speakers, and to the north, the Witotoan peoples.

The purpose of this brief chapter has been to give a general intro-

duction to the research setting. Although the Tucanoan language family

does not compose one of the larger linguistic groups in the Amazon Basin,

even the territory of the Western Tucanoan branch is marked by signifi-

cant variations in habitat and resources. In subsequent chapters

specific information will be provided on conditions at particular

locations and variations in Siona-Secoya resource utilization.


Wheeler and Wheeler (1962) provide the "to the field" gloss, but in a
subsequent study one of the authors questions this derivation (Wheeler
1970:14), and suggests that the name "Siona" derives from the Witoto
term for "perfume people."

SIL personnel refer to the communities on the Cuyabeno and at Shushu-
findi as "Secoya." This preference appears to rest on the fact that
their primary linguistic informants have been Secoyas. They have also
had greater success in converting the Secoyas to Protestantism, whereas
the Sionas of the Aguarico have been more resistant to their teachings.
From an anthropological perspective, the identification of these com-
munities solely as Secoya is not justifiable.

3The Napo River is also called /haiya/.
The Napo River is also called /haiya/.



All the tribes that are along this river down which we
have passed...are people of great intelligence and
skillful men according to what we saw and to what they
appeared to be from all the tasks which they perform,
not only in carving but also in drawing and in painting
in all colors, very bright, such that it is a marvelous
thing to see.

Gaspar de Carvajal, August 1542
(in Heaton 1934:233)

Historically speaking, the Napo and its tributaries constitute one

of the most important river systems in all of Amazonia. The Napo

figured prominently in the famous voyages of Francisco de Orellana

(1541-42) and Pedro Teixeira (1637-39), the missionization efforts of

the Jesuits during the 17th and 18th centuries, was involved in the

rubber boom at the turn of the present century, and was a battlefield

in the war between Ecuador and Peru in 1941. The interpretation of its

archeological materials is at the center of the most vigorous debate on

Amazonian culture history to date.1

The history of the Encabellados is closely associated with the

history of the Napo, for they were one of its most prominent ethnic

groups. Encabellado history may be divided into four periods for the

purpose of discussion: Precontact Period (before 1542), Early Mission

Period (17th and 18th centuries), Nineteenth Century, and the Modern

Period (1900 to the present).



The Precontact Period (Before 1542)

The archeological investigation of the Aguarico-Napo region has

only its barest beginnings. The most significant excavations to date

were conducted by Evans and Meggers (1968) at ten sites on the Napo and

three on the Tiputini. Four phases were identified: Yasuni (radio-

carbon date 2000 90 or 50 B.C.), Tivacundo (1440 70 or A.D. 510),

Napo (three dates: 742 53 or A.D. 1168; 771 51 or A.D. 1179;

470 180 or A.D. 1480), and Cotacocha (post-European contact). To date

no definite associations have been made between these phases and Western

Tucanoan cultures. Evans and Meggers have hypothesized that these

ceramic complexes represent four independent traditions which settled

briefly in the area, but then moved on due to the low subsistence poten-

tial of the land (1968:108). In general, they see the movement as being

from the older pottery making traditions of the Andes to the lowlands,

or from west to east.

The most developed of the ceramic complexes, the Napo Phase, was

identified by Evans and Meggers as belonging to the Polychrome Horizon

Style which has been found at a number of sites along the middle and

lower Amazon, including the famous sites of Maraj6 Island at the mouth

of the river. Napo Phase vessels have also been collected from loca-

tions along the Aguarico River by Gillin (1936), Lapiner, and Evans and

Meggers (1968:36). There are, respectively, from sites one-and-a-half

miles up a creek (a south tributary) forty-five miles from the mouth of

the Aguarico, a site just upriver from the mouth of the Cuyabeno, and

from the mouth of the Eno. In addition my wife and I made surface

collections at the villages of Shushufindi and Puerto Bolivar which

contain sherds with decoration in the Napo Phase style.2


On the basis of his excavations on the Ucayali in Peru Lathrap has

concluded that the Caimito Phase is also of the Polychrome Horizon Style.

He has postulated that this horizon was carried by Tupi-Guaranian

speakers in a series of east-west migrations from the Lower Amazon to

its upper tributaries (1970:150). Specifically, Lathrap argues that the

carriers of the Napo Phase were Omaguas who fissioned fron settlements

on the Amazon and moved up the Napo and "dominated" the Aguarico-Napo

region (p. 153). These were known in historical times as Omagua-yetes

and the Spanish found them inhabiting the Napo region from the Coca to

the mouth of the Aguarico, and some were reported living on the Cocaya

(a tributary of the Aguarico near its mouth). The early sources on the

Omagua of the Napo have been summarized by Oberem (1967-68).

Since the archeology of the region is so incomplete it is not known

whether any of the phases identified by Evans and Meggers are the leav-

ings of Western Tucanoan peoples. The sites they excavated lie generally

to the west of traditional Western Tucanoan territory, but there is some

overlap with documented Encabellado settlements of the Early Mission

Period on the Tiputini, and the Napo Phase vessels found along the

Aguarico and the sherds I collected on the Cuyabeno are well within the

area traditionally considered to be Encabellado territory. The anti-

quity of Western Tucanoan peoples in the area cannot be established with

certainty until the archeological sequences of the entire region are

better known, but all indications point to considerable antiquity of

habitation. As has been previously mentioned, the Western Tucanoans

were a large group inhabiting a vast territory from the Caquetg to the

Napo. Linguistic studies by Wheeler (1966) indicate that the depth of

separation from the related Eastern Tucanoans of the Vaupes region of


eastern Colombia is in the range of 1500-2000 years. Accounts of early

missionaries reenforce the assumption that the lower Aguarico was

traditional Encabellado territory.

The expedition of Gonzalo Pizarro to the "Land of Cinnamon" east

of the Andes, and the subsequent voyage of his lieutenant, Francisco de

Orellana, to the mouth of the Amazon is one of the more remarkable

events of the Age of Discovery. Orellana and his men separated from

the main party of the expedition on the Rio Coca in order to search for

provisions downstream. When it became evident that the band could not

return against the current of the river,they sailed on. According to

the account of Gaspar de Carvajal, a Dominican friar who was the jour-

nalist of the voyage, the banks of the Napo were uninhabited for 200

leagues. Further downstream settlements were encountered and the

Spanish stopped at the village of Aparia the Lesser for a month to forge

2,000 nails from their equipment which were used to construct a brigan-

tine for the rest of the voyage (Carvajal in Heaton 1934). Estimates of

the location of this village have ranged from above the mouth of the

Tiputini (Lathrap 1972:17-18) to the Curaray (Medina in Heaton 1934:61).

Although the estimated sites for the village of Aparia the Lesser

fall within what is considered Encabellado territory, current interpre-

tations of the early accounts suggest that this chief was Omagua (Oberem

1967-68:161; Lathrap 1972:18-19; Grohs 1974:22-23). This conclusion is

based on the analysis of a few words which appear to be Omagua, the fact

that Aparia the Greater (a chieftain of the Amazon) was very likely

Omagua, and that Orellana was able to learn some of the language and

used it as he descended the river.

There is no direct evidence to suggest that any of the villages


Orellana's band visited were Western Tucanoan (Encabellado), but this

possibility certainly cannot be ruled out. As subsequent missionization

efforts attest, however, the Encabellado preferred to locate their

settlements away from the banks of the main rivers. The typical settle-

ment pattern consisted of dispersed residence groups located on smaller

creeks and streams which fed into the Aguarico, Napo and Putumayo. The

basic settlement consisted of a patrilocal, patrilineal extended family

residing in a communal house or /hai wi?4/ ("big house"). It was not

unusual for this group to be expanded by the addition of nuclear house-

holds whose members did not form an integral part of another extended

group (due to particular historical circumstances, such as having been

orphaned). The leader of the residence group was the headman or

intii ba?iki/ ("this one who lives"), who was the most respected shaman.

The greater the power of the intii ba?iki/ the larger the residence group

tended to be as unattached households were attracted to his curative and

protective abilities.

If Lathrap's hypothesis that Napo Phase ceramics are Omagua arti-

facts is correct, the following hypothetical scenario may be offered:

(1) having split from the Eastern Tucanoans some 1,500 to 2,000 years

ago, the Western Tucanoans inhabit the area north of the Napo and the

Aguarico; (2) warlike Omaguas migrate up the Napo and settle near the

mouth of the Aguarico, on the Tiputini, and up the Coca, with the Western

Tucanoans withdrawing up the smaller streams (A.D. 1168-1542); (3)

Orellana's expedition descends the Napo and contacts Omaguas on the Coca

and along the Napo (Domain of Aparia the Lesser); (4) during the Early

Mission Period the Omagua communities of the Coca are pacified, assimi-

lated or exterminated, and the Tiputini Omagua are taken to the Rio Sunu


to pan gold and subsequently escape and rejoin the Omagua on the Amazon

(Oberem 1967-68:158); and (5) the Encabellados reoccupy the Tiputini and

the area around the mouth of the Aguarico. Meggers and Evans, however,

believe that Lathrap has "totally misinterpreted the distribution of the

Omagua" (personal communication). The final answers to these and many

other questions relating to Amazonian culture history await more exten-

sive archeological and linguistic research in this greatly understudied

region of the world.

