The Secoya, or Siekopa’ai as they call themselves, once had an immense territory that stretched an estimated 7,000,000 acres between the Putumayo and Napo rivers from Ecuador into Colombia and Peru.
The Secoya, or Siekopa’ai as they call themselves, once had an immense territory that stretched an estimated 7,000,000 acres between the Putumayo and Napo rivers from Ecuador into Colombia and Peru. They are renowned for their shamanic acumen and knowledge of medicinal plants, with traditional uses for over 1,000 different plants. Their language, Pai’koka, is part of the Western Tucanoan language group.
The Secoya now number around 600 people in Ecuador and around 900 in Peru. Missionary activity, rubber extraction, colonization, palm oil production, petroleum activity and a decades-long civil war between Ecuador and Peru have resulted in a greatly reduced and fragmented territory on both sides of the border. In Ecuador, the Secoya currently have no legal title or recognized rights over their ancestral territory and have been corralled into a much reduced territory of 50,000 acres situated over 100 miles from their ancestral territory and surrounded by oil fields, mega-scale African Palm plantations and a network of roads that accelerate illegal logging and land invasion. The parallel impacts to Secoya culture and traditional way of life have been distressing.
Ceibo’s Secoya Team faces a pivotal moment in the conservation of their unique rainforest and their ancestral culture deeply tied to the land. Separated by imposed borders and displaced by the civil war in the 1940s, the Secoya of Ecuador and Peru are now working jointly with the Ceibo Alliance towards the reunification of a single great Secoya Nation. Ceibo’s Secoya Team is working to map ancestral migration routes and produce video-testimony to support land claims, achieve dual-citizenship for all Secoya people, and legally and culturally recover more than a million acres of their ancestral rainforest territory.
It is also clear to Ceibo’s Secoya Team that as their elders pass away, much of their ecological knowledge, their spiritual wisdom, and their practical forest skills disappear with them. In response, the Secoya Team is facilitating a number of community based initiatives focused on the transfer of traditional knowledge and practices, including recovering the presence and consumption of the sacred yoco and yagé vines, promoting traditional medicinal plant gardens, and a sewing workshop to design and create traditional garments. And, having provided rainwater harvesting systems to every Secoya family in Ecuador, the Secoya are focusing on the installation of solar energy in remote communities.