UTSA professor gives guest lecture on Ecuador’s Cofan people

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Michael Cepek, an associate cultural anthropology professor at UT San Antonio, discussed the history of the capture of indigenous Cofan people in Ecuador in his on-campus talk “Ungrateful Predators: Capture and the Creation of Cofan Violence,” during a guest lecture Friday.

Cepek said 1,200 Cofan people live along the Colombian border in Sucumbios. According to Cepek, the Cofan people often experience capture, kidnapping by people who plan to earn money from ransom or have political motives.

Cepek has researched and visited the Cofan people for more than 20 years and has seen someone capture one of his Cofan friends.

“On the day I arrived in 2012 to do field work … my main collaborator and informant, Felipe Borman was kidnapped.” Cepek said. “It was shocking. The project … will just disappear because he was the head of it. Everybody was terrified. They think they’re all going to die if they engage in this quasi-violent action for environmental purposes.”

Two weeks after Cepek left the field, Borman returned after escaping capture, Cepek said.

Borman was targeted because his father is a white Cofan leader, and many people associate white skin with money, Cepek said. Borman was also a target because of his position in the park guard, an organization focusing on preserving the environment from outside forces such as oil pollution and gold mining.

Anthropology graduate student Laura Abondano, who attended the lecture, is Colombian and worked in Ecuador while working on a primate project. She said she wanted to see how indigenous communities in Ecuador view the conflict with Colombia.

“In Colombia, any American or foreigner is a target for kidnapping by the [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] or the paramilitaries,” Abondano said. “I believe that the kidnapping of one of their members was simply an economic issue, given that the kidnapped had American parents.”

Cepek said he is mainly interested in the effects on people who are captured and experience violence before escaping.

“Capture is something that can generate violence, the ability to engage others in aggressive force, yet it’s always from the Cofan perspective unwilled, unwanted, unpredictable, uncontrollable and typically will lead to your demise,” Cepek said.

Cepek said that at one point last summer, he became a target for capture when he was at an oil drilling site, so his Cofan colleagues told him immediately he needed to leave.

“It really hit home to me how much the possibility of being captured is on Cofan people’s minds and what that is like,” Cepek said.