It's a jungle out there: a lesson in sustainability arrives from Amazonia

29th January 2010 at 00:00
Primary pupils vow to turn over a new leaf after meeting their tribal visitor

When pupils at Inmans Primary want to go home, they wait at the school gates for their parents to pick them up.

When Juan Kunchikuy wants to go home, he must walk for three days down a dirt path.

Mr Kunchikuy is a native Ecuadorian from the Shuar tribe. His family lives in a village in the Amazonian rainforest, an aeroplane flight and three-day walk from the nearest town.

And, this week, he travelled to Hull to speak to pupils from 10 primaries about the realities of jungle living. He arrived wearing a feather headdress and snake-bone necklace, his face painted red as a sign of respect to his hosts.

"I think his life would be really exciting," said 10-year-old Inmans pupil Tom Wharton. "He caught a snake himself. There's no way I'd be able to catch a snake. And I don't think Mum and Dad would be very pleased if I did."

The purpose of Mr Kunchikuy's visit, which was partly funded by the 10 schools, was to educate pupils about the importance of sustainable living.

During a one-day conference, he talked to them about the Shuar traditions of sustainability. When his tribe kills an animal for food they also use the pelt for clothing and the bones for medicine: nothing goes to waste.

"When you talk about the rainforest, people usually focus on the animals," Mr Kunchikuy said. "You forget about the people.

"But we coexist with nature. We hunt with a spear and a blowpipe, and have to make our own poison. We don't buy anything. We belong to nature, nature doesn't belong to us."

The Hull pupils drew up a series of pledges to help improve the sustainability of their school communities. One said it would halve the amount of paper it used while another opted to reduce energy consumption.

Phil Williams, the environmental campaigner who organised the conference, said: "Juan is making them aware of what's happening to the planet, the impact we are having. You can change their habits, make them more socially responsible."

However, many Hull pupils were most inspired by other elements of Amazonian life.

Year 6 pupil Lauren Selby remarked: "They don't have watches, so they don't have dinner time," the 10-year-old said. "They just go and hunt for food when they are hungry.

"And when we're punished, we're just told off and have to go to our room. But when their children do something wrong, they are hit with big nettles. Now I know about that, I won't be as annoyed next time I'm sent to my room."

Tom, too, was intrigued by the less intrepid aspects of Mr Kunchikuy's life. "He doesn't get that many presents from his Mum at Christmas or birthdays," he said. "They just carve things for him."

"Maybe his life isn't for our children," said Sally Morgan, Inmans headteacher. "They don't want to give up television or whatever. But they can learn about it, and can be respectful of it. And they can learn that what they do affects other people."

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