ESE EJJA, PERUVIAN AMAZON
Most people we talk to don't know who the Ese Ejja are. When Jade Moyano first arrived to Peru, she didn't either. While 45% of the population of Peru is indigenous, only 800 of those people are Ese Ejja. She came in contact with them while working with the Amazon Conservation Association. Her work wasn’t intended to touch upon issues of water contamination, but those became quickly visible the longer they stuck around.
Ese Ejja means "the real people" in their native language. Their spiritual connection with the amazon is known through history. Some people even say the Esa Ejja came to the world through a thread from the sky, to protect the jungle from invaders and bad spirits.
While they are traditionally nomadic, that began to change quickly with the discovery of rubber and the arrival of missionaries in the 19th century. Because of the agricultural reform, the Ese Ejja were forced to accept small parcels of land which divided them into small communities, numbering about 800 individuals in total, down from an estimated 15,000 at the beginning of the last century. The Ese Ejja have been demanding recognition of their traditional lands for hundreds of years, to no avail. Separation from their sacred sites and many of the areas that they relied on for survival only begins to describe the challenges they face.
Today, most Ese Ejja reside in the community of Palma Real in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, which happens to be one of the most biodiverse but also most contaminated areas in Latin America. Is that a coincidence? I doubt it. There’s very little talk about this chronic epidemic, but we got to see it with my own eyes. This epidemic is the direct result of years of illegal mining and severe deforestation in the Madre de Dios region, which has been affecting the Ese Ejja way of life and ecosystem in a terrible way. Illegal miners operating in and around Ese Ejja land are polluting the Indians’ rivers with mercury, used in the gold-extraction process. The metal then enters the food chain via the river water which the Ese Ejja drink and depend on for their survival.
In March of 2016, Peru's President Ollanta Humala declared a 60-day state of emergency in a large remote area of the Amazon jungle because of extremely high levels of mercury poisoning from illegal gold mining. The country's environment minister said 41 percent of the population of Madre de Dios is being exposed. The Ese’eja are the people most invested in preserving the Tambopata Reserve located in Madre de Dios because it is where their ancestors, spirits, and families have been for generations. They also depend on a healthy jungle to sustain their lives.
While change in policies may take time to reach these remote areas, if they ever do, a most immediate solution to help protect the Esa Ejja from mercury poisoning is to help filter their drinking water supply. Waves for water teams will be returning to the Ese Ejja to help remove contaminants and diseases from their drinking water. Palma Real has about 150 homes and not one of them has access to clean drinking water. We have the ability to implement a water filtration program throughout the entire community and decrease some of the impacts caused by lack of clean water. Waves for water will also be installing rain catching systems on the existing structures throughout community. With the abundant water source coming from above we will insure access to a healthier life in the forest. Please support us as we help this community continue to live close to nature without threats to their livelihood.