Waorani women lead the march to the court.

In Court

On April 11, 2019, hundreds of Waorani people marched through the streets of Puyo on their way to the courthouse for the start of the court case. They wore traditional clothes made of palm leaves. Their faces and arms were adorned with paint used for battle and special occasions. They carried spears and leaves from the rainforest. 

As they walked, they sang their traditional songs. They wanted people to see their pride in their culture. Nenquimo walked at the front, her arms linked with other women. She was very proud to be a Waorani woman. She felt like a warrior that day, she remembered later. Her face paint, the traditional crown on her head, and the papers in her hand were her weapons.

Inside the courtroom, the Waorani and their lawyers presented their case to three judges. Nenquimo stood up in front of the judges. Her grandmother stood beside her. Their spokesperson presented their maps. 

The maps would help the judges understand the Waorani’s relationship to their land. Over the next two weeks, elders would give testimony. Proof of the oil pollution in the forest would be presented.

The Waorani want to protect their land.

Nenquimo stands with Waorani leaders in the courtroom.

The Ruling

On April 26, the judges were ready to announce their decision. Nenquimo held her grandmother’s hand tightly. For five hours, the judge spoke. He said that the government had not tried to understand the Waorani and their culture. The meeting the government had with the Waorani during their short 2012 visit was not enough for the Waorani to give their free consent to the auctioning of the lands.

The judge gave the verdict: The land was to be protected. The Waorani had won their lawsuit. Their land would not be auctioned to the oil companies. Inside the courtroom, the Waorani burst into song.

Nenquimo remembers that the room was filled with emotion and music. Her grandmother began to sing a song celebrating their origins in the rainforest and their joy at a healthy future for
their children.

Outside, they paraded through the streets. Rain began to pour down. For the Waorani, rain has always been a sign that nature was celebrating a war victory. Nature gives the Waorani strength, Nenquimo says, and nature was happy for them that day.

Nenquimo and other leaders celebrate their court victory.

The ruling created a precedent, one of the Waorani’s lawyers said. Other indigenous Amazonian people could use this case as an example if they wanted to bring lawsuits of their own. It was a great victory, but Nenquimo’s work is not done. She is now focusing on the education of the Waorani children. “Let the children learn from their culture, from their roots and language, and let them maintain the connection to the rainforest,” Nenquimo says.

She wants to create jobs in their communities, so young people will stay on the land. She wants to protect and teach the Waorani language. At the same time, Nenquimo knows young people must also learn the tools of the outside world. That way, they can carry on the fight to protect the Waorani lands and culture, just as she has done.