Nemonte Nenquimo stood under harsh lights in a crowded courtroom in Puyo, Ecuador. She was wearing red face paint and a crown of feathers. Elders carrying spears stood beside her. Judges sat in front of them.

Nenquimo is a member of the Waorani nation. For centuries, the Waorani have lived in the rainforests of Ecuador. Now, they had to fight for their culture. Without permission, the government had divided up the Waorani’s land. They wanted to auction it off to oil companies.

Nemonte Nenquimo is a leader of the Waorani nation.

Nemonte Nenquimo raises her fist in a sign of defiance at the start of the court hearing in Ecuador.

The Waorani fought back. Nenquimo helped her tribe file a lawsuit against the government to stop the auction. The Waorani had presented their case. Now, the judges would announce their decision. Nemonte took a deep breath.

A Rainforest Home

The Waorani nation is made up of about 5,000 indigenous people who live on 2.5 million acres of rainforest land. Most of the land is in Ecuador. More than 1,500 species of bird, 300 species of mammal, and more than 840 species of reptile make their home here.

“Our culture comes from the forest,” Nenquimo says. As hunter-gatherers, the Waorani’s lives are entwined with the rainforest. Weapons for hunting are made from wood. Traditional huts are made of palm leaves and tree trunks. Palm fibers are woven into baskets.

Waorani Territory







500 kilometers

500 miles



The Waorani live in the Amazon rainforest.  

The Waorani have always fought off invaders, as far back as the Inca empire. They did not have significant contact with the outside world until 1958 when American missionary Rachel Saint made contact with them.

Once contact was established, something was discovered: oil. The oil was valuable. To get at it, oil companies ran roads and pipelines into Waorani land. Trees were cut down, destroying ecosystems and animal habitats. Mostly, this was done without the permission of the Waoroni.