The Early Mission Period

Los Ancutenas del Napo cuidan del cabello con much aseo
y por eso los llaman Encabellados. Peinanse todas las
tardes, hacen trenzas y las envuelven con un tejidillo
en la cabeza. Es gala de esta naci6n dejar a sus tiempos,
suelto y bien peinado al cabello sobre las espaldas y
algunos hasta la cintura.

Chantre y Herrera 1901:63

There is a considerable body of published material on the Encabel-

lados during the Early Mission Period. Some sources are first hand

accounts (Acuia 1891; Laureano de la Cruz 1900; Uriarte 1952; Veigl

1785) while others are compilations made from original sources (Chantre

y Herrera 1901; Espinosa Perez 1955; Grohs 1974; Maroni 1889-92;

Rodriguez 1684; Steward 1948b; Velasco 1941). It is also probable that

there is considerable unpublished archival material extant. The quality

of the sources is variable. The most frequent contradictions occur in

the reporting of dates for specific occurrences and the location of

rivers and villages.3

From an anthropological perspective, the major problem with the

accounts is that they are primarily concerned with events, i.e., the


activities of the missionaries. They are weak in ethnographic detail,

containing scanty or no information on kinship, political organization

or native religious beliefs. However, they do contain bits of infor-

mation on place names, population, settlement pattern, sorcery, and

warfare which are valuable for comparison to contemporary data. This is

useful to determine the type and degree of change that has taken place

over the years, as well as the continuities between the present and the

past. The information on demography and settlement pattern is particu-

larly important for the analysis of the cultural ecology of the Encabel-

lados and their descendants, the Siona-Secoya.

The Encabellados were visited by the Jesuits Ferrer and Arnulfi in

1599 (Steward 1948b:739) and again by Padres Simon de Rojas and Umberto

Coronado in 1621. The latter took an unnamed Encabellado and Awishira

back to Quito for display, and even there the animosity between these

two traditional enemies of the north and south banks of the Napo was


...sacando y bautizando algunos dellos, que en serial y
prueba de sus espirituales correrias, sacaros despues a
Quito; en la cual occasion admiraron much los nuestros
lo encontrado y opuesto que se mostraban en los naturales
conform lo eran en las naciones un Encabellado y otro
Avijira, pues aun despues de reducidos al gremio y unidad
de la fe, en encontrandose los dos el uno a la presencia
del otro, no podia encubrir en el semblante la natural
antipatia que hay entire aquellas naciones, y era precise
viviesen divididos, para no renir entire sf a cada paso
(Maroni 1889-92:28:182-3).

In 1635 Captain Juan de Palacios and a group of soldiers and

Franciscans descended the Aguarico and attempted to found a mission at

a site called Ante,18 leagues above the mouth of the river (Juan de

Velasco cited in Es osa Perz 1955:11-14) Palacios was overbearing
Velasco cited in Espinosa Perez 1955:11-14). Palacios was overbearing


in his manner, however, and the Indians killed him along with some of

his men. Although it is not well known, this act led to one of the

decisive events in South American history: the voyage of the Portuguese

Captain Pedro de Teixeira from Gurupg to Quito and his Act of Possession

which formed the basis of Portuguese claims to the Amazon.5

Following the death of Palacios, Friars Diego de Brieda and Andr6s

de Toledo and six soldiers escaped downriver and managed to sail all the

way to Para, a feat no less remarkable than the voyage of Orellana in

1542. The Portuguese were impressed with the accounts of the Fran-


0 que narraram impressionou. Em SAo Luiz, side da
administration que alcanjava a Amazonia, o Estado do Maranhio
e Grio-Parg, o governador Jacome Raymundo de Noronha, a
cuja presence se apresentaram, ouviu-lhes or relate minucioso.
Havia ordens regias para effectuar-se a conquista do
rio. Ordens muito positives que por motives imperiosos
tinham ficado por cumprir. A occasiAo agora era propicia,
com os guias aparecidos, que se offereciam a regressar a
Quito com uma expediAo (Reis 1931:33).

Jacome de Noronha chose Captain Pedro Teixeira to head the expedition

of seventy soldiers and hundreds of Indians which departed upriver on

October 26, 1637.

By the time the expedition approached the Upper Amazon the Indian

paddlers and hunters began to flee,and the soldiers' esprit de corps

was flagging,and many fell ill. Teixeira decided to establish a camp

on the Napo and leave the main body of his men there while he proceeded

on to Quito. Reis (p. 36) places this camp at the junction of the

Aguarico and Napo, but most other sources indicate that it was at the

mouth of the /wahoya/ or Santa Maria, "the river of the Encabellados"

(Rodriguez 1684:121-124, cited in Espinosa Perez 1955:15; Chantre y

o 00

>- c

to o

+Ja W.0
0U m0 (0

- I 0 (3

fE -- t


c / C

E 0

i 0

yj ^-0
_ _


Herrera 1901:49; Jimenez de la Espada, cited in Espinosa Perez 1955:17).

The relations between the encamped Portuguese and the Encabellados were

not peaceful:

As pazes com os Encabellados ja nao estavam respeitadas.
0 desasocego no logar tomava vulto. Pedro da Costa Favella,
para garantia de seus commandados, assignalava em sangue e
fogo a sua presence de disciplinador passando pelas armas os
Encabellados que pudera agarrar e incendiando-lhes aldeamentos
(Reis 1931:37).

Teixeira departed Quito on February 10, 1639, and performed the Act of

Possession during his return voyage. Although the site of the Auto de

Posse has been debated (Edmundson 1922:32-43), the Portuguese contention

is clear: "Encarada politicamente, valeu como o primero pass para o

alargamento doBrasil portuguez na posse fincada a bocca do Aguarico"

(Reis 1931:39).

In 1654 Padre Raimundo de Santa Cruz entered Encabellado territory

in search of a route to connect the missions of the Marafion and Quito

(Rodriguez 1684:189-193 and Chantre y Herrera 1901:164-5 cited in

Espinosa Perez 1955:12,17). At one point his party lost its direction

and five Jivaros were sent ashore to seek directions. They approached

an Encabellado settlement where all but one were promptly surrounded,

killed and beheaded with stone axes. The lone survivor escaped to the

river and warned the expedition.

On July 15, 1683 a Cedula Real was issued which gave the Jesuits

exclusive rights to missionize the Indians of the Napo and Aguarico,

limiting the Franciscans to the Putumayo (Chantre y Herrera 1901:316).

The period from 1709 to 1769 was the heyday of Jesuit activity among the

Encabellados. No fewer than seventeen missions were founded on the

Aguarico and Napo (see Figure 2). The Jesuits found the Encabellados

scattered in small settlements off the main rivers. Since the number

of missionaries was always very small and the territory large, they

spent much of their time travelling. Their history is a record of

comings and goings between the various mission sites, and journeys into

the forest to search for newly reported groups of Encabellados. The

strategy was to take the Indians from their small, dispersed settlements

in the forest and concentrate them in villages or reducciones along the

banks of the Napo and Aguarico to facilitate their catechization.

The Jesuit fathers were tenacious men who endured great hardships

to contact the Encabellados and motivate them to relocate their settle-

ments. They frequently travelled many days inland through forests and

swamps searching for groups that had been reported by previously con-

tacted Encabellado. The Jesuits were largely successful in accomplish-

ing this, but failed in the long term because they were unable to

overcome the centrifugal forces that tended to pull the reducciones


Each individual Encabellado settlement under its headman, or

intii ba?iki/, feared the sorcery of other Encabellado. When the

Jesuits attempted to get two groups to settle in one reducci6n some

headmen refused outright. The fathers were rigid in their adherence

to doctrine, but pragmatic in dealing with problems they could not

control. They allowed the recalcitrant groups to make individual

settlements by the rivers in the hope that they could eventually be

persuaded to unite in the main reducciones.

The Encabellado missions were notable for their instability.

People fled them at the slightest difficulty or provocation. A major

problem was the increased susceptibility to disease in the reducciones,


and the fact that the Encabellado believed that most illness was the

result of sorcery. The discipline imposed by the Jesuits and their

assistants also caused difficulties. The most significant episode of

this type occurred when the headman Curazaba attempted to escape from

the mission of San Miguel but was detained by Padre Francisco Real:

...Curazaba tratase de escapar al monte con toda su familiar.
Quiso disimular la retirada con el pretexto de un puro paseo
con apariencias de que volverfa; mas no pudo encubrir su
verdadera determinaci6n de manera que un nino de la escuela
no descubriese las diligencias y prevenciones que hacia para
llevar la familiar. Como esta gente inocente, es siempre
fiel al misionero y entra con celo en las ideas de su
maestro, fu6 volando al misionero y le avis6 de la resoluci6n
cierta de Curazaba. Procur6 el padre disuadirle con todos
los modos que supo y pudo el viaje; pero como nada hiciese
mella en aquel duro coraz6n, se determine 6 quitarle la
herramienta que le habia dado, advirtiondo que no se le
dejaba el instrument por querer retirarse al monte; pero
que se le volveria 6 dar despubs de pocos dias, si en
ellos daba pruebas de desistir de su intent (Chantre y
Herrera 1901:392).

His escape attempt foiled, Curazaba began to use his influence against

the priest, charging that the Indians were being taught Quechua in the

mission school so that they could be sold into slavery. On January 4,

1744 Cuazaba and his followers speared Padre Real and his two assistants,

desecrated the religious objects of the chapel, burned the settlement,

and returned to the forest.

