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A'I Kofán women with traditional dress
It is a human group with its own characteristics and cultural traits. They maintain their own language in a territorial space where they exercise their collective rights and practice their knowledge to safeguard the important values of their culture. For the Kofanes the forest is a market where you can find water, medicine, food and everything vital to the human being.
The A'I Kofán territory was fractionated due to the political divisions of the states and was atomized due to the presence of oil companies, especially from 1967, with the beginning of oil exploitation in the region. However, the Ecuadorian State has declared several protected areas in the territorial space of the A'I Kofán nationality.
Currently, the territories in use and management agreement with the Ministry of the Environment are in the Cayambe Coca National Park and in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Production Reserve. They are the Sinangoe community, the Cofan Bermejo Ecological Reserve, the Chandia Na'en, Avié, Alto Bermejo, the Zabalo and Pacuya communities, and other communities such as Dureno, Dovuno, Rio Kofanes. In January 2002, the Cofán Bermejo Ecological Reserve was created, which includes the territorial areas of two communities: A´I Kofán, Chandía Na'en and Avié, and is under the administration of the local communities.
Population and Language
In Ecuador, the Kofán population is approximately of 1250 inhabitants, distributed in the communities Duvuno, Sinangoe, Dureno, Zábalo and Chandia N'aen. In Colombia they live in the reserves of Santa Rosa del Guamés, Santa Rosa de Sucumbíos, Yarinal and Campo Alegre Afilador. They call themselves A'I.
Their language is A'ingae, which is influenced by the Western Tucano and Chibcha families.
The traditional organization is based on groups of patrilineal descent or "antia", led by the shaman, its political and religious leader. Their organization is now community-based. The union of the all the communities constituted the Kofán Indigenous Organization of Ecuador (OINCE), which reformed its statute to form the Indigenous Federation of the Kofán Nationality (FEINCE). The current union, Original Nationality A'I Kofán of Ecuador (NOA'IKE), is a member of the CONFENIAE and the CONAIE.
Its base is itinerant horticulture. In the orchards, they combine products such as bananas, coffee, beans and corn for the sale or exchange of products, to a lesser extent yucca, rice and native fruit trees such as guaba, caimito, avocado and peanuts tree. The family gardens are run by women.
Hunting and fishing, gathering and family crafts are still important for their subsistence, but on a small scale because animals and plants are scarce due to the destruction of their natural habitat and the relatively small size of the A'I Kofán territory due to the appropriation of their territories by settlers.
The usual clothing has changed considerably in recent years under external influences, particularly by missionaries and colony populations near Kofán communities. They introduced cotton cloth, a kind of nightgown that replaced the traditional dress, made from a type of tree bark.
One of the characteristics of their attire is the use of large quantities of chaquira (necklaces), which weigh a few pounds. Initially they were of seeds or other vegetable products and feathers; from the contact with the Spaniards they began to use also other materials. Men wear these necklaces in incomparably higher quantities than women. In addition, in great occasions they used a necklace made with jaguar teeth. This necklace gives an account of the value of the man who wears it, as it indicates the number of jaguars he has hunted in his life.
Traditionally they used crowns of colored feathers, and they perforated their noses and earlobes to carry parrot feathers. They painted their faces with achiote and designed complex figures.
The walls were built with wood and the roof with palm leaves. Now, the single-family house, built with non-traditional materials, is more frequent. It is built on wooden pilasters 1.5 m high, and the floor is boarded with wooden stems. The walls rise from the floor but do not join with the ceiling to allow ventilation of the house, which is important given the intense heat and humidity of the environment. The roof is made with some types of palm leaf.
The kitchen is a wooden box with dirt, where the fire is installed, above which hangs a mat where the meat of animals and fish is smoked for conservation. The bed is a kind of platform that welcomes the whole family, but they also use hammocks made with a vegetable fiber called chambira.
Culture, Celebrations and Cosmovision
The chonta festival is celebrated in the month of April, coinciding with the production of the chonta duro, and it is organized by the Na´su, head of the Community.
Traditionally, the Kofans are good hunters, fishermen, and excellent connoisseurs of the jungle and its biodiversity.
When preparing Ayahuasca, one should not bathe in the river, nor walk along the road to the House where the drink is being prepared. One should not pass over the Shaman's back, nor clap it, because the ritual activity that is being prepared can be cut off.
Traditionally, women marry at the age of 13 or 14.
For the Kofans, education and culture are founded on four pillars: the thought of the elders, native languages, sacred plants, and the norms and values of their culture.
The Crisis Affecting the Kofans
The ancestral territory, health and social cohesion of the Kofán communities in Ecuador have been affected by oil exploitation for several decades. The opening of roads destroyed a large number of hectares of forest, so the Kofans lost hunting and gathering areas and orchards of medicinal and food plants. A colonization process was unleashed that reduced the Kofán territory. Both, oil exploitation and colonization have resulted in irrational deforestation and pollution of air, water and land.
Currently, hunting and fishing have been drastically reduced, forcing a change in the traditional diet. Most have pigs and chickens for sale and family consumption, and also work as artisans and commercialize their products.