Published: January 2013
The Moment  Karla Gachet
Fireside Spirit Deep in the Amazon a Waorani woman prepares fish soup by her hammock, underneath a house on stilts in the village of Gabaro, Ecuador. Photographer Karla Gachet turns her lens at the only source of light in the darkness. The woman’s husband, a shaman, is nearby but can’t be seen—his fire has died out. As Gachet watches, the husband moans, mutters, makes animal noises. Villagers, who believe he’s possessed by the spirit of the jaguar, gather to ask questions. Only the wife can answer; she’s the go-between for the spirit and the curious neighbors. —Luna Shyr

Behind the Lens

How did you feel in this woman’s presence?

I couldn’t communicate with her, but her eyes were big and intense. When she talked, they grew wide open. They were these two black marbles. At one point they seemed almost all black, but that might have been part of my own imagination and fear. It was dark, we were in the middle of the jungle, and our guide said that the spirit mentioned outsiders who had come in and smelled really bad.

What outsiders did the spirit mean?

We think us. That day we bathed in the river. Our soap and shampoo smell bad to the spirit.

What did the Waoranis ask the spirit?

Hunting questions. The Waorani are still hunters, so it’s important to them to find animals. The “spirit” said there would be animals in a certain direction. The next day the shaman’s son went there and found peccaries [piglike mammals]. Someone went another way and didn’t catch anything.

What was it like taking this photo?

It was eerie to be there. After we got back, I was alone at night looking at her pictures, and it gave me the chills. The image is so intense.