Having heard of the death of Padre Real, and fearing punishment,

the Encabellados of the missions of Nombre de Jesus, San Pedro, Soledad

de Maria, Santa Teresa, Coraz6n de Maria, Mgrtires del Jap6n and San

Estanislao fled also (Chantre y Herrera 1901:396). Only the people of

San Jos6, San Luis Gonzaga, San Bartolom6 de Necoya, San Juan de

Paratoas and Santa Maria de Guayoya stayed, largely due to the efforts

of Padre Joaquin Pietragrasa. The tenacity of the Jesuits is apparent


in the fact that the experienced, but ailing, Padre Martin Iriarte

returned from a convalescence and assumed the task of attempting to

reestablish the lost missions. He was the only fluent speaker of the

Encabellado language among the Jesuit missionaries (Chantre y Herrera

1901:398). Iriarte met with a degree of success, but the missions never

attained their former prominence.

From 1746 to 1750 there were no priests active in the missions,

their responsibility having been left to one Hermano Sanchez, who at-

tempted to force the Indians of San Bartolomn to resettle at San Jose,

and sent Encabellado children to established Spanish towns, such as

Archidona, for schooling. The Encabellados resisted these policies,and

the missions declined. By 1769 only two Encabellado missions remained

(Escobar y Mendoza 1769:60 cited in Steward 1948b:740).

The Nineteenth Century

The recorded history of the Nineteenth Century is scant in compari-

son to the Eighteenth. There was little missionary activity during

this period,and the only historical sources are the accounts of occa-

sional travellers. The territory of the Encabellado was essentially the

same, but outsiders now referred to them as the Pioj6. The geographer

Villavicencio visited the area in the 1850's (1958:175) and found them: on turtle and manatee on the lower Aguarico River.
The Angutera lived on the left side of the Napo River below
the Aguarico River, where they cultivated manioc, yuca, and
bananas. The Santa Maria were peacefully and industriously
growing crops and trading hammocks and sarsaparilla (Steward

The Englishman, Simson, travelled extensively on the Napo and


Putumayo and describes the Pioj4 thusly:

The Piojes of the Napo are, of course, Aucas; but
those who have been in contact with traders to whom they
supply hammocks in exchange for lienzo, knives, etc. -
disclaim this title, saying, "Auca no! Santa Maria runa,
Quiristiano!" (Not Auca! Santa Maria man, Christian!).
Upon the approach of strangers, their first action is
usually to indicate the nose with the forefinger, and to
blow and sniff through the nostrils to show their clearness
and freedom from catarrh, saying, "Huairahud, huairahua"
(Cold, cold); for after smallpox there is no disease they,
and most other Indians also, fear more than colds and
influenza. If they notice signs of the affliction, or
sneezing, in their visitors, they are alarmed; and if the
latter is repeated they decamp (sic)...
The dress of the men consists of a sort of bag or
shirt...reaching down to the knees, whilst the women wear
a band of woven chambira-fibre, eight inches wide, round
the loins, the body being painted almost all over. The
ornaments are feathers, and necklaces of jaguar's and
peccaris' and monkeys' eye-teeth (1886:193-195).

In the Nineteenth Century the Encabellado's contact with the out-

side world shifted from the missionization efforts of the Jesuits to

sporadic bartering with river traders, exchanging forest products and

hammocks for iron tools, cloth,and other manufactured items. They were

still considered Aucas (savages), were still at war with the Awishira

(Sim~;on 1886:197), and continued to be plagued by the diseases intro-

duced by whites.

The Modern Period (1900-Present)

The events of the Twentieth Century have drawn the Western Tuca-

noans of the Aguarico and Napo into ever increasing contact with the

outside world. There have been three somewhat overlapping phases of

contact. The first phase was the rubber boom which began around the

turn of the century and petered out by the 1920's, but which left a


system of debt peonage which affected some Secoya until the 1940's. The

second phase was the renewal of missionary activity in 1955 by the

Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), which continues to the present.

The most recent phase of contact stems from the oil boom beginning in

1968, and the subsequent road construction into the Aguarico Basin and

the colonization which has followed it.

The Rubber Phase

The rubber boom was a disaster of enormous proportions for the

Indians of the Amazon. Tens of thousands died as a result of being

forced into semislavery as rubber collectors and from disease. Harden-

burg (1912) described the atrocities committed against the indigenous

peoples of the Putumayo, but there is little published material on the

Aguarico and Napo for this period. Langdon states that the brunt of the

exploitation on the Putumayo fell on Boran and Witotoan peoples, but

that the Western Tucanoan tribes felt its consequences also:

In general, the Siona living in the upper regions of
their territory disliked the patronage system and preferred
their freedom, but rubber collecting activities affected
those living downstream more heavily, particularly the Oyo
tribe and the Makaguajes. The oral history of the Siona
includes stories of rubber collectors and their cruelties...
a collector...took some sixty adults of the Oyo tribe at
Montepa to Peru because of debts they owed him. They were
never heard from again, and with their forced departure,
the Oyo tribe became nearly extinct. The gathering of
resins continued throughout the whole area until the middle
of the 1920's. Moreover, no Indian, whether he worked for
the white man or not, could escape the consequences of the
growing importance of the Putumayo region (1974:37).

The Siona-Secoya living today can likewise recall details of the

rubber period related to them by their parents. Patrons established

themselves on the Napo just below the mouth of the Aguarico and exploited


the Indians in that general area rather directly (including the Secoya

on the Santa Maria River and its tributaries). Older Secoya men recall

their fathers collecting rubber for a patr6n named "Karamuna Paco," who

reportedly was a Spaniard living at Pantoja (at the junction of the

Aguarico and Napo). Ironically, the sons of the Secoya who worked for

this patr6n view the era with a degree of nostalgia, stating that cloth,

soap and ammunition could be acquired cheaply in those days. According

to Fernando Payaguaje, the intii ba?iki/ of Shushufindi, his father

would work for about a month locating and felling rubber trees to make

a ball of rubber weighing two arrobas (about fifty pounds).6 This was

toted overland to Pantoja and could be exchanged for some cloth and shot,

powder and primers, or one muzzle loading shotgun of cheap manufacture.

In the 1930's the Secoya fell under the domination of a patron they

remember as "Mauricio David." Cecilio Piaguaje estimates that he worked

for this man for fifteen years felling trees, clearing pastures, and

cultivating rice, maize and plantain gardens. He describes the work as

"never ending," and says that he even had to request permission from the

patron to go hunting in the forest. He was paid one cushma or /hu?ika/

for each year's work (the cushma is a shiftlike garment worn by men).

This account is corroborated by Fernando, who says that all of the

Secoya men worked for "Mauricio David," and that his chacras were very


The Sionas farther up the Aguarico also remember the accounts of

their fathers who collected rubber, but it appears that their patrons

were Peruvians and Colombians who made periodic visits to them in

launches. Sim6n Piaguaje says that his father collected rubber for a

"Sr. San Miguel" from the Napo and a "Sr. Tera" (Teran ?), who was a


Colombian. He was paid an axe, and a shirt and a pair of pants for four

years of work. If the Indians didn't work they were punished and

threatened with imprisonment. Life history materials indicate that some

Sionas of the Aguarico were able to maintain a degree of freedom from

the control of the patrons. According to Sim6n, those who didn't wish

to work went deeper into the forest and made their gardens there.

The Secoyas chafed under the conditions imposed on them by their

patron at Pantoja. Around 1940 the Secoyas were visited by Sionas from

the Cuyabeno who were related to them. In the words of Alejandro

Payaguaje, one of the Sionas who made the trip:

The father of Fernando was from a place a little down-
river from Cocaya. He went down to live on the Secoya...
there were no Peruvians. Later the Peruvians arrived. The
father of Fernando was the brother of my mother...working
all day, not earning anything. They themselves said, "Let's
go to Cuyabeno." The Peruvians would not allow passage by
river. At Castafa, more than two bends below /bi?ikiya/
(Lagarto Cocha), there is a trail to /sekoya/. David and
Josecillo came together, later Fernando came. I went to
/sekoya/ once.

In 1941 war broke out between Ecuador and Peru over a border dis-

pute, and Peruvian troops used the Napo as a route of invasion. Fernando

recounted the events of the war and the subsequent migration of a

portion of the Secoyas to the Cuyabeno:

War...we lived in the forest...we heard ta...ta...ta
(machine guns). At noon Peru was winning...arriving at
the mouth of the Aguarico, also the Coca. Mauricio (the
patron) said, "Now there are no Ecuadorians." Peruvians
were living at the mouth of the Cuyabeno and Coca...clearing
their chacras...making pastures. Later they returned to
Pantoja in order to begin well (the peace).
Mauricio asking us to work...but did not pay us...
much work. After four months he gives me one piece of cloth
for my woman, two pots, thread, a shirt...mothing more.
This is how Mauricio paid. He robbed me...robbed me.


My father died, killed by chonta darts. It made me
sad. I said, "I am an Ecuadorian." Alejandro was my
"brother" /yi a?yi/. I said, "Let's go to your land."
And the father of Bolivar was my "grandfather" /yi feki/.
We made a path, a large trail, that came out at /?5maya/,
a branch of the Aguarico below Lagarto Cocha. We ascended
the /sekoya/ by canoe and then took the trail and came out
at Lagarto Cocha. Alejandro and the father of Bolivar
took me. We went up the Aguarico and then entered the
Cuyabeno. First David and Cesario went, my brothers...I
was left alone. There I stayed...later I came. Mauricio
did not know...we lived in the forest. We told him we
were going to look for /wansoka/ (a forest product).

