The Shuar's Description of their Project

by Tuntiak Katan

PROPOSAL for funding the education for eight young Shuar indigenous who want to study at Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador, South America

What is it about?
Situation and History of the Shuar
Project Location: Description of the Community Tuutin Entsa
The Project
Thoughts about the Future

I. What is it about?

The Shuar are a cultural group with a population of about 110,000 indigenous people living in the Amazon tropical rainforest of southern Ecuador. According to their tradition they are forest people, living dispersed across the jungle in small communities. The basis for their livelihood is hunting, forestry, fishing, agriculture and stock farming. The Shuar have a rich culture adapted to the rainforest, permitting them to gain knowledge of the forest's secrets for a life in harmony between humans and nature.

The living conditions in the Shuar communities have changed. Colonisation of a part of their original territory by immigrants from northern Ecuador, especially mestizos, brought about a different economic system. The degree of influence by external customs varies depending on the location of the communities. However, the Shuar language and culture are still relatively intact and stable compared to other Amazon cultures. All Shuar women and men are conscious of their culture's richness in many respects and on this account tried to perpetuate it from generation to generation.

However the world of today is in many respects characterised by competition. A culture that ceases to develop in all fields faces the danger of going extinct. This is why our idea for quite some time now has been to support higher education amongst the Shuar. We are aware that only education on all levels assures the persistence of the Shuar in the future.

Furthermore we realised that we have all the important natural resources within our environment. Up to now we could not use them effectively since not many Shuar are professionally qualified to exploit them in a sensible manner.

We, the Shuar, are an unusual and unique culture and as such we would like to develop on, out of our own identity. However, our economic resources are limited and do not allow us to study at national or international universities. Therefore we are looking for a way to enable our young people to take up their studies.

II. Situation and History of the Shuar



Shuar Chicham belongs to the linguistic family of Jivaroana according to the classification by Karsten, along with the languages of the Shiwiar and Achuar (Ecuador and Peru) and the Awajún or Aguaruna (Peru). (CODENPE, 2002. This reference is the national council of indigenous people and nations of Ecuador)

Geographic location and territory

The Shuar are present in two countries: they live in Ecuador as well as Peru. In Peru in the department Amazonia, province of Condorcanqui, district Río Santiago and in the department Loreto, province Alto Amazonas, districts Barranca and Morona. In Ecuador their population is centred around the provinces Morona Santiago, Pastaza and Zamora Chinchipe.
Further settlements are located in Sucumbíos, Orellana in Amazonia and in the Litoral region in Guayas and Esmeraldas.
(CODENPE, 2002)
Original territory
The Shuar's original territory corresponds to today's province of Morona Santiago. In consequence of the frontier expansion by the oil and mining industry, the demographic pressure and the uncontrollable colonisation process the Shuar gradually lost a part of their ancestral territory, above all in the colonised areas of Morona Santiago. They were forced to occupy adjacent areas; riverside areas and lower jungle that belong to the Achuar in Transcutucú and to the Huarani and Zápara.
(CODENPE, 2002)
Territory legalisations
The Shuar are currently claiming an area of 900,688 ha. The officially acknowledged area encloses 718,200 ha, the remaining 182,468 ha have not yet been legally recognised.


The estimated population size is about 110,000 (1998), distributed over 668 Communities. Shuar is the general name; however, within this nationality there are other denominations which do not imply a cultural difference; they are rather related to the inhabited region. The Muraya Shuar (mountain people) are found in the river Upano valley; the Untsuri Shuar (large population) are situated between the Cordilleras del Cóndor and Cutucú; the Pankanmaya Shuar live in the Tanscutucú zone.
(CODENPE, 2002)

Socio-political organisation

The family constitutes the most important unit for the Shuar in terms of ensuring descendants as well as on an economic, social and cultural basis. They are a tribal society whose members are united by bonds of relatedness and the wide family circle.

Polygyny or marriage of one man with several women, who are often the wife's sisters or the brother's widow, was a traditionally accepted rule amongst the Shuar. The number of wives was dependent on the man's qualities. He has to be a courageous warrior, worker and good hunter and had to proof his honesty and respectability. His prospective parents in law judged on those qualities before agreeing to the marriage. Nowadays only few men still have two wives. This privilege is almost entirely reserved for aged warriors and the shamans. (CODENPE, 2002)

Currently the rule of polygamous marriage is undergoing a change towards monogamous and exogamous matrimony (external to the group). This is due to continuous and amplified relations with other ethnic groups.

