November 3, 2011 | Mitch Anderson

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Lago Agrio, Ecuador – The sprawl of scorched pavement and crumbling cement buildings in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. This city, once a small oil boom town founded by Texaco in the late 1960s (and given, appropriately, the name “Sour Lake” after Texaco’s hometown in Texas) is now a bewildering and feverish mess of oil workers, drug-traffickers, street children, shop owners, impoverished farmers, and indigenous people stripped of their ancestral territory and forced to survive, as the Cofán people say, in the kokama kuri sindipa ande (the white man’s world of money).

Just several days ago, at the edge of the pavement on the outskirts of the city, where the Cofán people have recovered (yes, purchased) a narrow tract of their ancestral territory, I spent the afternoon with Marina Aguinda Lucitante,

Marina Aguinda Lucitante, Cofán elder

an elder of the tribe. She was born along the banks of the Agua Rico river. She was married at a young age to a Cofán Shaman, Guillermo Quenama, who died, she says, “because the oil company poisoned him with alcohol.” She remembers when the forest was filled with animals. And she remembers when the river ran black with crude oil. She seems to remember everything – and all of her memories are divided: Life before the oil company and life after the oil company.  

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