Travel E-Logs: Amazon Rain Forest

Travel E-Logs #5: Limoncocha and Communities Around - Traditions and Cultures

Dear Students:

Alituta (good evening) from Limoncocha. This week, Lilia, Teresa and I are visiting schools in and around Limoncocha. We are visiting 7th through 11th grade classes in the colegio in Limoncocha and K-6 schools in three nearby communities, Rio Jivino, Pompeya Chicta and Yamanunca. Rio Jivino and Pompeya are Quichua communities and Yamanunca is a Shuar community.

In this report, I’ll tell you about traditional Quichua weddings and funerals, follow up on the Pobrecita Yeseña story from the last report, tell you about one of our school visits and include more guess-who poems, answers to your questions and another math puzzler.

A Time for Celebration: A Traditional Quichua Wedding

Last week, Lilia and I attended a traditional Quichua boda (wedding) in Limoncocha. It was quite different from other weddings we’ve been to. Early in the morning, thirty family members and friends of the groom gathered to prepare a giant meal, one that would feed the whole community. By eleven in the morning, a brother of the groom began to play a drum, summoning other family members and friends to gather. As they entered the groom’s parent’s home, the sister-in-laws of the groom served them chicha, a traditional Quichua drink made of fermented cassava. Once everyone had gathered, the groom sat in a chair in the middle of the main room and everyone circled around him. The groom’s compadres (a couple whose daughter is the goddaughter of the groom) took the groom’s old clothes off (down to his skivvies), then dressed him in traditional Quichua clothing, featuring two red and white ponchos and a straw cowboy hat. Once dressed, the groom and the compadre marched hand in hand out the door and towards the bride’s family’s house, followed by the groom’s extended family and friends.

At the bride’s house, the bride’s extended family and friends had already gathered. The groom’s compadre led him through the crowd to the bride’s parents. There, in front of everyone, the groom knelt down and asked the bride’s parents for their daughter. They agreed to give their daughter away – and called for her to come. When she arrived, her sisters and female friends gathered around her, took off her old clothes and put a red wedding dress on her. They also, put make-up on her face and put a red band around her head. Then, the groom took the bride’s hand and walked with her away from the bride’s house, with the crowd following and one of the groom’s brothers playing a drum.

Next, the whole crowd and other community members gathered at the casa comunal (the community house), where first the couple and the compadres and then all of the members of both families performed a traditional wedding dance that lasted several hours. In the dance, performed to drum and violin music, the women line up on one side with the men facing them on the other side. The men step towards the women to the beat of the drum and the women step back; then the women step towards the men and the men step back. In between all the dancing, the family members of the groom served food and chicha to all of the guests. By evening time, when the traditional dancing ended, everyone circled around the bride and groom. Two people laid a blanket on the ground and the bride and groom lay down on the blanket. Then, two other people laid another blanket on top of the bride and groom. Under the blanket, the couple hugged, and then emerged – to a loud cheer – a brand new married couple!

Changing Traditions

The people referred to the wedding as ‘traditional,’ but, according to an elderly couple we spoke with in Limoncocha, many things we saw were different from weddings in ‘the old days.’ For one, in the old days, the bride and groom wore clothes made of palm leaves and decorated themselves with bird feathers and seed jewelry. In the wedding we attended, the bride and groom wore modern clothes typically worn by Quichua people from the mountains of Ecuador, not from the rain forest. Also, where the bride wore modern make-up in the wedding we witnessed, in the old days women would paint the face of the bride – and men would paint the body of the groom – with a red dye taken from the seeds of a tree called achiote.

The elderly women we spoke with told us she got married when she was only eleven years old – and her parents and her husband’s parents were the ones who decided who she would marry. When she got married, she wore a veil throughout the ceremony, so the groom could not see her face. After her wedding, her family took her back to her own house and didn’t let her go to her husband’s house for a whole year afterwards – and she didn’t have children till she was sixteen. Nowadays, rain forest Quichua people still marry at a young age, but not that young – usually between 16 and 20 years old. Also, the people more often choose their own wife or husband and the women do not wear veils during the marriage ceremony. Also, we were told, the wedding celebration could last for several days, not just one – and huge amounts of food and chicha would be prepared. In the wedding we attended, the main food was chicken soup with noodles and vegetables, beef, rice, plantains and cassava. In the old days, the meal would have included meat of wild animals, like monkey, tapir, capybara, agouti and armadillo, lots of fish, and cassava.