Like most of the Amazonian tribes the Shuar have not formed a political and social unit. The traditional power structure is decentralised; political and religious power used to be held by an Uwishin shaman. In case of a war a chief was nominated; his mandate expired with the end of the war.
Families united in the form of dispersed neighbours whose union constituted a community. Now they have adopted the legal designation "Centros". The association of several Centros forms further organisations: alliances which group into federations. The latter are a socio-political structure dealing with external affairs. (CODENPE, 2002)

The following of these federative organisations shell be mentioned:
Federación Interprovincial de Centros Shuar, FICSH; it groups a large part of the Shuar nation with a total of 490 Centros. The Federación Independiente del Pueblo Shuar FIPSE; it is the assembly of 47 Centros from Transcutucú. These two federations are the pillars of the Shuar's organisation process ever since the 1960s. Both organisations are part of the CONFENIAE and the CONAIE. Recently founded organisations include the Organisación Shuar del Ecuador OSHE with 40 Centros; the Nacionalidad Achuar del Ecuador NAE and the Shuar de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana OISAE, amongst others.(CODENPE, 2002)

The federation and its associated groups are lead by a board of directors, whereas the Centros are lead by a syndicate. The Assembly is the highest authority on the federative level. It is directed by a board of directors elected every three years, presided by a president. There is an inter-federal coordination between the FICSH, FIPSE and NAE (Achuar); they meet regularly to exchange information and coordinate actions for the defence of their member's rights who are under the pressure of oil companies. The attachment to their culture is very strong and they feel pride for it. With the peace treaty between Ecuador and Peru binational meetings could take place between members of the Shuar nation that had been separated with the treaty of 1941. (CODENPE, 2002)


The Ecuadorian government has declared an area a nature reserve (national park Sangay) which is on Shuar territory. A few communities are located within this reserve and its zone of influence. Other Shuar Centros are within the zone of Podocarpus national park and the wildlife reserve "Reserva Faunística del Cuyabeno". (CODENPE, 2002)

Extraction of natural resources on the territories

The province of Morona Santiago, where block 24 of the company Burlington is situated, is currently experiencing some conflicts. The Centros in the provinces of Sucumbíos and Orellana are located in areas of oil exploitation; however, the actual number of communities or blocks in this area is unknown. The FIPSE achieved a constitutional protection against the company Arco with block 24. It was then transferred to Burlington who still owns it now. A constitutional tribunal decided in favour of the FIPSE and pronounced a warning against the company, not to take any actions that aim to split the federation or to try and enter the communities without the federation's permission. (CODENPE, 2002)
In Morona Santiago the government issued some licences for gold mining, predominantly in the area of Bomboiza and Santiago. Finally, the community Warints in the Cordillera del Cóndor had no choice but to expel the company Lowel Mineral Exploration from their territory since it did not comply with the conventional environmental standards. (CODENPE, 2002)
Originally the economic core was found within the closer or wider family. Small familial units shared a residence or a series of neighbouring residences and were part of a union of dispersed settlements; the distribution of labour depended on sex and age.

Each domestic group decided what should be produced and how, and what would happen with the production. Nevertheless, within each settlement the households shared the produced goods and administered them together. There was no core group that would have claimed tights of private properties from another. Under the norms of collective care certain rights established in each unit. The norm of redistribution of the surplus assured that every domestic unit roughly had the required amount of food. (CODENPE, 2002)

Major economic activities included itinerant horticulture with a slash and burn technique, hunting, fishing, collection and manufacture, which is still maintained in remote regions like Transcutucú allowing them an ecological equilibrium.

Another basic characteristic, which they had in common with all other Amazon tribes, was the occupation of large territorial areas of which they made used by a nomadic lifestyle: the families had one permanent residence and other temporary ones with rights of use of all the resources. It was advisable to include various sites; the region of the permanent residence as well as areas with access to a river, lake or the mountains.

In times of the federation's initial organisation process, the Ecuadorian Institute of Land Reform and Colonisation, IERAC, assigned the first land rights with legal titles to individuals; prior to that, the federation had led a long dispute to achieve communal titles for entire Centros. Nevertheless they could not modify the clause which insisted on the cultivation of 60% of the land. (CODENPE, 2002)

In account of this constraint by the IERAC the federation adopted the impulsion of stock-farming as a strategy to defend the territory and as an economic strategy. This resulted into an exhilarated deforestation of Shuar territory. In the time between 1968 and 1987 in the province Morona Santiago alone 241.188 ha were deforested, at an annual rate of 12.059 ha. (CODENPE, 2002)

The conversion of a part of the forests into pasture especially affected those resources that had been essential for hunting, collecting and fishing. The stock-farming activity brought about significant changes to the Shuar society; above all it induced the end of the nomadic lifestyle and the transition to a sedentary life in family farms; this lead to the initiation of relations with the market (Centros close to communication roads) as well as to changes in soil use and norms of consumption. Traditional economic activities like hunting, fishing and handcrafts were abandoned or diminished.