The Return of Missionaries

In 1955 Orville Johnson, a member of the Summer Institute of

Linguistics (SIL) made contact with the Siona-Secoya living on the

Cuyabeno. He settled there with his family and built a short airstrip

with the help of the Indians, which permitted him to be resupplied from

Limoncocha, the SIL base camp in Ecuador. The availability of medical

treatment and the school at Puerto Bolivar on the Cuyabeno led to the

growth of the village as Siona families from the Aguarico were attracted

to these services. Another school was established at Shushufindi, but

folded after 1970,and most of the community migrated to Puerto Bolivar.

Then in 1973 most of the people on the Cuyabeno began migrating to

Shushufindi, and only eight households remained at Puerto Bolivar. In

1968 Johnson had visited Secoyas on the Santa Maria, Angoteros on the

Yubineto, and then travelled to the Angusilla where more Secoyas were

living (all of these sites are in Peru). In 1973 Cecilio Piaguaje

followed this visit up by hiking overland from the Aguarico to the

Angusilla to meet with kinsmen and invite them to move to Shushufindi.

As a result of these contacts there were migrating Secoya and Angotero

arriving in Shushufindi throughout the study period of October 1973 to

March 1975.


135 4





30 25 20 15
1 1 1 1


0I-4 1_ I27l

10 5 0 0 5 10 15 20 25 30
i I I I I L IL I




Figure 3. Age-Sex Distribution of Siona-Secoya
in Ecuador, March 1975 (266 Total).




The Oil Boom and Colonization

In 1967 a consortium of the Texaco and Gulf oil companies dis-

covered large petroleum reserves in northeastern Ecuador. Following the

location of the Lago Agrio and Shushufindi fields, Texaco-Gulf began the

construction of a 318 mile pipeline from the Pacific port of Esmeraldas,

over the Andes and down into the jungle. This line began operation in

June, 1972 and has a capacity of 250,000 barrels per day. A road paral-

leling the pipeline was constructed from Quito-Lago Agrio--Coca,and the

area has become a hotbed of activity as oil companies, workers, entre-

preneurs and colonists have moved into the region.

In 1972 there were 19 petroleum companies active in Ecuador

(Cabezas 1972:131). Camps to support exploration activities were set

up at a number of sites on the Aguarico and Cuyabeno,and most adult

Siona-Secoya men were employed at one time or another, although usually

for only a month or two at a time. They usually worked clearing sites

for the camps, building offices and sleeping quarters, and clearing

trochas (trails) through the forest. They earned S/ 25-30 ($1.00-1.20)

a day plus meals. The hours were long and the living conditions crude,

but the food was ample. The Indians delight in telling of the voluminous

amounts of rice, potatoes and canned meat they were fed, and how the

company cooks would throw the excess food into the river. After a month

or two, however, the Siona-Secoya men would tire of the monotonous

routine and separation from their families. They worried about the

state of their gardens, and if their women and children were getting

meat to eat. Having earned S/ 1,000-2,000 ($40-50) with which to pur-

chase cloth and ammunition, pots and fishline, they returned to their



Despite the buffeting of four hundred years of contact with white

civilization, the comparison of the early descriptions of the Encabel-

lado with the Siona-Secoya of today reveals a remarkable degree of

cultural continuity. One of the primary reasons for this is the fact

that their subsistence system gave rise to a form of social organization

based on small and relatively autonomous units with an inherent capacity

for fission and mobility. This continuity is most evident in the

central aspects of culture: subsistence, settlement pattern, kinship,

and religion and world view. Acculturation has also been significant,

especially in terms of material culture, house type, and penetration of

new religious values. The acculturative process and its influence on

the various aspects of Siona-Secoya culture will be discussed in sub-

sequent chapters. Despite a tremendous attrition of the overall

population due to the stresses of contact, some local groups have

survived and their basic cultural pattern has remained viable.

Another factor in the survival of Siona-Secoya culture is the fact

that the acculturative pressures brought to bear on them were not as

intense as those in some other areas of Amazonia. The Siona of the

Putumayo, who are very closely related to the Siona-Secoya of the Agua-

rico and share similar cultural traditions, are considerably more

acculturated due to a more acute exposure to outside influences. Today

only one or two of their old men wear cushmas, their children use

Spanish as a first language, their shamans are dead and the yage ceremony

is no longer performed. Despite these things, Langdon was able to

collect excellent material on the Siona symbolic system, but she fears

that the next generation "may never know the glorious worlds of their

forefathers" (1974:ii).


The surviving Siona-Secoya of today face the greatest threat yet

to their survival as a culture: the settlement of their territory by

colonists from other regions of Ecuador and their assimilation into

Mestizo culture. The Ecuadorian government today does not perceive

the needs of the indigenous communities of the Oriente, nor does it

have any coherent policy for dealing with them. Government efforts to

provide services, such as registration of land titles, credit to agri-

culturalists, medical care and education, are focused on colonist

communities along the highways of penetration.


The debate over Amazonian culture history is primarily between Meggers
and Evans (1956, 1957, 1958, 1968), and Lathrap (1970, 1972, 1973).
It centers on disagreement over the sources of Tropical Forest Culture
(especially the Polychrome Horizon Style) and routes of migration
within the Amazon. These theories are discussed in this chapter in-
sofar as they are relevant to the present study.

These surface collections were made at the request of Dr. Clifford
Evans and Dr. Betty J. Meggers, and were sent to the Smithsonian
Institution in Washington, D.C. for confirmation of identification,
and have been accessioned into the collections of the Institution.

Grohs warns that Velasco's dates are unreliable (1974:110). The most
complete source for the entire mission period is Chantre y Herrera
(1901). Although not a first hand account, this work is noted for its
fidelity to the original sources. It contains considerable detail,
much of which I was able to corroborate with data collected in 1973-75.

Chantre y Herrera states that Captain Palacios was killed by Omaguas
(1901:49). Other sources say that his attackers were Encabellados,
and Steward (1948b:739) and Grohs (1974:101) accept the Encabellado
hypothesis, as does Oberem (1967-68:158) who reviewed the literature
on the Omaguas of the Napo.

SThere is disagreement as to whether Teixeira actually sailed from
Gurupd or Camet9. Reis reviews the various claims (1931:35).

Informants insist that the rubber trees were felled, their trunks
slashed, and the latex collected in folded leaves. This contrasts
with the estrada method described by Wagley (1964:83-86) in which
the collector establishes a trail which he covers twice each day,
gashing the trees in the morning and collecting the rubber in the
afternoon. Wagley observes that the felling method is used for species
such as balata (Manilkura bidentata), rather than for true rubber
(Hevea brasiliensis), which is not found in many areas of the Upper
Amazon (personal communication).




Food is among the mjos basic of needs for all societies. In

industrialized countries the mechanisais for providing food to people

are complex and usually indirect. In primitive societies they are

immediate. With the exception of infants and very old people nearly

everyone participates in food collecting or producing activities.

Patterns of food procurement vary according to the climate, the nature

of the land, the plants, animals, and available technology and knowledge.

Each mode of economic activity has requirements in terms of the human

labor that must be performed if it is to function. ;That is to say, if

a means of food procurement is to sustain a group, the behavior of the

members of that group must be organized in such a way as to perform the

vital activities of that particular mode.| This is not to say that there,

can be only one cultural answer to the organizational requirements of

any subsistence technology, but is simply a statement of the fact that

the economic activities of a society have a profound influence on the *

nature of the culture as a whole. This chapter presents a description

of Siona-Secoya horticulture, and subsequent chapters will deal with

hunting, fishing, and collecting as means of exploiting wild food re-

sources, and evaluate their relative contributions to the diet of the

people. The descriptions of these activities are also intended to


elucidate the behavioral patterns associated with food procurement, and

succeeding chapters will trace the influences of these patterns on

religion, social organization, and cultural adaptation.

The single most important phase of Siona-Secoya subsistence acti-

vity is bhrticulture. It provides more calories thn. hunting, fishing,

and collecting combined. Although Lhe structure of Siona-Secoya society

is of a comparatively simple type, it would be an error to characterize

the people's knowledge of their habitat, and their skills for dealing

with it as "simple." The Siona-Secoya practi.n a form of shifting

cultivation variously referred to as "slash-and--buiii or "swidden"

horticulture. It is shifting because the regular practice is to carry

out a cycle in which gardens are abandoned after a few years of pro-

duction as new gardens are concurrently brought into production. The

system is not haphazard, but follows a cycle which is understood and


In order to prepare land for cultivation the forest growth must be

cut. The debris is usually, though not always, burned after a period

of drying during the "dry" season. Nearly all gardens are intercropped.

This involves the planting of species with varying structural charac-

teristics so that there is a layering effect from the subsoil to the

surface, up to the highest level of the garden. We can speak of "strata"

in the garden just as in the tropical forest itself, and indeed it has

been frequently observed that the structure of the intercropped slash-

and-burn garden imitates the complexity of the tropical rainforest

(cf. Rappaport 1971). This is significant, for the stratification of

the plants protects the soil from both the heavy rains and the direct

rays of the sun.