Note: We are including two photos from the wedding: people preparing for the feast and two men playing traditional Quichua music.

A Time for Mourning: A Traditional Wake

On Monday of this week, Lilia, Teresa and I went to visit La Escuela Rio Amazonas again and, to our surprise, discovered that there were no classes. Instead, students were gathering a whole bunch of flowers (see the attached photo). A teacher told us that a forty-one year old man from the village, named Francisco, died on Saturday and students from the escuela would present the flowers to his family. (Three of Francisco’s sons attend the escuela and another one attends the colegio. He and his wife had seven children in all.)

The teacher told us that the man died of brujeria or witchcraft. Because the man was healthy then suddenly got sick and was vomiting blood and died three days later, the teacher, like many other people in the village, believed that a shaman was hired to send an evil spirit to make the man sick. Later, a woman from the village who works in the community health center told us the man died of malaria.

Last year when Lilia and I were visiting Limoncocha, a boy from the colegio died under mysterious circumstances, too; and then, like now, people gave different reasons for his death. Nine years ago when I lived in Limoncocha, a small boy died of malaria and I attended his funeral. Below are two flashbacks, one from last year and one from nine years ago.

Flashback: Life and Death in the Amazon

Just before we left Limoncocha, something very sad happened. Tragically, a bright, respectful high school student who Lilia and I both formerly taught, named Marco, died. The cause of his death was not exactly clear, since there were two stories circulating around town about how it happened. In the first, corroborated by the village’s clinic doctor, Marco had an appendix operation about a week ago and, instead of giving the wound time to heal, went hunting and played soccer soon after. The wound tore open and got infected which caused Marco to bleed internally and vomit blood. In the second story, corroborated by most people in town, Marco went hunting and came across a dead rat. When he went to move the rat out of his path with a stick, some force, explained to be sort of like a chemical or electric current, ran up the stick and all through Marco’s body. By the time he got home, he was throwing up blood. His family took him to a local healer, but the healer said it was too late for him to do anything: a bad shaman had set a trap for someone else and Marco accidentally got in the way of the shaman’s medicine.

All of the students and teachers at the high school attended the wake. Lilia and I did not, however, since we had to leave for Quito. But I remember back to the time I first taught in Limoncocha, eight years ago, when I did attend a traditional Quichua wake. It wasn’t exactly what I expected. Here’s the story:

Flashback: An Unusual Time for Play

Last week, I received some very sad news from students in my fourth grade class. Their classmate, Filomena, was absent because her three year old brother died the night before. I did not know the boy since he was too young to go to school and his family lived outside the village center. But since I knew his sister, my student, I decided that I would attend the wake which would be held that night in the village hall.

Later in the day, my high school students told me about the Quichua casket closing ceremony, which would occur in the afternoon before the wake. I had witnessed this ceremony once - on the very first day I arrived in Limoncocha. On that day, as a teacher was giving me a tour of the village, we stopped in at the village hall. Many people were gathered around a large table in the center of the hall. The body of an old man who had died the day before lay on the table, wrapped in a cloth sack. Candles burned all around the body and, in one corner of the building, several men were building a wooden casket. When the casket was finished, they put it on the table next to the man. Shortly after, a community leader said a few words and some people began to cry and chant. Then the wife and the daughter of the dead man took a bag filled with clothes that belonged to the man wheng he was alive. They lay the clothes, one piece at a t! ime, inside the casket. When the bottom of the casket was covered with a layer of clothes, a few men lifted the body and placed it in the casket on top of the clothes. Then, the women put another layer of clothes over the body. When they placed the last article of clothing over the body, they could no longer contain their strong emotions, and the broke into sobs and wailing. Then, a few men came forward and nailed the lid on the coffin - and the ceremony ended.