Today they are in a phase of transition between tradition and modernity and have adopted new guidelines of productive comportment up to the point of monetised economy. There are differences between the Centros close to communication roads and those of remote areas like Transcutucú; the former characteristically have important relations to the market while the latter are basically dominated by a traditional economic system with only complimentary market relations. The forest resources offer them various alternatives for medicinal applications and commercial activities: Ishpingo, fibres for brooms, sugarcane, Zarzaparilla and Copal, Chonta, peanut, ginger amongst others.

The federations dispose of various programs in distinct rural areas; the "interprovincial federation of Shuar Centros", FICSH, for instance disposes of the "educational service of bilingual broadcast of Shuar indigenous", SERBISH, and the "Shuar air service", SASH, an important medium for the health program as well as for product commercialisation. In agreement with the government it runs several health centres and subcentres. Furthermore it runs programs for comercialisation and for agroforestry. The "independent Shuar federation", FIPSE, realises amongst others a program that aims at the achievement of territory rights and succeded in obtaining legal titles for a large part of their territory. (CODENPE, 2002)

III. Project Location: Description of the Community Tuutin Entsa

General information

The community Tuutin Entsa is located in the province of Morona Santiago, in the canton Taisha, parish Tuutin Entsa and within the Asociación Tuutin Entsa. It is situated on the coordinates S 02º 34' W 77º 29' (See Fig.1 and 2)

Tuutin Entsa encloses 200,000 ha. Its topography is more or less flat at an altitude of 300 m. The temperature in the region is between 24 and 28ºC and precipitation is at 2920 mm. It was classified as humid tropical forest after Neill & Palacios (Bennett, 2002).

Physical information

Tuutin Entsa lies between the rivers Panki and Kankaim, both running from north to south. The Panki unites with the Kankaim, and before the Kankaim meets the Morona River. Panki and Kankaim are both slow and clear streams. The soils are suitable for agriculture; any type of cultivation will grow there, especially on alluvial soil.

Socioeconomic information

The Shuar have lived in the Transcutucú territory for an indeterminable time. The Federación Interprovincial de Centros Shuar (FICSH) is the maximal unit looking after the welfare of the inhabitants of Transcutucú.

The community Tuutin Entsa extends across 200,000 ha, it has approximately 1300 inhabitants distributed over 200 wider families. The community Tuutin Entsa is the parish's capital village with the parish council administration, the community administration, the department of the Asociación, the zone supervision department, a health subcentre, 7 houses of the primary school with 150 pupils and 7 teachers, the college with 100 pupils and 8 teachers and the mission Salesiana. The community is at 150 km from the provincial capital town and 20 km from the canton's headquarters. The imperative need for communication with the outside world made it necessary to construct an airstrip of 1500 m to allow the landings of small planes from Macas and Shell. This is the only communication route between the community Tuutin Entsa and the nearest town. (See photos)

80% of Tuutin Entsa's inhabitants depend on the economic use of resources by activities like agriculture, stock-farming, silviculture, fishing etc. This shows the necessity to introduce new techniques to minimise the environmental impacts, and the need for environmental education so the community develops consciousness for a rational use of natural resources.

Furthermore preoccupation arose amongst many parents of young people who are looking for a source of income by the means of higher education. This new mentality throughout the community created an incredible demand by college graduates who are looking for an opportunity to access universities and thus realise the dream to contribute to society as professionals.

Cultural information

The community Tuutin Entsa consists of 99.9% Shuar people and 0.1% mestizos. These mestizos are women married to Shuar men; they have adopted the Shuar lifestyle.

The Shuar of Tuutin Entsa still maintain their ancestors customs today. This allows them to identify with their proper characteristics. Furthermore they realised that they cannot live isolated from this globalised world. Therefore the people's mentality maintains the idea of an integral development with their own identity.

