Shuar Health and Life History Project

Shuar

Shuar are indigenous Amazonians of neo-tropical Ecuador and northeastern Peru who traditionally lived in scattered households across the Paute and Upano River Valley between the eastern Andean foothills and the Cutucu range. As trade was established with non-Shuar (Colonos) in the 1890s, Shuar expanded eastward. They now live on both sides of the Cutucu and throughout the Upano River Valley.

Ecuadorian Shuar number 50,000-110,000 and reside in over 668 communities. Shuar economy was traditionally based on household production via swidden horticulture, hunting, and fishing.

Upano Valley Shuar are currently experiencing rapid socio-economic change, with their economy primarily based on small-field horticulture, mixed small-scale agro-pastoralism and, when available, wage labor and timber sales. Diet is based on traditional horticultural products, augmented with non-traditional foods such as chicken, rice, sodas, chips, and sardines; hunting and fishing are no longer as important economically. In the last decade, dirt road and electrical grid access has increased dramatically for Upano Valley communities. Paving of the main road between Sucua and Puyo to the North, completed in 2009, is further accelerating change in the area.


In contrast, Cross-Cutucu Shuar lack access to roads and the electrical grid. Hunting, fishing, and subsistence horticulture remain the primary means of subsistence, with limited agricultural, cattle, or timber sales. Travel to market centers from riverside communities involves a motor canoe trip ranging from 1-16 hours, followed by an 8-9 hour bus ride, with some communities a day’s walk or more from navigable rivers. However, construction of additional dirt roads across the Cutucu has recently begun, and plans for electrification are underway. One of the primary goals of the Shuar Health and Life History Project has been to use qualitative and quantitative techniques to document ongoing cultural changes and their effects on health in the region.


The Field Site

Our work in Ecuador is focused on understanding how economic development and cultural changes in the region influence Shuar life history patterns and health. Traditionally forager-horticulturalists, Shuar now experience a wide range of market integration across their territory. These varying economic and social conditions within one population allow us to examine a variety of factors that affect Shuar health and physiology.