This historic district shop supports a way of life under assault in Ecuador’s Amazon

Mar 20, 2021 | 5 comments

Paul Sanchez gets up early on Thursdays. He needs to open his shop, Nunkui, (Simón Bolívar 13-86 and Estévez de Toral) on-time, at 9:30 a.m. He also has to plan the route for his weekly trip into Amazonia and the five tribes stretched over 18 villages that he visits, in turn, on a regular basis. He clocks nearly 1,000 miles a month on his car, and many more miles on foot, to reach the people he loves: the remote aboriginals clinging to the only way of life that makes sense to them.

The tribes of Amazonia are aware that their culture is under assault and they look to Sanchez to help them survive the thuggish mugging.

Sanchez and his wife, Lucia Fierro, became enraptured with each other and the Amazon while graduate students at the University of Azuay. Lucia had a particular interest in education while Sanchez directed his attention toward water conservation, agriculture, and animal husbandry.  Each had a vision of how they could contribute to preserving native homeland, and each is fulfilling their mission.

Fierro is establishing a series of schools based on the Montessori method. Her intention is that these schools will provide Amazonian students with the self-direction required to assist them in their life’s vocation, as well as the resolve to defend their tribe against the onslaught of commercial and government interests bent on absorbing their ancestral land and turning it into something else: a wasteland of bulldozed jungle, mines mimicking battlefield trenches, and the stench of suffocating petroleum flaring.

Sanchez is taking another tack. He is teaching responsible beef production and sustainable farming techniques that will help provide the income required to survive in an ever-consumer-driven world.

They are both committed to promoting the “primitive art” that is the signature expression of a people unfazed by time.

Sanchez told me that frontmen for the government and international exploitation companies are invading villages and spreading false claims that the old way of life is over; that the current order cannot survive, and the only recourse is to abandon the old ways and work as chattel for the new masters. However, a more insidious toxin is also being broadcast: that their artisan crafts, weaving, pottery, and animal sculptures so essential to their cultural identity are no longer of value, have any meaning, or are even desired.

The purpose of Nunkui is to prove otherwise.

It is the mission of Nunkui to provide a venue where aboriginal craft is exhibited and sold to promote awareness of the artisanal quality of a people who believe that the birds they sculpt, and the critters that crawl over the bowls they make are real, alive, and are with us every day. Their artistic expression is not like an animal, it is an animal with all the dreams, desires, and duties that is their calling. These are people more than immersed in the natural world. They are the natural world.  They have, over millennia, found their place in the order of life; they do not want it stripped away.

Fierro and Sanchez are among those shaping a cultural revolution where the “old ways” are given fresh consideration and renewed respect. They see their work as pivotal to supporting the tribesmen and women who are fulfilling themselves at the cycle’s center.

They insisted that these precious people need our help just as we need the lessons they teach us, for they are special people; the entirety of their lives is spent in reverence to and honoring the majesty of life that provides for them.

They know that all life will fall and succumb to Mother Earth and that all life will rise again  —  they know too that a  place must be preserved to greet the return, to complete the cycle.

They believe it in their bones, make representative bowls to welcome the renewal of life, and weave straw baskets to remind themselves that they are woven from the fiber of a loving world designed to embrace them and that they too must occasionally carry a heavy load.

We need an army of people like Sanchez and Fierro. They are frontline warriors in the service of those who struggle to preserve the very foundation of a way of life: a religious conviction, steeped in faith that bows to the omnipotent glory of nature and the community of spirits that tend the magnificent garden of the Amazon.

NUNKUI – Simón Bolívar 13-86 and Estévez de Toral; Business hours: Monday to Friday: 9:30 AM to 1 PM and 2:30 to 6:30 PM. Saturday: 9:30 AM to 1 PM.; Email Paúl Sánchez at or call 099 586 7670

Robert Bradley

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