cover of book

Life in Oil: Cofán Survival in the Petroleum Fields of Amazonia
by Michael L. Cepek
photographs by Bear Guerra
University of Texas Press, 2018
eISBN: 978-1-4773-1510-1 | Paper: 978-1-4773-1508-8 | Cloth: 978-1-4773-1507-1
Library of Congress Classification F3722.1.C67C438 2018
Dewey Decimal Classification 986.6412


Oil is one of the world’s most important commodities, but few people know how its extraction affects the residents of petroleum-producing regions. In the 1960s, the Texaco corporation discovered crude in the territory of Ecuador’s indigenous Cofán nation. Within a decade, Ecuador had become a member of OPEC, and the Cofán watched as their forests fell, their rivers ran black, and their bodies succumbed to new illnesses. In 1993, they became plaintiffs in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit that aims to compensate them for the losses they have suffered. Yet even in the midst of a tragic toxic disaster, the Cofán have refused to be destroyed. While seeking reparations for oil’s assault on their lives, they remain committed to the survival of their language, culture, and rainforest homeland.

Life in Oil presents the compelling, nuanced story of how the Cofán manage to endure at the center of Ecuadorian petroleum extraction. Michael L. Cepek has lived and worked with Cofán people for more than twenty years. In this highly accessible book, he goes well beyond popular and academic accounts of their suffering to share the largely unknown stories that Cofán people themselves create—the ones they tell in their own language, in their own communities, and to one another and the few outsiders they know and trust. Their words reveal that life in oil is a form of slow, confusing violence for some of the earth’s most marginalized, yet resilient, inhabitants.

Nearby on shelf for Latin America. Spanish America / South America / Ecuador: