There were once more than 200,000 Zapara people in the Amazon rainforest of present-day Ecuador, more than any other Indigenous group. Everything about the Zapara, including their language, rituals and mythology, has been influenced by the rainforest in which they live. However, in the 400 years since their first contact with outsiders, the Zapara have suffered from the introduction of foreign diseases, been forced into slavery, and been persecuted for practicing their religious beliefs.
In 2001, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized the unique value of Zapara culture and language by declaring that the Zapara "have developed an oral culture rich in knowledge of their natural environment, as evidenced by the abundance of its terminology on the flora and fauna and their knowledge of medicinal plants of the jungle." This cultural heritage, UNESCO added, "also expresses itself through myths, rituals, artistic practices and their language. This, which is the depository of their knowledge and their oral tradition, is also the memory of the entire region."
The survival of the Zapara hinges on their ability to gain control of and sustainably manage their own traditional territory. To support the Zapara's struggle for land and cultural revitalization, RAN has provided several grants through our Protect-an-Acre Program.
Manarikaji Ushigua, president of National Zapara Organization of the Ecuadorian Amazon (ONZAE), said, "the grants we received from Protect-an-Acre were critical in our struggle to protect our ancestral territory from international oil companies and local colonizers. We are the smallest Indigenous nationality in the Ecuadorian Amazon, but our territory is undamaged and has a higher density of animals than any other area of Pastaza. Thanks to Protect-an-Acre, we are preserving this beautiful land for our children and for all people."