Hengri’s Kichwa name is Sachamarun, which means “spirit of the boa and the anaconda”. He lives in the Kichwa communities of Rio Blanco and Mondayaku, in Ecuador’s Amazonia. With other youth from the community, he created the youth association to lead a positive development in the area, including through traditional music.
INTERVIEW – september 2016
How did you start playing music?
I am part of the band Sacharuna, from the Rio Blanco community. We learned from our elders, starting practicing on ancient instruments, like drums, quenas [a straight Andean flute], and an instrument similar to the violin. Later on we learned to play more Western instruments as well, like the guitar and other instruments that we included in our music.
Our grandparents learned the music and transmitted it to our parents, and now this goes on to our generation. Our music talks about the forest, about our life, our culture and our cosmovision.
We recently created this music group and we are still practicing. We work to develop our community through community tourism, and so we would like to be able to present indigenous music to visitors. We don’t want to play music from the city. We want what really represents our life. That’s why we are practicing the same music our elders were performing.
The Western instruments, violin and guitar, that you play – were they part of the traditional music or have you included them as new instruments?
The violin and the guitars we have were given us by volunteers and friends who came and worked here. Our parents learned to tune them so that they could fit in Kichwa music. They learned to play their own notes, their own sound, from those instruments. And they included them to represent our music. So, we were taught by outsiders how to play these instruments, but then we adapted it to our own culture.
The instruments like violin and guitar, we have to buy them outside. But we do make the other instruments.
Why is it important to continue the traditional music?
Because it is our life, our culture. Our community is organized. The youth is interested to learn and to perpetuate our culture and tradition. We haven’t lost it at all. But we want to encourage people to give more value to it. We want that all the youth feel proud to be from our culture, to speak our language, to listen to our music, to dance our dance, etc.
What is music to you?
We just played two songs. The first one tells a legend about the Mother Moon. It is a Kichwa tale, so for us it is very important. It is an honor to sing it. More than singing it, we also tell the story through the music. The second song tells the legend of a prophecy bird. When we sing, we always tell about our life: the birds, the forest, the animals, our ancestors, our legends… It is always about us, about our own culture.
How do you envision the future of Kichwa music?
We want to raise awareness about our music, so that people know more about us and actually come and visit us here. It is a way to attract people to discover more from us, because here there’s not only music, there is life and forest as well. Through the music, we hope that visitors encounter the authentic culture.
Finding the right balance between tourism and development on one side and tradition and authenticity on the other side can sometimes be difficult, though. How do you plan to cope with this?
We thought about this within the youth association. We don’t want that our community becomes over-touristy, where people come and go without having us share our vision, our way of life and our culture with them. I visited many other communities, and I saw how at some point these villages welcome too many tourists. I understood the problem. In these places, the villagers organize a dance show or a chicha [a beverage usually derived from maize] demonstration, and when it’s finished they go back to their homes, and that’s it. So the presentation gets very folkloric. In our community, we don’t have anything like this. We do one activity in one place, and we share the food, and we talk together… We don’t let the visitors stay in a hut outside the village, we don’t organize any dance show and then leave them alone. That’s not what we want. We want to demonstrate, we want to share what we have.
What does your community’s youth association do?
It is an intercultural association called Marta Yuyay, which literally means “youth association”. It aims at getting back all the indigenous instruments, so that we can make music with them. We also want to start reforesting, and we want to educate the younger generations. Because here we have many birds, and when the kids see them, often they just want to throw stones at them. So we want to create a culture where they respect nature. That way the animals and all the birds would come closer to the village. And therefore we would have so much more to offer visitors to see and experience.
It is also important to us to keep using ayahuasca and all the knowledge our elders transmitted on to us. That means that we are not only using what we can see, animals, plants, etc. But we also believe in energies, in the connection with Mother Earth and with the spirits of our ancestors. We don’t think the boa, the tree or the waterfall are gods, but rather we consider them as energies. They are part of ourselves. There are sacred places where we go and meditate to gain certain energies. It isn’t a god that we worship, but rather it is a part of ourselves. We would like to make people understand this. Many people say we believe in gods, but it’s not true. We respect them because we know these are life and energy. They bring us good. What’s about ayahuasca, we use this plant to travel to the fourth dimension. Drinking ayahuasca is like getting a sixth sense. It allows us to communicate with our ancestors, with the Pachamama, with the forest, with the waterfall. This is our life. When we understand this, we start loving and respecting our environment and family.
Do you have a message for the world?
We are a community that respects its environment, Mother Earth, the animals, our parents and family, and our visitors. I invite you to come and visit the Kichwa community of Rio Blanco, you will always be welcome.
PORTFOLIO – KICHWA CRAFTS MAKING IN RIO BLANCO