That was several months ago. This time, since I had to teach my classes, I couldn't attend the casket closing ceremony of Filomena's brother. But in the evening, as it was getting dark, I walked into the village to attend the wake. I met some people as I was walking and they told me that it was customary to bring some food or useful items for the bereaved family. So, before going to the village hall, I stopped at a shop and bought a kilo of sugar, two packages of candles, a few cans of tunafish and a bottle of cooking oil.

When I entered the hall, the casket lay closed on a table in the center of the building. About thirty or more candles were burning on top of and around the casket. People sat on benches and chairs or stood around the table, with the family of the boy sitting in a line on one side. I greeted the family, shaking all of their hands - and saying hello to Filomena - then gave them my gifts. Filomena's parents thanked me for the food and candles and put them on the table with the other gifts they had received.

Shortly afterwards, a man named Mario, who was also a member of my English class for adults, led everyone in a few prayers. Then, the church musicians played music and led everyone in a few songs. The words of the prayers and the songs were in Quichua, of course, so I was very surprised when, after the music, Mario spoke to me - with everyone listening - in English. But, I was even more surprised by what I thought I heard him say, "Paul, the ceremony is finished, we would like to ask you if you would stay to play with the children and teach them some American games." Mario was a very good English student, but I thought that he must have made a mistake. To me, playing at a wake didn't seem to fit. So, a bit confused, I walked over and asked him about his request.

He explained to me that it was a Quichua custom for children to stay up all night after a wake. To keep the children cheerful and awake, and safe from evil forces aroused by death, it became customary for them to play games until the next dawn. Mario knew that I often played basketball and other games with the children. He figured I could help keep the children awake. So, even though we were at a wake, and at first it didn't seem to me to be a time for playing, I agreed to his request - and, in a way, I felt honored.

Soon the hall became festive with play. I joined in on several traditional games and taught the children, including Filomena, how to play Simon Says, Spoons and Red Rover. We played until morning - and then we went to school.

Flashback: Pobrecita Yeseña

(Here’s another flashback to last year, following up on the story of Yeseña.)

In the last report, I told you about Yeseña and her dislocated elbow ordeal: so here’s an update. She’s doing better, but we found out through a teacher that her suffering didn’t end with all that tugging and pulling on her arm - and, oddly enough, she wasn’t the only girl in town to dislocate her elbow and get it reset by Don Niconor last week. The teacher told us, to our shock, that Yeseña received a sound spanking after she got home from Don Niconor’s house. We asked why and she just said that some parents do that. But later in the week, we got a clearer answer.

Dislocated elbows are not common injuries in Limoncocha, but last week, Cinthia, a third grader, joined the club after falling off her bicycle. She also went to see Don Niconor and had much better luck than Yeseña. Her bones popped back into their socket with one tug and she was walking around afterwards, without a cast, playing as if nothing ever happened.

We were talking with Cinthia’s father, Don Gervacio, later that day and he told us that it was a Quichua tradition to give a serious spanking to a child who had such an accident, to teach them to be more careful so it won’t happen again. He said if the accident were completely unavoidable, like a tree branch falling on a child, the child would not be punished, but if the accident happened as a result of the child’s carelessness, like falling of a chair or a bicycle, a spanking would most likely ensue. In the old days, he said, the most common infraction was falling out of a tree, since children often climbed trees for fun and for fruit. He explained that, as a child, he received such a spanking from his own father after falling out of tree and, as a parent, gave one to one of his sons after the son fell out of a tree - even though the son had broken his arm. In Cinthia’s case, though, since she is his youngest of ten children and the only girl, her parents no longer felt compelled to follow tradition, hoping she would learn from the pain she endured from the accident alone.

During the conversation, Don Gervacio, told us about a few other traditional rain forest Quichua punishments. He said that when he was young, some children would steal eggs from other families. If they got caught, their own parent would wrap their hand in a leaf and put it in a fire for a few seconds, administering a painful lesson that hands are not for stealing. In other cases when a child stole something, the parent would shave the child’s head so his or her baldness would serve as a warning to other people that a thief was in their presence. (Hmm, that makes me recall that one of the students at the school in Limoncocha had his head shaved this week. I wonder if he stole something or it’s just a modern haircut.) Sometimes, to add emphasis and embarrassment, a parent would tie a diaper around the child’s bald head.

