Revealing how the key fuel of the global era affects the communities where petroleum is extracted, this beautifully written ethnography describes how the Cofán people are surviving at the center of the Ecuadorian oil industry.
Oil is one of the world’s most important commodities, but few people know how its extraction affects the residents of petroleum-producing regions. In the 1960s, the Texaco corporation discovered crude in the territory of Ecuador’s indigenous Cofán nation. Within a decade, Ecuador had become a member of OPEC, and the Cofán watched as their forests fell, their rivers ran black, and their bodies succumbed to new illnesses. In 1993, they became plaintiffs in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit that aims to compensate them for the losses they have suffered. Yet even in the midst of a tragic toxic disaster, the Cofán have refused to be destroyed. While seeking reparations for oil’s assault on their lives, they remain committed to the survival of their language, culture, and rainforest homeland.
Life in Oil presents the compelling, nuanced story of how the Cofán manage to endure at the center of Ecuadorian petroleum extraction. Michael L. Cepek has lived and worked with Cofán people for more than twenty years. In this highly accessible book, he goes well beyond popular and academic accounts of their suffering to share the largely unknown stories that Cofán people themselves create—the ones they tell in their own language, in their own communities, and to one another and the few outsiders they know and trust. Their words reveal that life in oil is a form of slow, confusing violence for some of the earth’s most marginalized, yet resilient, inhabitants.
- A Note on the Photographs
- A Note on Corporate Actors
- List of Important Individuals
- Chapter 1. Black Water
- Chapter 2. Dureno
- Chapter 3. The Death of Yori’ye
- Chapter 4. The Cocama Arrive
- Chapter 5. Damaged World
- Chapter 6. Prohibition and Protest
- Chapter 7. The Possibility of Coexistence
- Chapter 8. Life in Oil
- Works Cited
“This book is beautifully crafted, and it illustrates so much of what anthropology can do. It describes the politics and ethics of fieldwork. It demythologizes. It weighs in on various aspects of life, from religion to environment to economy. It takes up a ‘modern’ topic for anthropology (oil, court cases, corporations) in a ‘traditional’ context (indigenous people) and does so in ways that are smart and contemporary. It cries out to be paired with a more traditional textbook or set of lectures introducing undergraduates to anthropology. I would assign it in such a class in a heartbeat.”
—Doug Rogers, author of The Depths of Russia: Oil, Power, and Culture after Socialism
“This is a delightful read, if I can say that about such a harrowing topic. Cepek is an exceptional writer who provides an intimate and compelling portrait of a people and a situation that is usually portrayed in sensationalist and superficial terms. His deep commitment to, and long-term knowledge of, the social, environmental, and political context is unmistakable.”
—Mary Weismantel, Professor of Anthropology, Northwestern University, author of Cholas and Pishtacos: Stories of Race and Sex in the Andes