Defending Eden

Support a group of Waorani students document their changing culture in the face of industrialization.

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Our Story

Five Waorani students are racing to document their ancestors' knowledge before the last of their elders disappear.  With it they will build an encyclopedia about their way of life and their forest to teach future Waorani generations and the world.



Within the next 18 months, the Ecuadorian government must reach a decision that will determine the fate of the most biologically diverse place on the planet, and one of the last remaining Amazonian tribes, the Waorani. Either the government receives $300 million from international donors, or oil drilling will commence to harvest around 846 million barrels of oil from an untapped block of Yasuni National Park. Though monumental, this type of threat is nothing new to the biodiversity or the indigenous people of this area. With poor resources for education, and a process of assimilation that has increasingly separated them from their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the Waorani have struggled to defend their biologically rich territory from the massive incursion of industry. Determined to take matters into their own hands, they formulated a unique strategy that melds tradition with science, and old knowledge with new technology. With it, they are determined to prove to the outside world the ecological value of their homeland, and the importance of preserving their culture, which played a vital role in defending their homeland for thousands of years. The basic idea is simple -- record traditional knowledge of their forest and culture. The execution, however, is titanic. Since the process of assimilation has erased much of the traditional knowledge from the minds of the younger generation, the Waorani students compiling this information must locate and consult their elders, who are spread across a remote rainforest territory larger than the state of New Jersey. Once gathered, they must then use this knowledge to educate their government and the outside world about the ecological importance of their homeland and their presence in it. With this new understanding, they hope to save this ecological Eden from development and devastation. In this feature length documentary, we accompany the students on their journey, and document their efforts to educate the world.


The Impact


The story of the Waorani and the encroachment of industry is one that is echoed throughout many of the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world. It's the story of globalization and indigenous people, but it also involves the struggles of all humans--those of parents and children, and generations reconciling their differences. Fundamentally though, it is the story of assimilation, and in most cases, there are no happy endings. It's happened on every inhabited continent in the world -- the Pygmies in Africa, the Moken people of Thailand, the Inuit in the Arctic regions, the Aborigines in Australia -- and as indigenous people are absorbed into a globalized world, modern economies give little incentive to preserve the natural integrity of their land and culture. Often within decades, territory is lost, biodiversity withers, traditional knowledge becomes irrelevant, and younger generations become increasingly disconnected from their roots. The Waorani are in the thick of this transition, yet they have the understanding that inaction would result in disaster. They see the modern threats to their homeland -- parents fear for the future of their children, and younger generations that have embraced the modern world risk a complete departure from the traditions of their elders. For the rest of the world, losing the Waorani means losing not only one of the world's most unique cultures, but a habitat with a level of biodiversity seen nowhere else on Earth. This loss would be a true loss to the natural world, and to humanity.

Fortunately, in this digital age, it has never been easier to propagate knowledge. What may have been a virtually impossible task not even a decade ago is now just a mouse click away. Information is transmitted in seconds through online forums like Twitter and Facebook, and worlds are revealed through interactive websites. The low cost and quality of new digital camera technology makes quality photography and videography attainable for even the most inexperienced novice. There has been no better time for the Waorani to communicate with outsiders.  With much of their culture and forest still intact, they can share a comprehensive record of their world with an unlimited audience--a luxury so many other indigenous cultures were not afforded. Under the instruction of their teacher, Fulbright Scholar Ciara Wirth, and donated equipment, they have begun compiling a photographic and informational record of the plants and animals within their territory, including some of the rarest species on Earth. Many of these are likely unknown to science. They are also recording the traditional knowledge and lore of their people, which is rapidly being lost. But the elders, the only Waorani left with a comprehensive mental record of this information, are reaching their final years. There are only about 20 left, and most are in their 80's and 90's. If the students fail to record their knowledge soon, it may be lost forever. This is an effort that is a monumental departure from their culture's fiercely isolationist nature, but they have realized there is only one way to preserve their land and culture--they must both educate the modern world, and be educated by it. Their journey must happen before it is too late.




What We Need & What You Get

In order to get this project going, we have to raise a minimum of $20,000 by June.  And that is the bare minimum.  That includes all travel expenses, food, equipment, permits, and location fees.  It does not include pre-production or post-production fees, nor does it include our salaries.  It is just what we need for lift-off.  We have already received $5,000 in very generous donations, so we only have $15,000 left to go before this becomes a reality.  So long as we hit the $15,000 mark, any donation you make is tax-deductible through our fiscal sponsor, From the Heart Productions. And we offer a number of exciting incentives!  Check them out on the right.

Other Ways You Can Help


If you can't spare the cash, never fear!  There are many, many more ways you can help.  First off, go to www.prehensileproductions.com/defendingeden/ind... and sign up for our newsletter.  In fact, everyone should do this.  We promise not to constantly blast you with emails--we just want to stay in touch.  Having a strong audience base helps us in so many ways.  In addition to showing potential funders that there is significant interest in what we are doing, it also ensures that people are paying attention to the issues in Eastern Ecuador--issues that could have tremendous consequences for the Waorani, for Ecuador, for the Amazon rainforest, and for us all.  

You can also help by spreading the word.  The more viral this project gets, the more likely it is to succeed.  HELP US OUT!  SPREAD THE WORD!



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