Initially, the Indigenous peoples were the only Ecuadoreans affected by the drilling. And though the oil lay under their native land, they weren’t entitled to any of the profits, because the government retained all “subsurface rights.” (“The meek shall inherit the earth,” the oilman J. Paul Getty once observed. “But not its mineral rights.”) The Indigenous people cut down trees to block Texaco’s trucks, and launched attacks on oil workers.
The resistance by indigenous Ecuadoreans against the oil industry was the subject of two New Yorker articles by Joe Kane. The first, “With Spears from All Sides,” was published in the issue of September 27, 1993. It gave the history of oil exploration and extraction in the region and described the actions of Waorani (sometimes written as Huaorani) men who left their isolated and insular community to draw attention to their cause. Texaco, as Kane writes, was far from the first oil company to contemplate drilling in this part of Ecuador:
When Royal Dutch Shell was exploring the Oriente in the nineteen-forties, the Waorani reacted as they had to every other cowode [outsider] encroachment for as far back as anyone knows: they resisted violently, killing hundreds of peasant workers and looting the camps. But in the late nineteen-sixties and seventies, in understandings with the government and with Texaco, Rachel Saint and other North American missionaries … conducted a program of pacification that, with the aid of magic and trinkets—airplanes and salt—lured the Waorani into a small protectorate on the far western edge of their traditional lands.
Kane ventured into the Waorani protectorate where he discussed the encroachment of the industrial world—in this case, the construction by Conoco of a road—with a man named Quemperi:
His rhetoric was direct: a road means bad hunting; game won’t cross it; colonists will come and cut down the forest and kill the animals. A road, in other words, means hunger, it means the end of abundance, and the end of the self-reliance and independence the Waorani value above all else.
The following year, Kane wrote a Reporter at Large about a visit by one of the Waorani he’d met in Ecuador, named Moi, to Washington D.C. to address the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. After giving his testimony, Moi travelled with Kane on a train to New York:
He found Chesapeake Bay beautiful and added its name to a list he was keeping of cities and towns. After we entered the industrial corridor north of Delaware, however, his face lost its glow. We passed a field of giant tanks used for storing chemicals; to Moi, they looked exactly like the tanks the Company uses to store oil. For a long time, he didn’t say a word. Then he asked, “Chongkane, are there any Indians here?”
“Were there Indians here before the Company came?”
“Yes. There were Indians everywhere.”
“Were they killed?”
“All of them?”
_The articles—and the complete archives of The New Yorker, back to 1925—are available to subscribers. Non-subscribers can purchase the individual issues.
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