Don Gervacio also mentioned that, when he was young, people were only supposed to have children after they were married. If a young woman became pregnant before she was married, the parents would give her to an old widowed man, to be his wife (while the man responsible would only be counseled). We were shocked about that one, too, but Don Gervacio explained that while some Quichua people still follow these traditions, many no longer do.

A School on the Napo River

On Tuesday, while Lilia visited the colegio in Limoncocha, Teresa and I visited a school on the Napo River. Actually the school, called La Escuela Mariono Jipa in a village called Pompeya Chicta, is located on a branch of the Napo River. (Chicta, sometimes spelled chikta, means river branch in Quichua.) The branch breaks off the main Napo River, and then circles back to it, forming a giant island. Teresa and I got a ride in a Jeep from a friend to the river. Then we had to holler across to the other side for a canoe ride. A man who had children in the escuela guided a large canoe with a long pole over to our side of the river and then gave us a ride to the other side. We walked for twenty minutes along the river to the school.

The school consists of two classrooms, a dining hall and a soccer field. Next to one of the classrooms, the community is constructing a traditional house – built on stilts and with a roof made of huge palm leaves. The house is for Digner and Melida Cerda, a married couple and friends of ours from Limonchocha, who are the schools only teachers. The school has 36 students in grades 1-6. Melida teaches grades 1-3 and Digner teachers grades 4-6.

We spent the morning watching videos, taking pictures and drawing. Despite the heat (under the tin roofs of the classrooms), the students seemed happy to see children from different parts of the world, to have a chance to draw and color, and to share some of their own culture and lives. Teresa and I spoke Spanish to the students, but in many cases, Digner and Melida would translate what we said into Quichua. Unlike in Limoncocha where the students speak Spanish more than Quichua, in Pompeya Chicta, like in many smaller communities along the Napo River, the students speak more Quichua than Spanish.

At 1:00 the school day ended (as it does in most Amazon elementary schools since the midday heat is not conducive to learning) and Teresa and I headed back to Limoncocha – but not before a quick dip in the warm, muddy waters of the Napo.

Guess Who

Here are two poems from Amazin' Amazon Mystery Animals featuring animals that, if you were unlucky, you might encounter in a rain forest lake or river. I'll tell you the answers in my next report.

Charming Fellow

Jaws -- I got 'em.
Pain -- I deal it.
Claws -- Don't need 'em.
Brain? -- I eat it!!

Quickness -- Got plenty.
Tooths -- Got many.
Manners -- What are they?
Couth! -- Forget it!

Meat -- Now you're talkin'.
Bones -- I swarm 'em.
Feet? -- What good's walkin'?
Smile -- Oh, you noticed, heh-heh ...
Now ain't I charmin'?

Guess who.


Today's Specialty: You!

I'm slithering through the river
Time to quiver
Time to shiver
I'm figuring on you for my dinner

I've carefully reviewed the menu's specialties
Capybaras are sweet
And caiman are a treat
But I've settled on you to be my main squeeze

Just like I like you, juicy and plump
With a ripple and a lunge
You'll take the great plunge
Down my sluice, reduced to a lump
Then, sated, to my hollow, I'll slop for a rest
Cool and clumpy
Coiled and comfy
I'll chill for a while until you digest.
Guess who.

I’ll put the answers in the next report. The last report’s animals were a black and red butterfly and a blue morpho butterfly. You can find all twenty-one Amazin’ Amazon Mystery Animal poems with photos and facts here.

Math Puzzler

Here's another math puzzler, posed by Otis Reedy in The Song of the Harpy Eagle,

"OK, fellow brain-benders, here are the circumstances in which we find ourselves: our goal is to reach the moon; our method is climbing trees. We'll cut down and stack however many trees it takes to get there. If the average large rain forest tree is 80 feet tall (24 meters), how many will we need to cut down and stack up in order to reach the moon, given that the average distance between the earth and the moon is approximately 240,000 miles (385,000 kilometers)? Quite simple, you say? Well, how about this: some scientists estimate that 40 million acres (16 million hectares) of rain forest are destroyed every year around the world. If there are 500 large trees per acre (1250 per hectare), how many acres would we have to cut down to fulfill our quest, and, rounding this figure up to the nearest thousand, what percentage of the total number of acres felled in one year would this be? So, how many times could we reach the moon and back if we used all the rain forest trees that were cut down in one year? How many total miles could we travel? What other heavenly bodies could we reach if we stacked all those trees? Have fun figuring it out!"
Here's the answer to the puzzler in the last report:

