A small group of young Waorani men step out of the tiny patch of secondary forest that abuts their precarious settlement here on the outskirts of Shell, a military town named after the oil company in Ecuador’s southern Amazon. The men carry a 20-foot wooden pole and wear enormous grins. “Now we can let our people know that the plague is coming and they should go make camps deeper in the forest,” they shout to me from afar, following up with the classic Waorani hoot: “queeeuuuuu, queeeuuuu, queeeuuuuu” (which means, essentially, “we’re alive, we’re badass, and we’re happy!”).
Within an hour, they had rigged an antenna to the pole and hooked up an old HF radio, tuning into the static-laden frequency that connects dozens of Waorani communities across their 2.5 million-acre rainforest territory. It was 4pm on March 17th, just two days after the Ecuadorian government had decreed a national shutdown, which included road closures, a shelter-in-place order, and a 2pm curfew. At that time, there had only been two confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Ecuador’s southern Amazon, yet the rising number of cases in the booming coastal port town of Guayaquil had led to nationwide quarantine measures.
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