Root crops such as manioc (Manihot esculenta), sweet potatoes

(Ipomoea spp.), yams (Dioscorea spp.), and Xanthosomn,: as well as

peanuts (Arachi, hyvpogaea), grow beneath the soil surface. Within one

or two fTeters of the surface are -maizr e (Zea inrys), sugarcane (Saccharum

Cfficinarum), _ind pineapples (AnaI;nas sp.). Above two meters are found

!the plantaias anid b nanas (Musa spp.): and p.p;oya (Carica papaya), and

finally, the tallest of the garden ciltigens, peach palm (Bactris

g.asipaes) a .an t- /b ne/ tre ,s (n--a, S )

Sione--.3ccoya gardens ar- no:t iai- co.'iiunally at: the .pre.sent time,

although there ar- indications that thiy were in the past. Generally,

each conjugal-nuclear household makes its own gardens, although there

was one case of an extended kin group making a large garden together at

Shushufindi. Not all gardens are alike. They vary in both size and

content according to the desires and interests of the individual culti-

vator, and the availability of seed and clones at the time of planting.

The most complex and intensively gardened plots of the Siona- Secoya

are those surrounding their houses. A bare earth patio /wi?6 raripi/ is

cleared around each house. Within this patio, and beyond its fringes in

the immediate vicinity of the house, are found a large variety of plants,

including medicinals, ornamentals, and condiments, as well as food

producers (the cultigen inventory for the village of Shushufindi appears

in Appendix 5). Portions of the house garden are also used as seed

beds for plants which are later transplanted to other parts of the house

garden, or in outlying gardens (e.g. peach palm).

When settlements are moved, the first clearings at the new site are

for the house and its associated garden. A temporary shelter, or

/ari wi?4/ ("little house"), is set up near the bank of the river while


the work progresses. The construction of the full sized house,

/hai wi?6/ ("big house"), is of secondary importance to the clearing

and planting of gardens. Some families at Shushufindi lived in their

/ari wi?-/ for up to a year after their arrival, while others abandoned

them within three months. No two house gardens are exactly alike. In

inventories taken of four house gardens, the number of plant varieties

ranged from 30 to 79. The content of the house garden changes over time

as new plants are brought in and old ones are lost. These shifts can

be quite dramatic as a whole area of a patio may be cleared off in one

day, leaving only bare earth. The house garden functions primarily as

a pharmacy, a snack bar, a spice rack, and an incubator. When someone

has a headache or mouth ulcer, the proper medicinal plants are only a

few paces away. And when the children are hungry they can snap off a

papaya, a /miu toawika/ (Solanum tequilense), or a section of sugarcane

without bothering an adult. Likewise, the proximity of the seed bed

allows the head of the household to keep a close watch on his peach palm

seedlings (just below the pilings of the elevated house). The nearby

pepper plants (Capsicum spp.), coriander (Coriandrum sativum), ginger

(Zingiber officinale), and sweet potatoes (used to sweeten the manioc

beverage known as /a?so k6no/) provide the condiments of the household.

Plantains and manioc are also planted in the house garden, but the amount

is small compared to that grown in outlying gardens, and is not suffi-

cient tc sustain a family for a great period of time.

The location of the outlying gardens depends on the terrain and the

availability of land suitable for gardens. On the Cuyabeno River,

gardens were limited to a few high banks at various spots along the

river, and people travelled to and from them by canoe. At Shushufindi,


on the Aguarico River, there is considerable high ground behind the

houses (away from the bank of the river), and this area was the first

chosen for gardens in 1973, along with a few gardens that were made on

the riverbank opposite the village. By the end of 1974 the land behind

the village had been cleared to a depth of 400 meters, and people were

choosing new sites downriver and up the small tributary /wa?iya/ oppo-

site the village (see Figure 4).

Site Selection

The land within the Aguarico Basin is not homogeneous. There are

variations in soil conditions, elevation, drainage, and floral associa-

tions, and all of these are considered by the Siona-Secoya when they

search for new garden sites. Travelling distance and/or accessibility

to a navagable stream are also important factors in the evaluation of a

site. The actual land use pattern may vary considerably according to

the topography around a given settlement (later on the difference between

the Shushufindi and Cuyabeno sites will be discussed).

Site selection may be described as being of two broad types: (1) the

search for new gardens around an existing settlement; and (2) the longer

range search for new settlement sites with lands suitable for horticul-

ture. In the former, the expansion of horticultural lands is not a

simple growth of concentric zones from the settlement center. The actual

patterning of gardens rarely takes this form due to differentiation in

elevation, drainage, and flora, as well as the presence of rivers and

streams. The latter type of site selection is actually a form of migra-

tion determined by a complex set of ecological and social factors.


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Soils and Topography

The classification of soils is not one of the more developed

aspects of Siona-Secoya culture, and is not nearly so complex as that

of other slash-and-burn horticulturalists such as h-be Kekchi of Guatemala

(Carter 1969). The major classifications are made on the basis of color

and texture. The Siona-Secoya associate each of the soil types with

specific topographic conditions, and most particularly with drainage.

The basic soil types and native descriptions are:

1. /dayawi yiha/ ("swamp soil"). These are dark soils of poorly
drained areas that have standing water during the wet season.
They are not suitable for cultivation.

2. /nea yiha/ ("black soil"). These are dark soils of humid low
areas, but with sufficient drainage to preclude standing water.
These soils are considered good for the cultivation of maize,
plantains, and rice (a recently introduced crop), but are too
humid for manioc.

3. /meha yiha/ ("sandy soil"). These are light brown sandy soils
with good drainage characteristics. They are the preferred
soils for manioc cultivation, and are also considered suitable
for maize, plantains, peach palm and other garden crops.

4. /ma yiha/ ("red soil"). These are the red clayey soils of
hillocks and bluffs. They may be used for maize and plantains,
but are considered "too hard" for manioc cultivation.

5. /kina kurewi/. These are very hard red soils, which are said
to be bricklikee" (laterized), and are not suitable for

6. /soto yiha/ ("clay soil"). These are heavy clay soils which
are unsuitable for cultivation.

7. /bohiko soto/ ("white clay"). A special type of whitish clay
utilized in pot making.

8. /anaka yiha/. A dark yellow clay sometimes found in river
banks and used as a slip to paint designs on pots.

Each category of soil comprehends certain characteristics of elevation,

drainage, density, and floral cover, even when named only by its color


or texture (a laboratory analysis of soil samples taken at Cuyabeno

and Shushufindi is presented in Appendix 2).

As has been seen, the discussion of soils is closely related to

topography. The terms for the significant topographical types in the

habitat of the Siona-Secoya are:

1. /sitara/. Swampy areas which never dry out.

2. /dayawi/ ("swamp"). Areas of the forest that are low-lying,
and are usually very muddy. During the wet season there is
standing water in these areas, but they may dry out somewhat
during the dry season.

3. /n&?& dayawi/ ("Mauritia palm swamp"). These are swampy areas
that reportedly never dry out and have palms of the genus
Mauritia as the diagnostic vegetation.

4. /pa?pi dayawi/ ("pa?pA palm swamp"). These are swampy areas that
have /pa?pd/ palms (unidentified species; used for thatch)
as the diagnostic vegetation. They are said to be somewhat
drier and better drained than /ne?& dayawi/.

5. /sewa yiha/ ("Phytelephas palm earth"). These are relatively
well drained areas that are characterized by palms of the genus
Phytelephas (yarina in local Spanish). Said to occur in round
clusters about 200 meters in diameter.

6. /gosa yiha/ ("Oenocarpus palm earth"). Well drained areas and
hillocks that have plams of the genus Oenocarpus as the diag-
nostic vegetation.

7. /bene yiha/ ("Inga earth"). These are areas where trees of
the genus Inga are the diagnostic vegetation.

8. /aikanti/. Hills or hillocks. The mature vegetation is
primary rainforest, and the soil type is frequently /ma yiha/
or "red earth".

9. /tutupi yiha/ ("vine earth"). There are areas where the
dominant vegetation consists of dense growths of vines. The
/tutupi yiha/ association may be found in the forest or along
riverbanks, and includes few trees. Because the sun's energy
is admitted to the lower level of these matorales or bejucales,
they are very dense and hard to penetrate, and as a result
trails usually bypass them. According to informants these
areas have high animal populations.

10. /mehawi/. These are beaches; along the Aguarico River they are
characterized by stands of cane (Gynerium sagittatum) and dwarf
bananas (Musa sp.) springing from water-borne clones.


The Selection Process

Settlement sites are selected on the basis of suitability for horti-

culture, hunting and fishing potentials, availability of feral plant

species needed for craft manufactures and construction materials, and

social factors such as the presence or absence of other human popula-

tions. The Siona-Secoya do not go out on expeditions with the sole

purpose of locating new lands. They have occupied the same general

territory in the basins of the Aguarico, Napo and Putumayo Rivers for

at least 400 years (and probably mich longer), and their recorded migra-

tions have been from one point to another within the same territory.

Their myths and oral traditions are replete with the place names of the

rivers, lakes and prominent landmarks of the area. Because of this,

the Siona-Secoya have a general knowledge of their entire territory,

even including places they have never personally visited. They fre-

quently travel through their territory on hunting and collecting trips,

and visits to kin. It is on these trips that they conduct a reconnais-

sance of the land and its potential.

