Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon


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They are less attracted to the lure of commerce and new value systems. Their commitment to the freedom of the family unit is truly remarkable. Prehistory and History of the Matsigenka Contemporary understanding of the peopling of the Americas is in flux Agenbroad ; Bryan ; Gibbons ; Nichols and Peterson The weight of opinion has favored the idea that bands of hunters, preferring open country occupied by large mammals, spread across the landscape in search of game Lynch Long and Martin Although such hunters may have avoided tropical forests because of the overall scarcity of wild foods Lanning 39; Bailey et al.

Gibbons Roosevelt Roosevelt et al. Their pottery pre-dates by three thousand years the earliest pottery found in the Andes and Mesoamerica. The presence of domesticated crops in Central and South America eight thousand to ten thousand years ago indicates that an incipient horticultural adaptation to the tropical forest had at least become possible Bruhns 86, 91; Kaplan, Lynch, and Smith ; Roush ; Smith During the Age of Discovery, Europeans came to know Arawakans primarily as the Caribbean Islanders who lived in towns with elaborately feathered chiefs, lounged in hammocks smoking pipes, and traveled throughout the islands in large dugout canoes.

Among the words they contributed to world vocabulary were canoe, tobacco, barbecue, hammock, yucca, maize, papaya, iguana, savanna, and hurricane. They portrayed themselves to Europeans as noble and warmhearted in contrast to their enemies the Caribs, who, partly owing to this ethnic bad press, became the prototype for cannibalistic savages Leon-Portilla But these Arawakan speakers were relatively late arrivals, having migrated into the Caribbean around the time of Christ. It is a sign of our ignorance of linguistic prehistory in Amazonia that the origins of Arawakan have been placed in such various locations as northwestern South America near the Caribbean coast Schwerin , the central Amazon Lathrap , and present-day Matsigenka territory Noble ; Migliazza ; Urban The last theory is of obvious importance to Matsigenka history.

It is more plausible to suppose that they spread from a central point than that they travelled independently any distance in the same direction. Kerr As tropical forest expanded in the wetter climate from four thousand to two thousand years ago, the Arawakans of southeastern Peru—now adapted to a tropical-forest subsistence with a range of appropriate cultigens—would have spread out and differentiated, accounting for the vast distribution of Arawakan seen at the time of the Conquest.

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In this respect it is significant that the eastern slopes of the Andes, and in particular the Urubamba region, have been identified as likely sites of early crop experimentation and domestication; these crops included maize Lathrap , coca Goodspeed , and tobacco Wilbert In any case, it seems likely that by four or five thousand years ago the first proto-Arawakan speakers already possessed the basic Amazonian culture pattern. A flow of information and crop varieties extending from coastal Peru to the northern Amazon seems likely Lathrap The most economical assumption would be that direct ancestors of the Matsigenka were living in the headwaters of the Urubamba and Madre de Dios at that time and participated in these momentous prehistoric developments.

Certainly, contemporary Arawakans of the area, such as the Piro Matteson and the Campa Denevan ; Weiss , are strikingly similar to the Matsigenka in a broad array of economic, social, and cultural details. At the time of the Conquest, the Matsigenka occupied approximately the same territory as today, although perhaps at greater population density Denevan 20 — Johnson 24; Baksh 26; see map 1.

Downriver to the north and east were the Arawakan-speaking Campa, Piro, and Amuesha. Farther downriver were a number of Panoan groups, including the Cashinahua, Amahuaca, Conibo, and Shipibo. Ethnohistorical evidence is that these downstream groups were engaged in frequent warfare, had a local-group-level village social organization, and tended to dominate Matsigenkas whenever they met. Of these groups, the Matsigenka of Shimaa spoke only of the Campa, whom they called Ashaninka.

