Gender and Religion

The Waorani had no organized religion and the nonmaterial world appears to have been of little importance to them. They had little concern with supernatural beings or forces. The world was not considered dangerous, hostile, or threatening, and existed for them to exploit. People were considered to be powerful and effective and in control of their own destinies. They were not constrained by powerful supernatural forces. There was little animism, magic, or taboo behavior. Survival and well-being were the responsibility of each Waorani individual. All misfortune was thought to be the consequence of deliberate human actions stemming from rage, envy, and malice, and resulting in homicide or witchcraft leading to illness, death, or other misfortune. Sorcerers and shamans were thought to have familiars (e.g., the almas, "souls," of jaguar, caiman, boa, etc.) through which they could effect their intentions both good and evil. Both genders could be sorcerers (idoidi) or curanderos (menge kwdani waa kwta, "healers"), but only men could be shamans (meñe wwmpo). Traditional ideas about the afterlife conceived of it as much the same as this life, but existing in another realm. Hence, the custom of burying a child with a dying parent can be more easily understood.

Today, many Waorani are nominally Christian, which most Waorani understand to mean an end to spearing and living in peace among themselves. Both genders can have leadership roles in the Waorani Christian Church. Other Waorani have rejected Christianity and maintain more traditional ideas about humans in nature.

As in many Native American societies, there is concern over the loss of shamanic knowledge as the old shamans die and young people have not learned or do not want to continue such traditional roles.

The Waorani have many myths relating to how they learned to survive in the world, but they do not have a creation myth per se. When asked, they say that they were always here, although the world was somewhat different in the distant past, and they had to learn to survive in it.

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