Indigenous leader recalls 'terrible consequences' of first contact

An indigenous leader from Ecuador has spoken about the ‘terrible consequences’ of first contact between his tribe and the outside world.

Ehenguime Enqueri Niwa, from the Waorani tribe, spoke publicly at a high-profile conference in Paraguay intended to help protect other tribes from suffering a similar fate to his own.

‘We were contacted by American missionaries,’ Enqueri recalled. ‘They made us wear clothes. That was when the polio arrived. It affected all of our group. Only 30 people escaped. Everyone was so angry.

‘Wao, our language, is being lost. Our culture is not being practiced. The education we receive is in Spanish. We feel like we’re disappearing.

‘We are against making contact with uncontacted tribes. They live peacefully, with their own way of life and their own food.

‘It’s identical to what is happening in Peru. For centuries the Waorani have defended their territories, but now the biggest threats are oil exploration, loggers and miners.’

The Waorani were contacted in the 1950s by American missionaries. Enqueri’s father was one of the first members of the tribe to be contacted and was also involved in the killing of five of the missionaries – an event that made world headlines at the time.

The conference in Paraguay was organised by CIPIACI, a federation of indigenous organisations set up to protect uncontacted tribes in South America.