Baer 31 reports that Urubamba Matsigenkas also recognize Piros, whom they refer to as Simirinchi. Whatever the states of war or peace among these various groups, they were likely still part of a vast net of exchange relationships that was intact at the time of European arrival Lathrap ; Myers To the south and west, above the barrier of the cloud forest, were the Inkas. This exchange of technology and products between the Peruvian Amazon and the Pacific coast long predates the Inkas, going back at least three thousand years Lyon The Inkas, presumably like their predecessors, had only partial success penetrating the tropical forest.

In these comparatively warm elevations they could plant crops like maize for harvests that would ripen weeks or months before their highland counterparts, or they could raise coca, cotton, and chili peppers, which would not grow at higher elevations. Isbell —; cf. Stocks 2 Archaeological evidence is that these outposts traded with tropical forest Indians. In exchange for forest products, including feathers, monkeys, and tropical crops, the Indians of the forest received stone and bronze tools, pottery, highland crops, and alpaca wool Lanning Differences in style and technique, however, clearly show that this was not an area of cultural blending but a zone of contact between the fundamentally distinct Andean and Amazonian traditions Hastings As we shall see, the Matsigenka believe both groups to be of evil origin.

They viewed the Indians there as wild and dangerous, and built the great fortress at Machu Picchu for protection. But these warriors could violently betray their erstwhile masters e. Snell 2 mentions a Matsigenka legend that Inka soldiers often attempted to conquer them, but they fled in fear into the forest, where the soldiers could not follow them.

These ruins may be the city of Opotari presumably an Arawakan name; Reynard-Casevitz and Saignes The French explorers who describe it, however, believe it to be the lost empire of the Inka, Paititi Cartagena and Cartagena The Inka were known as superb road builders who used strong bridges to cross impassable ravines.

The roads likely followed longstanding prehistoric trails Raymond — It is often believed that they went to the edge of the tropical forest and then stopped owing to difficulties of construction and maintenance Hyslop — More likely, however, the roads continued into the forest but have been lost because they were made of earth, not stone, and have grown over.

The likely limit to Inka transportation was not land but water, along the large rivers dominated by canoe travel, where the Inka were out of their element and exposed to powerful enemies Lyon 8. These contact zones were valuable enough economically and politically to the Inkas to justify major investments in fortresses, roads, platforms, and terraces. These constructions gave them a reliable zone of production over which they had control and an interface region where regular trade with Amazon Indians could be conducted.

In this contact zone downriver from Machu Picchu and Quillabamba, Quechuas came to exchange metal tools, gold and silver, and other highland goods for coca, monkeys, feathers, woods, dyes, medicines, resins, and, perhaps, women and children. Reports by early European travelers indicate that the Piros completely dominated the Matsigenkas, driving them inland from the banks of the Urubamba at least during low-water season.

Men loading a balsa raft with parrots for trade downstream. The Matsigenkas did not resist the Piros with force but may have allowed local leaders korakas, a Quechua loanword to negotiate deals to provide Piros with food and trade goods in order to minimize the disruption of ordinary Matsigenka families Camino — Apart from the Piros, the Matsigenkas maintained their own low-key but steady trade with Quechuas Gade Perhaps in this sense the Matsigenka can fairly be said to have occupied a refuge zone where they were protected from some of the fiercest military struggles of both the Inkas and the downriver tribes.

They could occupy marginal foraging areas, possibly benefit from an umbrella of peace held over the region by the Inkas Reynard-Casevitz and Saignes , and trade directly with the Inkas. By occupying a marginal ecological zone that more powerful peoples did not covet, the Matsigenka appear to have found a quiet backwater in which to pursue their relatively tranquil, if frugal, existence.

Gray —9. It is difficult to gauge what effect the collapse of the Inka might have had on the Matsigenka. Powerful tribes were eliminated from the major rivers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Myers , and even the neighboring Campa were heavily missionized, though at the cost of many Catholic martyrs. By some eighty-five hundred Campas had been missionized, and towns grew in support of commercial farms that produced sugar cane, coca, tobacco, and cacao Peru For a period in the eighteenth century, Campa resistance also hardened around the messianic figure of Juan Santos Atawallpa, who claimed to be descended both from the Inkas and from God Varese The Campa, who had begun by befriending missionaries and ranchers, suffered so much from disease and exploitation that they rebelled.

