Bosque Eterno de los Niños – “Eternal Forest of the Children.”
The 1200ha Llushin Reserve exists on the SW side of the Pastaza river, around the confluence of the Llushin and Kuyuimi rivers, amongst the foothills of Chulluwalli Urcu, Harpy Eagle Mountain, commonly known as the Sangay Volcano. It is traditional territory of the Ayuy Yu clan. The reserve abuts the Sangay National Park, and contains several sites sacred to the Ayuy Yu Clan, including caves, gold deposits, two lagoons, several waterfalls, and numerous headwaters. The Llusin river is particularly known for its teaching stones, and gold deposits.
In the early 1940s Viriglio Santi came to the caves of the Llushin river to take gold. The kuri, as it is known to them, is a powerful mineral that generates fertility in the land, and feeds juri juri spirits, who visit places of kuri deposits in order to nourish themselves, and exchange their power with the land.
In a desperate bid to defend his territory and family against the ongoing militarised invasion by Royal Dutch Shell, Virgilio Santi took gold from Llushin across the border into Peru, to find the guns. It was illegal to trade guns to indigenous people in Ecuador, and they were very difficult to obtain. After a journey of several years, Viriglio returned with seven Winchester repeating rifles, and the Puyuruna clans were able, finally, to overcome the military, and Shell. In 1947, after 32 years of open war with the Puyuruna peoples, Shell withdrew 900 workers from the airbase at Mera and ceased all exploratory activity.
In the resulting years, settlement pressure increased when the Dominican mission was granted legal title to the lands surrounding the town of Puyo, and the Puyuruna clans moved onto a large reservation territory created by the government, named “Peasant’s Commune of Saint Jacinto of Davila.” Much hunting territory went undefended, and was lost to plantation projects or homesteading settlers flooding in from the highlands. The government Ministry of Lands and Colonization obstructed the indigenous communities in every land dispute. During this time, many Puyuruna leaders consolidated their efforts to defend territory close to the Commune, losing distant seasonal territories and hunting zones to plantations, or colonist settlement. During this time, portions of the Llusin/Kuyuimi territory were settled, traditional territory of the Ayuy Yu clan under clan-leader Virgilio Santi. Traditional ownership rights of this territory have never been recognised by the Ecuadorian government. Much of the area is still classed as tierras baldias – “empty lands”, where open settlement policy is in place.
The Santi family continued to use this territory for gathering medicines, hunting, and visiting the sacred sites.
During the early 1990s they began to recover parts of this territory. They bought small parcels of lands from settlers who had been granted legal title through the settlement policy. They started with a small $700 grant from an international NGO to begin a community tourism project. The first parcel of land was bought for $400. Over the following 20 years they recovered several more parcels through Flavio’s international travel and fundraising efforts. They bought each property under individual names of members of the family, or sometimes through international allies. To buy them under the name of the Amazanga community would have invited obstruction by the government.
Finally in 2007 a 1200ha reserve was created from the various properties, under ownership of the Amazanga community. It is named Bosque Eterno de los Niños, “Eternal Forest of the Children”, in honour of the Ayuy Clan teachings of the Three Children.
Even now, the neighbouring land owners – non-indigenous settlers – constantly obstruct the Santis’ passage to their reserve, even when they are taking groups of visitors and tourists. Very much racism exists against indigenous people in the region. An important next step is purchasing a tract of land as access to the reserve from the Pastaza river, as currently it is surrounded by colonist-owned fincas.
The Llushin Reserve constitutes the largest tract of land in Pastaza independently recovered to indigenous stewardship after settlement and industrial colonization. It is a testament to the Santi family’s vision, determination, and leadership.