Rest in Power, María Taant | Amazon Watch
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Rest in Power, María Taant

Remembering the Shuar Amazon Women Defender and Protective "Boa" Woman

April 27, 2021 | Noemí Gualinga and Patricia Gualinga | Eye on the Amazon

In our Indigenous worldviews, our grandmothers and grandfathers have taught us that when our people die, they return to the jungle… in other spirits, in other beings. In each encounter with María Taant, a Shuar leader from the Ecuadorian Amazon, she mentioned a boa that protected us. We heard what turned out to be her last song, during our gathering of the Network of Amazonian Women last month on International Womens’ Day. In recognition of all Amazonian women, she sang to us in Shuar: Kinkia Pangui nuachitjai, which means, “I am a boa woman.”

This image and the sound of a boa that she embodied in her songs protected us as we marched and defended our territories. A month ago today, Maria was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver as she returned from our gathering of Amazonian Women in the town of Puyo. She physically left us, but we are sure that she returned to the jungle. She always said that as Amazonian women, we are connected and always keeping an eye on each other. Her return is surely as a great magical and sacred boa, extending throughout our Amazonian territories.

People say that our loved ones transcend worlds and do not go away completely if we keep them present. For this reason, we remember Maria’s voice, her laugh, and her songs, which always stood out when we got together. Maria was not like everybody else. Maria had different magic that brought her our way. We met her three years ago when we traveled to Quito to deliver our “Mandate of the Amazonian Women Defenders of the Forest Against Extractivism,” which has not been implemented so far. Since that time, we have learned that she resisted for her territory, body, and four children, as a single mother. Her life was hard, but she would always raise her arms and, with a big smile and full of energy, declare, “I am still here!” She spoke like the experienced leader she was.

Maria also loved participating in her Shinkiatam community and in her Shuar organization. She grew the best peanuts in the area. With her songs, she always demanded fairness, justice, and respect for nature. She never gave up. And when she noticed that we felt weak, she told us, “I’m going to sing, to raise the energy.” And she sang. Her song was strong and alive, and she sang with both her voice and her hands.

She always arrived with the energy of the forest and taught us that the best way forward was always together. We also remember her advice on how our main principles should be dignity, our struggle, and the defense of our territories. We learned from her about how we should not let fear paralyze us. We learned from her how strength and unity made Amazonian Women exceptional.

In the last couple of days that we saw her, she was delighted to see us all together. She told us that she had been afraid that COVID-19 would take the life of one of us, and that was why she was pleased to see us again. She reminded us of the strength of our plants and traditional medicine, and how we healed ourselves thanks to our forest. Given that, she encouraged all of us to applaud in celebration of our lives and our health. We laughed a lot in those last few days. She sang before saying goodbye to the representatives of the Kichwa, Sapara, and Shuar nationalities. Together they danced and clapped.

When she said goodbye to all of us, she did so with a big hug and asked us: “When will I see you again? When will we meet again?” Today, with the admiration we feel towards her, we find her in these words, we find her in our gardens, we find her in our rivers and territories that we defend. She told us that when she left this world, she would do it by standing up for what’s right, and that’s how she passed away. Now, she’s always present; she’s always fighting. Therefore, in her name, we will strengthen our resistance, and we will continue to accompany each other despite the distance.

María is a woman that we will never forget.

María, you’re a fighter, you’re a boa, and you’re a singer. Thank you for your life and your songs. You’re still here. You fight with us. You accompany us. You protect us. You are and will always be in our thoughts.

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