"At its widest, the Amazon rain forest is about 3000 miles across. How many hours would it take you to cross it in a small airplane that traveled 100 miles an hour on average? Sloths move at 1/3 of a mile per hour. At that rate, how many hours would it take a sloth on one side of the rain forest to reach a cecropia leaf on the other side? How many days is that? How many years?"

A. 3000 (miles) divided by 100 (m.p.h) = 30 hours or one day and six hours. B. If sloths can travel 1/3 mile in one hour, they can travel one mile in three hours. 3000 (miles) X 3 (hours per mile) = 9000 hours. (Or 1/3 goes into 3000, 9000 times; or 3000 divided by 1/3 = 9000.) 9000 divided by 24 (hours in one day) = 375 days which is one year and 10 days.


This year, we are sending the answers to your questions directly to your teachers. Here are questions posed to and answered by rain forest students from previous year’s.

These answers were given by a group of 40 students in grades 1-6 at the Amazon River Elementary School in Limoncocha.

Are you afraid of snakes? Of 40, 39 said 'yes' and 1 said 'no' (but most didn't believe the one who said no).

Has anyone in your class been to Quito (the capital of Ecuador)? Yes, 10 of 40.

Do you have turtles in your lakes? Yes, black turtles and large spotted ones that we call charapas. We like to eat charapa lulu (turtle eggs) – and charapas themselves, if we can match them.

Do you speak a bit of English? A few of us speak a bit.

How do you cook your food? In boiling water, fried, smoked, grilled or in maito (rolled up in a special leaf and cooked on an open fire).

Do snakes get in your houses? 17 of 40 have had snakes in their homes (as far as they know).

Do you have VCR's and videos? 10 of 40 do.

Do you have video games? No. A few students in the high school do.

Do you have telephones in your homes? 3 of 40 students have cell phones in their homes. (Note: This has changed since two years ago when this question was posed. Now, the number is double that.)

What do you use to fish? Mostly fishing poles with lines and hooks, and fishing nets. Sometimes adults use spears. When we fish with nets, we also use long poles to place the nets on. We usually take a machete with us when we go fishing. We either go along the lakeshore or we go with a canoe and an oar. For bait we use worms, grubs, ripe plantains, snails, meat (for piranha) or pieces of fish. We use a shigra (a string bag) to carry the fish we catch.

What kinds of toys do you play with? Dolls, cars, marbles, airplanes, stuffed animals and balls are the most popular.

What kinds of chores do you do? Mostly collecting water, working with the machete or harvesting crops in the garden/farm, watching younger brothers and sisters, making chicha or other food, fishing, hunting, sweeping the floor, making a fire, washing and hanging clothes, washing dishes and collecting fruit from trees.

Is it hard to live in the rain forest? No, it's not hard. We like it.

Is it cool and fun to live in the rain forest? It's chevere (cool) but not frio (cool) and we think it's very fun to live here.

Do you sleep on the floor and does that hurt? We sleep on beds.

Have you ever heard of Chicago? No, we hadn't. But, now we have!

We know in Panama they use coconuts for bowls. What kind of bowls do you use in the rain forest? What are your bowls made out of? We mostly have bowls made of plastic and glass that we buy at the market or in a larger town about an hour away. Sometimes we use bowls made from a large fruit that comes from a tree called a calabash tree. We clean out the fruit, which is not edible, and cut the hard outer shell in half to make the bowls. Sometimes we carve designs in the bowls to decorate them. Sometimes we also make bowls out of clay that we get from nearby rivers.

