PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University President V. Lane Rawlins and Bartolo Marnari Ushigua, president of the Association of the Zapara Nation of Pastaza Province, signed a memorandum of agreement that pledges university support for the preservation of the Zapara culture and the environment in Pastaza Province.

Pastaza Province is part of the Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, located between the Conambo and Pindoyacu rivers, just north of disputed territory Ecuador lost to Peru in 1941. Boundaries established after the war separated the few hundred remaining Zapara people.

John Patton, a WSU faculty member in anthropology, is an expert on the Zapara culture and Pastaza Province. “The culture is an anthropologist’s dream,” Patton said. There is no currency, so the Zapara still hunt and fish for food and conduct transactions largely by trading items made by hand. The tribe has 300 surviving members and only four of these speak the native language, he said.

Patton has conducted extensive on-site research in the province and was largely responsible for the memorandum and assembling the people who gathered around President Rawlins’ conference room table for the signing ceremony. “The memorandum of agreement means that we will support their efforts to protect their resources and culture,” Patton said. “We will act as advisers and give them an educated opinion on matters that might impact their land and their life way.” Of immediate importance to the Zapara communities is the potential threat they see in oil exploration.

Much like the agreement signed at WSU May 6, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recognized the culture of the province last year as a masterpiece of the “Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” The UNESCO recognition supports the oral traditions and other cultural manifestations of the Zapara people. It also supports their fight to protect the environment of their native lands.

“I have signed many agreements over the years,” said WSU President Rawlins to the Zapara Nation President Ushigua, “but this is unique. I am pleased this institution will be able to play a role in the preservation of the environment in your region and to help you find ways to sustain the important cultural treasures of your people.”

To mark the historic event, Ushigua gave Rawlins and other WSU officials items made by the Zapara people.