When the Siona-Secoya relocate their settlements they frequently

do so on old habitation sites. This does not mean that they clear only

secondary growth, however, for if the new population is larger than the

previous one they may clear significant areas of primary forest (this

was the case at Shushufindi).

When the decision is made to relocate a village the men make trips

to the new site several months in advance of the actual move to clear

gardens so that there will be some food available for the migrants when

they arrive. The men may stay for two or three weeks while the work of

slashing, felling and planting is carried out. During this time they


live in temporary shelters by the river's edge.

Once the house garden has been established, the tendency is to

begin the next gardens adjacent to the house site if land is available.

At Shushufindi the first arrivals from Cuyabeno selected their house

sites along the river bank, and then expanded their gardens into the

forest directly behind their habitations (1973-4). In the dry season

of 1974-5 some of them expanded these gardens farther back from the

river, while others cleared on the opposite side of the river or down-

river. In the interim, Secoyas from the Angusilla River in Peru arrived

and were taken into the households of their kinsmen near the center of

the line settlement of the village. After several months of visitation

in these houses they began to build their own houses in clusters around

their kinsmen. Since most of the land was taken along the "line" of

the riverbank, they squeezed their houses into the patios of their

kindred, putting bulges into the previously perfect line pattern. When

they began to make gardens in the latter months of 1974 there was no

land available near their houses, so they sought lands on the opposite

side of the Aguarico. Other residents had also begun to move upstream

and downstream, selecting sites along the banks of the river. They

explained that they were doing this because they prefer to transport

their produce by canoe, rather than expanding farther back into the

forest where their only means of transporting the heavy plantain and

manioc harvests is by a netted bag strungtumpline fashion over the


In site selection, the order of preference for soils is: (1) /meha

yiha/ ("sandy soil"); (2) /nea yiha/ ("black soil");.and (3) /ma yiha/

("red soil"); the other types being generally unsuited to cultivation.


In actuality, nearly all of the horticultural land of the Siona-Secoya

on the Eno, Cuyabeno, and Aguarico Rivers is either /nea yiha/ or /meha
yiha/, since little /ma yihd/ is found in the area. /Ma yiha/ is re-

ported to be the most common type of soil on the Putumayo, however.

Generally speaking, the Siona-Secoya prefer well drained land with

floral associations such as /sewa yihb/ where vine entanglements are

not a major difficulty. Some men state that they prefer areas without

extremely large trees, but others disagree, observing that when large

trees are present it is possible to make tree falls in which the larger
trees knock down the smaller ones.

As mentioned previously, the land along the Cuyabeno River is

scarcely elevated above the floodplain in most locations. Land suitable

for cultivation there is rare and at a premium. It occurs in isolated

spots here and there along the course of the river, and rarely exceeds

a third of a hectare in area. As a consequence, the spatial distribu-

tion of gardens on the Cuyabeno is quite different than on the Aguarico.

The largest contiguous line settlement of the premigration community

consisted of only eight houses, because there was simply not enough

elevated bank to extend beyond that (the houses were arranged along a

bend in the river for a distance of about 100-150 meters). Elsewhere

there were smaller clusters of four or fewer houses. The arrangement

of kin clusters was almost exactly the same as in the new village of

Shushufindi, but the limited stretches of high ground precluded larger

groupings in a contiguous line. Outlying gardens tended to be located

at high points along the bank upstream and downstream from the house

sites, rather than inland. Some of the gardens were three to four hours

away by canoe on the quebrada /tarapuya/ (corrupted to Tarapoa in


Spanish). People sometimes made stayovers of two and three days to

cultivate these dispersed plots, the sizes of which did not exceed .25

to .36 hectares.


The normal round of Siona-Secoya horticultural activities follows

the annual seasonal cycle. Although the people can now associate the

seasons with the months of the year as a result of contact with whites

and Mestizos, they normally reckon the seasons by the position of speci-

fic constellations in the sky. /Ometikgwi/ is the name of the dry

season which extends from late November through March. New gardens are

slashed and felled at the beginning of this season, and after a month

or so of drying they are fired (under ideal conditions). Shortly after

firing they are planted (usually in January). A subseason within this

"dry" period is /?4ne tikawi/, or "peach palm season," when the clusters

of Bactris fruit are ready for harvesting. This is also the period of

the greatest fishing activity (especially on the Aguarico), for the

waters of the rivers recede, become clearer and less turbulent, and are

inhabited by migrating species of fish. The Siona-Secoya reckon the

arrival of /ometikawi/ by the position of the constellation /usebo/

(Pleiades) just above the eastern horizon shortly after sunset (November-


/?Ok6 tikawi/ is the name for the rainy season which extends from

April to July. Weeding and maintenance of gardens takes place during

this period, but there is little or no clearing of new gardens. Hunting

continues during the wet season, but is made more difficult by the

standing water in many areas of the forest. A subseason which occurs


during this rainy portion of the year is /nas6wiyape tikdwi/ ("woolly

monkey is fat season"), and is the time when monkeys have a layer of

fat due to a diet of seasonally ripening fruits. The hunting of /nas6/

(Lagothrix lagotricha) is especially intense during this period.

The month of August coincides with /kako tikawi/, or the season of

the /kAko/ cicada which flies overhead at this time and is noted for

its chirping sound made from high up in the trees of the forest. /KAko

tikawi/ is actually a short dry season following the deluges of /?ok6

tikiwi/, and it is not uncommon for individual Siona-Secoya cultivators

to make gardens during this brief respite from the heavy rainfalls.

/Goi kinari/ ("turtle lays its eggs") is the turtling season which

occurs during November and December (and overlaps with /ome tikAwi/,

the dry season, somewhat). This is one of the most significant seasonal

hunts of the Siona-Secoya, although the importance of the hunt has

declined in recent years as a result of intense exploitation by seasonal

visitors from the Putumayo River.

Thus the major horticultural activities of slashing, felling,

burning, and planting, are for the most part confined to the long dry

season /ome tikawi/ and the short dry season /kako tikdwi/. The harvest-

ing of certain fruits is strictly seasonal (e.g. Bactris during February

and March, and then again during August), whereas plantain and manioc

may be harvested on a year-round basis. Weeding and other forms of

garden maintenance also continue throughout the year as needed.

Bordering /tihuo siko/

When the Siona-Secoya have selected an area in which to make a new

garden their first step is to establish the outer boundaries of the plot.


At one corner they place a sharpened pole of about 1.6 meters in height

as a marker and then measure out from this point by pacing, or, more

recently, by measuring with a rod of one or two meters in length.. At

Shushufindi, where there is ample elevated and well-drained land, many

of the outlying gardens were measured to what was believed to be 100

meters per side. When the desired length was reached, another pole was

placed in the earth and a right angle was made, and once again the dis-

tance measured or paced off. Markers were also placed along each side

at intervals of approximately 15 to 20 meters. Once the measuring and

placing of markers was accomplished, the land was considered to be the

property of the individual cultivator until such time as he abandoned

it after the normal horticultural cycle of two to three years.

The next task the Siona-Secoya perform is to slash a path of one

to one and a half meters in width around the previously established plot

perimeter. This work is performed with a machete from a squatting

position, and is accomplished by swinging the machete in an arc close

to the ground. This path serves as a more distinct border than the

previously set poles, and helps to orient the worker as he subsequently

slashes and fells the vegetation inside the boundaries of the plot.

Slashing /hioye/ (Siona), /tetoye/ (Secoya)

The term "slashing" is used here to refer to the cutting of shrubs,

saplings, vines and undergrowth in a plot so that the larger trees are

exposed for felling with an axe. Among the Siona-Secoya this is the

work of men, although they may be assisted by their wives from time to

time. The principle tools for slashing are the machete and a file fot

sharpening it (usually two machetes are taken to the field). In a


typical day of slashing the worker goes to the plot shortly after sun-

rise, carrying nothing more than his tools and a container of /noka k6no/

("plantain beverage"). His clothing consists of the /hu?ika/ (a shift-

like garment of cotton which is called cushma in Quichua and the regional

Spanish) and a cap. He may also wear trousers and rubber or plastic

boots for protection if he is wealthy enough to own these articles.

Little time is wasted once the work site is reached. The man begins

clearing from one corner of the plot and works inward from that point.

Slashing is for the most part conducted from a stooping or squatting

position. In secondary growth /sitowa/ [sitoa] everything from six to

seven centimeters in diameter and smaller is cut, while saplings and

vines of greater diameter are left for the felling stage. In slashing

with the machete, strokes are made in an arc parallel to the ground,

and at a height no greater than 20-30 cm. Cutting is accomplished on

both the initial stroke and the back swing, as the blade is flipped over

at the completion of the first arc. Although this would appear to be

tedious work, all of the Siona-Secoya men who were observed worked at a
very steady rate throughout the day. Around midday the slasher takes

a break of about 40 minutes to rest and drink his /noka k6no/, and then

resumes the task as before.

The difficulty of slashing varies according to the nature of the

vegetation. In primary growth the dense forest canopy limits the amount

of sunshine which reaches the ground, resulting in undergrowth that is

not particularly dense (cf. Grubb et al. 1963). In secondary associa-

tions, however, the growth may be quite dense at ground level, especially

when the secondary growth is relatively young (through the first four to

five years).


After a garden has been slashed, the view under the trees becomes

rather beautiful and parklike. The still standing trees provide cool

shade, and the debris from the cut vegetation forms a green carpet over

the forest floor. The view opens up and extends for 60-80 meters in

contrast to the limited visibility of the natural forest.