My classmates and I looked in a book and we saw people with paint on their bodies. Why do they put paint on their bodies? Does everyone in the rain forest do this? Most people who live around our part of the rain forest do not put paint on their bodies. But, almost all of the different rain forest nationalities that live in our region used to paint their bodies. We mainly used to use a red dye from the seeds of the achiote flower, but sometimes we would use clay and other natural dyes or colors. People put dye on their bodies for different reasons: for decoration, to protect them from spirits, to frighten their enemies, for good luck (when hunting, fishing or planting crops) and to repel insects. Nowadays, most people in our area only paint their bodies when we have a festival or a dance that celebrates our traditional culture. We have learned that in other parts of the Amazon, some people still paint their bodies.

My classmates and I looked in a book and we saw land that was so dry it was full of cracks. How does the land get so dry when there is so much rain? We don't have any land near us with cracks, but each year there is usually a period of time when it doesn't rain for a while. This year, it has hardly rained since New Year's Day. It just began raining again this week. During this time, the sun can get very hot and the roads get very dusty. A lot of people catch colds during this time of year.

What language do you speak in the rain forest? We speak Quichua and Spanish, but other nationalities have their own languages. In our region, Shuar, Huaorani and Secoya are also spoken.

Is it dangerous in the rain forest? There are dangers, but it's not very dangerous day to day.

Do you have an alphabet like we do? Does your alphabet have 26 letters? Quichua was a spoken language until recently. Spanish has 28 letters.


Well, that’s all for this report. Till next time, learn lots! Samashun. (Goodbye.)

Paul, Lilia and Teresa



Go here to visit The Amazon River Elementary School and learn about its students.
Here are a few more rain forest related Web sites your class might enjoy visiting:
Orinoco Online (for older students--a tour of the Venuzuelan Amazon and an introduction to people who live there) --
Rain Forest Activities from the Science Museum of Minnesota --

Go here to access all of OneWorld Classrooms' Amazon Classroom Travel Resources.
Here are some activities (taken from the Curriculum Connections Pages of Amazin' Amazon Mystery Animal which you might wish to use with the blue morpho butterfly poem in the previous report.

Blue Morpho Butterfly

Language Arts Connection: This poem makes use of an 'extended metaphor.' The blue morpho butterfly is compared to the moon - but the comparison isn't a one shot deal like metaphors often are; instead the metaphor stretches or 'extends' throughout the poem, acting as a central theme: the butterfly shines through the branches of the trees; it waxes and wanes; sometimes it's bright and easy to see and sometimes it's invisible even though it's still there; and it's rare and blue, like a blue moon.

Group Writing Activity: Have your class choose a rain forest animal. Ask them what they could compare this animal to (besides another animal), then brainstorm (using a bubble chart, if you like) to explore the various ways this animal could be said to resemble the thing they chose to compare it to. Allow imaginative, tangential and humorous ideas as long as students can back up their connections with reasonable explanations. Choose some of the ideas and write a poem extending the metaphor all the way through. [Examples: jaguar - race car; sloth - shag rug; anteater - vacuum cleaner; leafcutter ant - wheat farmer...]

Science Connection: Another central theme in the poem is the blue morpho's fascinating survival technique known as 'flash and dazzle' (see the Amazin' Amazon Mystery Animal Answer Page for more information about this). Considering this, the author might also have chosen a comet to compare it to in an extended metaphor, or a splendidly costumed ballet dancer who goes on and off the stage.

What other peculiar survival techniques do rain forest animals employ?
Creative Writing Activity: Have students compare these animals to something else considering their survival strategy. Extend the metaphor and write more poems.

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E-Travel Log #1: Introduction to the Project and the Adventure Team
E-Travel Log #2: Quito, Banos and Flashbacks of Christmas Celebrations in Limoncocha
E-Travel Log #3: Banos - Where the Rain Forest Begins
E-Travel Log #4: Limoncocha - A Quichua Community
E-Travel Log #5: Limoncocha and Communities Around - Traditions and Cultures
E-Travel Log #6: Getting Ready to Leave for Cuyabeno
E-Travel Log #7: Rain Forest Animals
E-Travel Log #8: Rain Forest Stories and the Mysterious Black Lake
E-Travel Log #9: Trip to Playas de Cuyabeno
E-Travel Log #10: Trip to San Pablo - a Secoya Community


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