Arts & Entertainment

Ecuadorian indigenous women draw strength from face-painting tradition

By Fernando Arroyo Leon

Sarayaku, Ecuador, Aug 13 (EFE).- The Kichwa indigenous women of this community in the heart of Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest credit adherence to the ancestral practice of painting their faces with pigment from Wituk and achiote has given them the strength to resist the onslaught of extractive industry that threatens their way of life.

For the inhabitants of Sarayaku, the forest is life itself, and they are resolved to spare no effort in defending Mother Earth.

The face-painting tradition is rooted in the legend of sisters Wituk and Manduru, who responded to romantic disappointments by deciding to transform themselves into elements of nature, Maricela Gualinga, vice president of the Sarayaku Indigenous Community, tells Efe.

Wituk became a tree bearing a variety of the genip fruit, called Wituk in Kichwa, and Manduru morphed into a bush that yields the spice achiote.

The deep blue juice of the Wituk combines perfectly with the orange pigment of the achiote in lines, dots, intricate geometric designs and likenesses of animals.

Maricela’s education in face-painting began early and by the age of 8, she was a skilled practitioner.

The designs vary depending on the occasion. When the community mobilizes to stop the encroachment of oil companies, the women paint their faces with images appropriate for going into battle.

For festivals and celebrations, the aim is beauty.

“We are inspired by the animals of the forest because they have many meanings,” Gualinga says, adding that a woman known for a calm, patient temperament may be represented by a tortoise.

Acknowledging that in the past, young people in Sarayaku were reluctant to venture outside the community with painted faces, she says that the generation coming of age now embrace face-painting as part of their cultural identity.

At the same time, Gualinga is wary of the “folklorization” of face-painting, referring to the packaging of an indigenous custom as entertainment or a tourism attraction.

“Sarayaku is my life, there is nothing more,” she says, explaining why she and her neighbors must fight to keep oil and mining companies from damaging the rainforest. EFE fa-jfc-jj/dr

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