Felling /k w ie s6kire/

Many of the trees in the primary tropical forest are extremely

large, and felling is a potentially dangerous activity. Even in second-

ary growth, the trunks of the medium and smaller trees are sufficiently

heavy to crush a man's body when they fall. The Siona-Secoya consider

felling to be men's work. It is not a fast or haphazard activity, but

tends to steady and methodical work. Each tree is studied, and an

attempt is made to drop it into a specific spot so that the distribution

of trunks in the garden is controlled.

On unbuttressed trees, or trees with small buttresses, the cuts

are made at shoulder height. When the buttresses rise above shoulder

height the Siona-Secoya usually cut steps /yurisakawu/ in two or more

of the buttresses /t6t6bu/ so that they may stand on them and make their

cuts above the tops of the buttresses. On extremely large trees the

buttresses may rise to a height of five or more meters (15 ft.). The

Siona-Secoya have three ways of dealing with these behemoths of the

forest. The most common method is to cut notches into the buttresses

as footholds, and then cut through the buttresses themselves, and then

finally the trunk. This is a time consuming process, and it may take

two men working together two or three days to fell a single large tree

in this manner.


At times the Siona-Secoya make an elevated platform /yariwa/ of

lashed poles to rise above the buttresses, but this technique is rarely

used (it was never employed during the 18 months of fieldwork at

Shushufindi, even though many large trees were felled in the new garden

sites). A third technique for dealing with large trees is to pile dried

brush around their bases and then burn it. The heat of the fire kills

the tree, and it subsequently loses its leaves, allowing sunlight to

reach the ground. Only one large tree was treated in this manner at

Shushufindi; all others were felled.

Siona-Secoya men say that they prefer to fell the large trees be-

cause it leaves the garden completely open to the sun, and because men

who leave trunks standing about in their gardens are considered slothful

(with the exception of certain species which are retained for their

usefulness; e.g. Iriartea palms whose trunks provide construction mater-

ials). Although it is hard work, the men enjoy felling a great deal,

and when a giant tree smashes to the ground and makes the earth tremble

they howl with delight.

The accuracy of the men is usually quite good, but from time to

time unpredictable falls do occur. On one occasion I observed Reinaldo

working on a large buttressed tree which was soft wooded and took three

hours to cut through. He had planned for it to fall in an easterly

direction, but when it began to topple he was dismayed to see it going

towards the southwest at about a 120 angle to the intended trajectory.

It crashed mightily in one of his own gardens, destroying a considerable

amount of manioc, plantains and four Capsicum bushes. The base of the

trunk landed on top of his Colombian plastic boots which he had carefully

set to one side (which he was subsequently able to dig out). On another


occasion Reinaldo felled a Cecropia which took an unexpected twist and

landed only a foot away from the ethnologist's tape recorder, causing

much consternation to all concerned.

Before felling the larger trees the vines remaining after slashing

are cut with a machete or axe, and the smaller saplings are chopped down

with two or three strokes of the axe. The technique for felling the

larger trees is to make a lower cut on the side of the trunk in the

direction of the intended fall, and then a higher one 1800 from the

intended path. The blows of the axe are struck rythmically and with

precision, sending chips of wood flying in all directions. When a tree

begins to shudder or groan, or the vines dangling from the tree become

taut and start to snap it is an indication that the tree is very close

to toppling. At this point all of the people in the vicinity become

quite serious. Only one individual remains close to the tree trunk to

deliver the final blows, as the others step away to the sides of the

expected path of the fall. During the felling process the ground quickly

becomes a maze of fallen trunks and debris that is difficult to trans-

verse, and each person glances about for an escape route where he can

run if the tree falls away from the intended path. The remaining man

makes his chops at a slower rate at this point, listening and watching

after each blow for the slightest indication that the tree is beginning

its fall. When it first starts to topple, the movement of its crown is

slow and almost imperceptible, but it gathers momentum rapidly during

its descent. As soon as the person who has been chopping senses that

the tree is falling and can judge its direction, he shouts a warning to

others in the vicinity and strides gracefully away from the base of the

tree holding his axe in one hand and glancing back to keep an eye on the


trunk in case there is an aberration in the fall. Some of the larger

trees may take five minutes or longer to fall after the last man has

stepped away.

A number of problems can arise during the felling of a tree; dead

limbs can crash down /poka tara tomine/ ("rotten limbs fall"), entang-

ling vines can bring down other trees in unpredicatble ways /suru taine/,

or the falling tree may strike other trees which are still standing and

kick back / a?ine/. /Org/ palms (Iriartea sp.) are particularly danger-

ous when struck by falling trees because they have a tendency to flex

and then shatter, sending sharp fragments of very dense wood flying


Those men who have only traditional clothing work barefoot, with

only a cushma for protection. Those who are able prefer to wear as much

clothing as possible to protect themselves from ants, wasps, and falling

material from the forest canopy. This may include a cap or plastic

hardhat acquired while working for a petroleum company, a pair of pants

worn under the cushma, and rubber of plastic boots.

Felling in secondary growth is far easier than in primary growth,

but the differences in their energy requirements for slashing nearly

equalizes the number of man-hours of labor required to clear both asso-

ciations (see Table 1). On the Cuyabeno River the lands suitable for

cultivation were so scarce that virtually all plots were either under

cultivation or in recent secondary growth. The fallow periods practiced

by the Siona-Secoya there were as brief as three to four years. On the

Aguarico the suitable lands are far more extensive, and there were real

choices between selecting primary or secondary growth for the new

gardens at Shushufindi. Nevertheless, there is no clearcut evidence at


the new village to suggest an overwhelming preference for either type.

The current house sites and their associated gardens are located where

there was previously secondary growth. (This was formerly the site of

a smaller Siona village as well as a temporary oil exploration camp.)

The outlying gardens were in some cases located in former secondary

growth, but for the most part they were in areas of former primary


The example of Esteban illustrates the process of garden site

selection. He had lived at Shushufindi for two years before leaving in

1970 to join his mother at Cuyabeno who had migrated from the San Miguel

River. When he returned to Shushufindi in 1973 he made his first gar-

dens in the secondary growth of his former house garden. His first

outlying garden was made in a patch of secondary growth where the trees

had been felled previously to clear the approach to the modest grass

airstrip used by the missionaries and oil companies from time to time.

Esteban desired to extend this garden into the primary forest nearby,

but Alejandro began to work on that area before-he could get started,

and he was shut out of the band of new gardens in the primary forest

running parallel to the line settlement of the village. Rather than

leap frog over the new row of gardens into the primary forest, he decided

to go upriver to another area of secondary growth where he had had a

garden previously. However, he decided to double the size of the garden,

and therefore half of the new plot was located in former primary growth

and half in former secondary growth. His next garden was made in pri-

mary growth on the bank of the Aguarico opposite his new house.


Burning /siore ioyi/

The term "slash-and-burn" horticulture presupposes that the garden

site is burned after the vegetation has been slashed and felled. How-

ever, this is somewhat misleading with regard to Siona-Secoya horti-

culture, for under certain conditions they plant their gardens without

having burned them. Burning is successful only when the fallen debris

has had a sufficiently long period of drying out. Whenever circumstances

preclude adequate drying, the Siona-Secoya do not attempt a burn, but

simply plant their crops in the ground beneath the litter. This is

similar to the "slash-mulch" system of the Pacific litoral (West 1957:

129 cited in Whitten 1974:67), except that the planting takes place

after the slashing and felling, rather than before.

As described previously, the Siona-Secoya prepare some gardens in

new areas in advance of their actual migrations. When on these journeys

they do not wish to spend weeks waiting for the felled material to dry

out, and they may also make the trip at times other than the dry season.

In addition, they have much work to do at the old habitation sites prior

to moving, and consider the time spent in the temporary /ari wi?6/ with-

out their families as a period of deprivation.

Once the migration begins and groups of people begin arriving at

the new site there is an accelerated rate of clearing gardens, for the

cycle of bringing in a garden per year with a total of three to four

gardens in the active phase of the cycle has been broken. The members

of a household arrive at the new settlement site with but one small

garden that has not even reached full productivity. There may be a

little maize about ready for the harvest, but the manioc lacks three to

four months, and the plantains a year. The first year at the new site


the household makes gardens to bring its total area under cultivation

to approximately one hectare. This activity transcends the normal

seasonality of garden making because more gardens have to be made within

a one year period. As a result gardens are made during rainier months

and are planted without burning.

Once the area under cultivation approximates the amount that the

members of the household feel is sufficient for their subsistence, they

go into the regular rotation phase, meaning that they make a new garden

at the beginning of /ome tikdwi/. Burning is preferred to the nonburning

approach because it leaves a cleaner area which is easier to plant and

care for. Contrary to expectation, however, informants deny any signi-

ficant difference in yields between the two types of gardens. The only

gardens which reached full production during the fieldwork were ones that

had not been burned, so there was no basis for a comparison of yields

between the types.

