Most communities prefer the practice of cross-cousin marriage. If the husband dies first during the marriage, the women must marry his brother.

When a woman is giving birth, she is kept away from all others to prevent contamination of the tribe.

Once the baby is born, both the mother and father must follow certain tribal restrictions to protect the child from being harmed. Many experts disagree on whether puberty rites are still performed (Weil, 1991).

When a person dies, they are "placed in a hollow log coffin and left in a specially built hut, along with a supply of food and water that is supposed to last for two years (Weil, 1991)."

Christian missionaries have been attempting to educate the tribe in the practice of earth burials, and lately this method has become more widespread throughout the communities.

Saving Their Culture

In the sixteenth century, before the conquest of the Spaniards, the number of tribesmen was over 200,000. By the mid-twentieth century, the number had dwindled to less than 80,000, due to disease and abuse from rubber gatherers (Weil, 1991).

The Jivaro now face a new crisis, the "destruction of their culture (Weil, 1991)." In the Oriente region of Ecuador, where the tribe resides, the "cultural contrast between whites and Indians is the most pronounced (Weil, 1991)." As the white civilization moves further into the lands occupied by the tribe, the Jivaro are forced deeper into the jungle in an effort to preserve their tribal identity.

Since the government is doing little on the behalf of these people, there may soon be no place for these tribes to hide, forcing them to adjust to the lifestyles of the white culture.

The Jivaro Today

The Jivaro, who prefer to be called Shuar Indians, are caught between the cultures of the past and the encroaching modern civilization.

Some of the problems they are dealing with on a daily basis include deciding whether "a new, paved road to the outside world (Hemphill 03)" will help the tribe or destroy them.

The tribe feels roads would enable them to take their cattle of market and buy needed supplies, but are concerned, because the roads bring white men who destroy the jungle. They have also discovered when the white men enter the jungle, they marry the native women or turn them in to prostitutes, putting the future of the tribe at risk. Most of the Indians who venture out of the jungle, quickly return, preferring the culture of their ancestors.

Eco-tourists are now visiting the rain forests, anxious to see the jungle and observe the Indians in their native habitat before it is all destroyed by greedy industrialists.

The tribe they encounter lives without electricity, indoor plumbing, banks, hospitals, television or postal service. Their only contact with the outside would is through a two-way radio at a local mission, chartered planes which land on a small airstrip in the jungle or trekking through the jungle for five days to a nearby village. They do, however, possess an incredible knowledge of the plants in the rain forests.

The rain forests not only recycle a majority of the water in the world, but are home to 70% of all plants with anti-cancerous properties.


The Jiravo were once revered for their fierceness and head shrinking rituals. Today, however, they are being forced from their lands and further in to the jungle by white civilization.

The only way to save the Jiravo and their native habitat is to give the industrialists an economic alternative to destroying the forest with mining and slash-and-burn farming. One method the tribe is trying involves abandoning their isolation from the outside world. They are giving tours of the rain forests, along with allowing others to witness their rituals and cultures. By showing others how they live, the Jiravo hope to preserve their culture for their future generations.

Works Cited

Hemphill, Clara and Robert Snyder. AMAZONIA: AN ECOTRIP TO ECUADOR.

Newsday. (1993): 03 January. Pp.03.

JIVARO. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Seventh Edition. (2002): 01 January.

Paternalism. (accessed 11-23-2002). (

Weil, Thomas E. Ecuador: Chapter…