The Huaorani around the time of Operation Auca were a small tribe occupying the jungle of Eastern Ecuador between the Napo and Curaray Rivers, an area of approximately 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 mi²). They numbered approximately 600 people, and were split into three groups, all mutually hostile—the Geketaidi, the Baïidi, and the Wepeidi. They lived on the gathering and cultivation of plant foods like manioc and plantains, as well as fishing and hunting with spear and blowgun. Family units consisted of a man and his wife or wives, their unmarried sons, their married daughters and sons-in-law, and their grandchildren. All of them would reside in a longhouse, which was separated by several kilometres from another longhouse in which close relatives lived. Marriage was always endogamous and typically between cousins, and arranged by the parents of the young people.
Before their first peaceful contact with outsiders (cowodi) in 1958, the Huaorani fiercely defended their territory. Viewing all cowodi as cannibalistic predators, they killed rubber tappers around the turn of the 20th century and Shell Oil Company employees during the 1940s, in addition to any lowland Quechua or other outsiders who encroached on their land. Furthermore, they were prone to internal violence, often engaging in vengeance killing of other Huaorani. Raids were carried out in extreme anger by groups of men who attacked their victims' longhouse by night and then fled. Attempts to build truces through gifts and exchange of spouses became more frequent as their numbers decreased and the tribes fragmented, but the cycle of violence continued.
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