IV. The Project

Proposal for the support of eight young Shuar with their university studies

After thorough reflections about my culture's reality and seeing that we are in need of many professionals of all scientific fields, I decided to help the young Shuar so they can study at Universities. However, I do not yet dispose of the means. I propose to promote a program to economically support those young people who are most in need, to enable them to study at Ecuador's best university. This is the initiation of a program which is thought to establish as a registered society ("entidad legal") in the future, especially to help the Shuar youth to study at different national and international universities.

To start with, eight young determined people were selected who want to create the future and feel committed to their people. Some of these young people have already passed the admission exam for university but so far were not able to take up their studies due to lack of money. The others are sitting their exams in May 2007 and are currently preparing for it.

The program will start this August 2007 and run for 4 to 6 years according to the duration of each chosen course.

All these young people aim to study at the university "San Francisco de Quito". This is a liberal education institution and is regarded as the best in Ecuador. It is in the capital, Quito, 700 km away from the community Tuutin Entsa. The tuition fees, which vary according to the subject from $8000 to 11,000, will be covered by a university grant.

For all the eight of them the support cooperation of the university San Francisco de Quito will issue a grant to cover matriculation and tuition fees. However, the grant does not cover health insurance, rent, food, books, travel expenses, etc. Therefore the aim of this document is to find help to cover these costs.

a) Objectives

The program has the following objectives:
  • to enable the young Shuar of weak financial backgrounds to study at Ecuador's best university
  • to provide security to all these students until they graduate
  • Each student will participate in all the events organised by the Shuar culture during the duration of their studies
  • to contribute to the Shuar culture with new professionals in those communities furthest away from the city.
  • Each new professional will generate a sustainable project in the field of their expertise.
  • After their graduation all students will return to their community to initiate new community development alternatives.

b) Students

Awananch Tukup Juan Bautista, from the community Tuutin Entsa, 23 years young, graduated the 4th of August 2001 from college with specialisation on science and intercultural bilingual education. Plans to study law (lawyer).

Shimpiukat Mashiant Warush Luis, from the community Tuutin Entsa, 23 years young, graduated the 31st of July 2003 from college with specialisation on commerce and administration techniques. Would like to study company administration engineering.

Marian Pitiur Entsa Bermeo, from the community Tuutin Entsa, 18 years young. Graduated the 19th of July 2006 from college with specialisation on science, biochemistry. Would like to study biology.

Tsere Nankamai Darwin Leonidas, from the community Tuutin Entsa, 18 years young, graduated the 14th of July 2006 from college with specialisation on agriculture. Wants to study agricultural engineering.

Tsere Juwa Chamikit Hernan, from the community Tuutin Entsa, 22 years young. Graduated the 10th of July 2003 from college with specialisation on education. Would like to study international relations.

Juwa Wisum Jempe Eladio, from the community Tuutin Entsa, 20 years young. Graduated from college the 15th of July 2005 with specialisation in informatics. Studies graphic design at the USFQ.

Juwa Wisum Guido Esteban, from the community Tuutin Entsa, 18 years young. Graduated from college the 14th of July 2006 with specialisation in accountancy . Would like to study system engineering.

Saké Juwa Fabian, from the community Tuutin Entsa, 18 years young. Will graduate from college this July 2007 with specialisation in accountancy. Hopes to study economics and finances.

c) Specification of costs

Table 1: Monthly expenses for 8 persons
Details for 8 persons Monthly costs in US-Dollar $
Rent for the house 500,oo
Food 600,oo
Electricity, water, telefone& internet 150,oo
Travel expenses 160,00
Total 1410,oo
The expenses in table 1 are occurring monthly until the students graduate

Table 2: Annual expenses not covered by the university grant
Detail Per student $ Muliplied by 8 students in $
Health insurance 358,oo 2864,oo
Books 300,oo 2400,oo
College fee 350,00 2800,oo
Total 1008,oo 8064,oo
The costs in table 2 occur once per year for the duration of the courses. They are usually to be paid in advance.

We will issue a monthly account of the expenses with the respective receipts to provide a register and a control.

d) Suggestions

In exchange for the help provided by an institution or individual we would like to invite you and open our houses in Tuutin Entsa for you so you can get to know our reality and experience a life different to the occidental world; where nature and humans try to life in community.

Also if you want to be reassured of what we have proposed you can come directly to the community before taking any decision. Whatever your attitude, we are open to everything.

V. Thoughts about the Future

We want to live diversity and cosmopolitanism in our particularity as an Amazon culture, where development and natural resources shall be compatible. We do not want to destroy our natural environment, our forests and all the life within it; we want an environmental friendly development where sensible and planned use of the wildlife is applied.