Every element of the Amazonian river leading to the waterfall that is the backdrop in this image is deeply understood by this Shuar warrior. He knows the currents, each stone on the riverbed, the best locations for fishing, the way temperature and volume shift according to the season, and more. He respects the water, not simply because it nourishes his tribe or can be used to provide essential hydration for crops, but because the river is the keeper of his people’s history, mythology, legends, and meaning.
The symbiotic relationship of indigenous people with the land is something we move away from when we become centered on conquering, building upon, and controlling land through domination. This mindset is the great separator and causes Western, “first world,” industrialized countries to surround themselves with unnatural elements: buildings, exhaust spewing vehicles, factories, power grids, and things we buy, such as clothing, electronics, phones, furniture. We submit to delusions of materiality and believe we are elevated.
I made this image in recognition of International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. This warrior and his tribe live without eliminating the life forces around them; the scale of destruction in what they consume is minor. In Ecuador where I traveled to visit the Shuar, the people had the idea of being guardians of the rich, tangled, flourishing jungle. What might it take for us to return the waterfall, to live harmoniously, in concert with nature? Admiration for a warrior’s majesty might be sufficient motivation, but only if we accept the challenge implicit in his gaze and choose to move in alignment with water, instead of against it.