DEATH AND LIFE FOR WAEWAE
ON THIS DAY, 11 February 1997, Gikita (Guiquita) Waewae died. He had been ill for some time and had declared two days earlier that he had lived long enough.
What made the death of this backwoods Ecuadorian significant? The answer to that requires a glance back forty-one years earlier. In January 1956, the world learned that five missionaries had been speared to death on the Ewenguno (Curaray) River in Ecuador. On January 8, Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCulley, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian had landed on a strip of sand in a Piper Cruiser piloted by Saint, hoping to contact Huaorani (also known as Auca or Woadani) Indians with the gospel.
In the past, the Huaorani had fiercely resisted encroachments into their forest, killing many outsiders who ventured near, including members of a recent oil exploration team. The missionaries hoped for a better outcome because they had made contact with the Huaorani in previous months by lowering gifts in baskets from the circling Piper Cruiser. Nonetheless, the Huaorani, led by Gikita Waewae, had speared them.
Meanwhile a Huaorani woman named Dayuma had fled from the tribe because of endemic violence—the murder rate among the Huaorani hovered around 60%. Dayuma lived among the nearby Quichuas. There she became a Christian. Even before becoming a Christian, she had taught phrases of her language to the missionaries who were killed in 1956. When Dayuma's sister emerged from the forest in 1958, looking for her, Dayuma returned to her childhood village and shared the gospel.
Through her, the Huaorani invited Rachel Saint, sister of the murdered pilot, and Elisabeth Elliot, widow of Jim Elliot, to live with them. The pair agreed. The mission team recorded the gospel on phonograph—four short disks of about three minutes per side. As a consequence, many Huaorani learned to follow Christ. Later, Steve Saint, son of the murdered pilot, also worked among the Huao people.
At first Gikita paid little attention to the message. “When I die, I will just become worms,” he asserted. However, within the year he had begun to pray to God before he entered the forest to hunt. Eventually Gikita Waewae also became a Christian. Under his leadership, Huaorani violence declined. He endeavored to rear upcoming generations in faith.
After Rachel Saint died in 1994, Steve Saint, her nephew (known among the Huaorani as Babae), trekked half a day’s journey to inform Gikita. Gikita replied, “Babae, being old I, too, am soon going to die. Going to live, then, in God’s place. I will wrap my arms around your father whom I speared first. There we will live happily together.”