The timing of the burn is critical if rain is to be avoided. (This

is like Russian roulette; the longer one waits, the better the potential

for a good burn, but the odds for rain likewise increase.) The Siona-

Secoya judge the condition of the felled debris by walking over it; when

the smaller limbs crack and break it is an indication that the material

is dry enough for a good burn. Bark peeling off the trunks of felled

trees is another sign of sufficient dryness. The Siona-Secoya do not

spread the debris around in an attempt to get an even burn. They look

for a day that is sunny and windy, and wait until midday when the rays

of the sun are the most direct, and the wind is at its height.5

The task of burning is not physically demanding, but the Siona-Secoya

prefer to have two or more persons present to help control the fire if


necessary. The burn is begun on the upwind side of the garden, and

spots several meters apart are touched off with brands of dried palm

fronds. The predominant activity is simply to light the fire and watch

it burn, but complications arise when a fire escapes its intended peri-

meter and damages neighboring gardens. On rare occasions the people

make firebreaks prior to the burn, but normally they depend on calcula-

tions based on wind observations, and resort to firefighting to control

the blaze if necessary. On one occasion I was conducting a time-and-

motion study of Emilio burning a garden, and the fire escaped into his

mother's manioc garden. When she realized what was happening she rushed

out of the house and began flailing away at the flames with a stick and

making a /Icoo coo/ sound with her mouth. Emilio tried to help her, but

couldn't restrain his giggles. A total of twenty manioc plants and five

plantain trunks were burned. Emilio was fortunate, for he had burned

only the gardens of his own household. When the carelessness of a

burner damages a neighbor's garden the event becomes the subject of much

gossip and backbiting, and generates insinuations that the guilty party

is generally incompetent. Direct confrontations over such matters are

not common, however.

With proper conditions the burn is over quickly, not taking more

than two or three hours. The burns observed at Shushufindi were by no

means complete. The larger tree trunks remained, and there was always

a considerable amount of other unburned material as well. Some of the

men do some piling of unburned limbs and brush for a second burn within

a week of the first, but this is not a standard practice, nor is it

particularly intensive. (Third burns are rarely, if ever, attempted.)

If the cultivator waits too long and is caught by the rains he will go

ahead and plant his garden without burning.



Most Siona-Secoya gardens are intercropped, and the planting acti-

vity is staggered according to the requirements of the individual

cultigens. Plantains and bananas are planted first, and are by far the

most difficult to work with, for their clones are heavy and bulky, and

must be transported from the donor plant to the new garden. During the

normal rotation phase of the horticultural cycle, cuttings may be taken

from producing gardens nearby, which minimizes the energy cost of trans-

portation. In the migration phase, however, the cultivator faces a

difficult problem, for there are likely to be few or no producing gardens

in the area into which he is moving. At Shushufindi the people dealt

with this problem in several ways. Some brought cuttings along in their

canoes from the Cuyabeno River, especially certain prized varieties.

However, the amount of clones required for even a medium sized garden

is more than can be accomodated in a Siona-Secoya canoe. Most people

relied on cuttings from gardens of Victor's and Genaro's, approximately

two kilometers upriver from the new village site, and from the gardens

of the /eno bal/ ("Eno River people"). The Eno trip required a good

two to three days of travel, but it was easier to ascend the Aguarico

with an empty canoe, and then descend with a full load, than to make

the four day journey down the Cuyabeno, and then ascend the swiftly

flowing Aguarico.

Clones are selected from growing clusters of plantain trunks which

appear to be in good health. If the parent plant shows signs of brown-

ness or "drying out" on its leaves it will be rejected as a donor of

clones. The clones /noka siti/ are dug out with a tool /pa?ara/ (after

pala, the Spanish word for "shovel") that is fashioned by attaching a


narrow steel blade to a hand-wrought pole. (The blade is a trade item

which is in general use in the Oriente today; in the past digging sticks

were used for this work.) Following their separation from the mother

plant, the clones are inspected by trimming several layers of the plant

tissue away from the base and checking them for /noka peko/ grubs. If

there grubs or their holes are spotted in the base of the clone, it is

discarded. The acceptable clones are transported to the new garden (or

to the canoe, if a river trip is necessary) by packing them into netted

string bags which are then carried tumpline fashion. (Depending on the

size of the cuttings, 12 to 20 are about all that a man can carry.)

At the new garden site holes are dug (approximately 25 cm. in

diameter and 40 cm. deep) at intervals of 3.65 meters to accommodate the

clones, which are then dropped in and covered loosely with earth. At

Shushufindi the gardens were not completely covered by plantains; in

most cases they were planted over 60-70% of the plot. The shortage of

clones in the vicinity of Shushufindi was a factor in this, but it

appears that plots normally are not saturated with cuttings.

The second crop to be planted is manioc (Manihot esculenta). The

Siona-Secoya recognize 15 varieties of manioc, including two "poisonous"

/sima a?so/, and thirteen "nonpoisonous" types. It precedes maize

because if they are planted simultaneously the maize quickly shades the

manioc. It is necessary to allow the manioc to reach sufficient height

to insure that its leaves have access to sunlight before planting the

maize. (The interval between planting is about three weeks.)

Manioc is a very hardy and reliable crop, and is well adapted to

Amazonian conditions. It grows readily from clones cut from the stem

of the mature plant, which contains "eyes" with regenerative power.


When manioc is harvested the stems are first cut at a height of about from the ground, and the tubers are then extracted from the earth.

Normally manioc is harvested throughout the year as it is needed. New

gardens are usually planted in January during /ome t4kaw4/, and as this

time of the year approaches the women begin to save the stalks from

recently harvested manioc plants.

When the time to plant the new garden arrives these stalks are cut

into sections and loaded into netted bags for transportation to the new

garden site. (Cuttings were "borrowed" from Eno for the initial plant-

ings at Shushufindi.) The technique for planting these sections is very

simple; a sharpened digging stick is thrust into the earth at an angle

of about 300, and then the clone is inserted into this nearly horizontal

gash. Three clones are placed in close proximity to each other so as to

form a cluster, and these clusters are spaced 1.8 meters apart throughout

the intercropped garden. (When the Siona-Secoya monocrop manioc the

spacing of the clusters is about 1.1 meters.)

More than any other crop, manioc is closely associated with women.

Unlike plantains and maize, manioc is planted and harvested primarily

by females. It is also the crop that demands the most from women in

processing labor. The utter drudgery of manioc processing has received

much comment from ethnographers (cf. Goldman 1963:61; Murphy and Murphy


When the freshly planted manioc is about three weeks old, maize is

planted. The seed comes from selected ears (primarily for size) that

have been stored by hanging from a roof beam over the household hearth.

Before planting, the cobs are grained and the seed is carried to the

field in a pot. There a large leaf is folded and held in place by an


Iriartea spine so as to form a cone /ha?o yokowi/ ("doubled leaf") in

which the seed kernels are carried during the actual planting. A dibble

/wea ote tubil is used to make holes approximately 14 cm. deep into

which four or five kernels are dropped. The holes are spaced from 76

to 99 cm. apart. Some Siona-Secoya men do not bother to cover the holes

after planting the kernels, saying that it is not necessary, but others

say that rats will steal the seed unless earth is tapped back over the


After the major crops have been planted, the remaining cultigens

are attended to, but in no specific order. Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas),

avocados (Persea americana), /ink isi/ (Renealmia sp.), /bene/ (Inga

spp.), /toa wi?ka/ (Solanum liximitante), sugarcane (Saccarum officinarum),

/toa/ (Chrysophyllum cainito), fish poisons (Lonchocarpus nicou,

Clibadium sp., Tephrosia toxicaria), yag~ (Banisteriopsis spp.),

/uhahai/ (Brunfelsia sp.), /pia/ (Capsicum spp.), and /watihiko/

(Carica papaya) are among the many cultigens which are planted follow-

ing plantains, manioc, and maize (see Appendix 5 for a list of Siona-

Secoya cultigens). Sugarcane is planted from cuttings in clusters about

two meters apart, but is not intercropped throughout the garden. Peach

palm seeds are extracted from the fruit and planted in beds near the

house. Subsequently the seedlings are replanted (when they reach a

height of approximately 50 cm.) about. the house garden, and occasionally

in the outlying gardens.

Weeding /siore huoyi/

Periodic weeding is necessary to insure good yields in Siona-Secoya

gardens. Weeding often precedes other activities in the garden; if a

man waits too long after burning his garden, he may have to weed it

before putting in his plantains. Likewise, weeding is frequently done

before harvesting maize or manioc, because it makes the work much easier.

Weeding is very similar to slashing, for it involves working with the

machete in a stooping and squatting position. The primary difference

is that in weeding care must be taken not to damage the cultigens in the

garden, whereas in slashing the work is less inhibited. The outlying

gardens are commonly weeded four times during their two year utilization

cycle. House gardens tend to be weeded more frequently, but usually in

little spurts during the early morning hours (i.e., the people do not

take a full day off to weed the house gardens as they do in the outlying


Although weeding is important, it is one of the least popular horti-

cultural activities. It is not uncommon to hear a man lamenting that he

has not done enough weeding in his gardens (such comments are usually

provoked as he walks by one of his gardens and sees the dense growth

choking his plants), but there is still a tendency to put it off until

immediately before harvesting the maize or manioc. One household at

Shushufindi even attempted to make a gift of manioc to some recent immi-

grants from a garden that had not been weeded since planting, but the

new arrivals found the job of harvesting so difficult that they soon

gave up, complaining that rather than receiving a gift they were being

tricked into doing the work of the owners.


Most of the food crops of the Siona-Secoya are not harvested all

at once, but rather as they are needed, or as they gradually mature.