Santos Atawallpa and his followers sought to drive out the Spanish and restore the Inka empire to its former glory. They killed or drove out missionaries, ranchers, and townspeople and seized control of their territory. But by then they had already been transformed by their adoption of such crops as plantains and sugar cane.

Even after one hundred years of isolation from the Spanish, they still had smithies using bellows and forges for making iron tools Steward and Metraux — But their success with the Matsigenka was clearly superficial. Downriver, Iquitos began to emerge as a major shipping port for moving forest products to European and North American markets. During the rubber extraction of the late nineteenth century Iquitos was transformed from a small village into a town of twenty thousand Guinness , and by World War II, after successive economic cycles in fine woods, petroleum, animals and hides, barbasco, chicle, and cascarilla, it had grown into a city of thirty thousand Martinez But its orientation remained downriver: when the citizens of Iquitos decided to pave their streets, for example, twenty-eight hundred tons of gravel were loaded on a ship in the port of Callao near Lima on the Pacific coast and sent sailing twelve thousand kilometers through the Panama Canal and up the Amazon because no overland route covered the twelve hundred kilometers between Callao and Iquitos McIntyre A road from Lima to Pucallpa, completed in , opened a floodgate of immigration into an area viewed by the government as underpopulated.

Between and the population of the Peruvian Amazon grew from , to 1,, Butts and Bogue — The treacherous rivers and trails of the selva alta, however, made the area difficult to control, as the Inka had found. Like other forest communities Varese —25 , the Matsigenka of the Urubamba valley were subject to slave raids during and after the rubber boom of the late nineteenth century. A Peruvian, Justo Pereira, dominated the Urubamba until, according to legend, his son Fidel Pereira born circa , who was half Matsigenka, killed him in a dispute over a woman and took over his territory.

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By World War I, Fidel Pereira had over five hundred men working the rubber avenues and was greatly feared and held in awe throughout the region. He enforced his will through his control over korakas to recruit labor and coordinate trade. The Matsigenka families living in these communities were dependent on the Pereiras, and it is said that they were tracked down and beaten if they tried to run away. When linguists with the SIL began to work in the area in , they found these Matsigenkas to be passive and somewhat browbeaten by their Pereira masters Snell Rosengren a: — 69 documents a history of harsh control and exploitation by these potentially violent rulers.

When Orna Johnson and I first arrived, these communities were still in place, and the Pereiras, while most courteous, were also protective and perhaps defensive: they cared about the well-being of the Matsigenkas in their communities but were paternalistic and did not welcome outside scrutiny. Orna and I did meet and converse with the eightyfour-year-old Fidel Pereira, a slight man with light brown skin and a thin white beard. Educated and thoughtful, he was a gracious and knowledgeable conversationalist, discussing the role of communist China in the United Nations and the policies of former U.

It was difficult to credit this frail old caballero with the ruthless acts attributed to him. The Matsigenka did not take intrusions on their freedom lightly.

Diabeł w sutannie, czyli ontologia pewnych bytów według Indian Matsigenka z peruwiańskiej Amazonii

Along with certain ecological factors chapter 2 , this is the most likely explanation for why overall population density in the Matsigenka area remains below precolonial levels. Resistance was not always peaceful however. The movement fizzled out as soon as it began, and the man was never punished for the homicide Snell Along the eastern margins of Matsigenka territory, even recently the Matsigenkas faced homicidal raids by Panoan groups like the Yora Shepard Characteristically, and to the astonishment of the Yora, the Matsigenka did not attack Yora settlements or even seem to do much to defend themselves but flee when attacked MacQuarrie — The Matsigenka pattern, therefore, has been to avoid violence and to express their resistance by locating away from the river, disguising their trails so that slaving crews traveling along the river would pass them by.

From their locations on bluffs, hidden from below by vegetation, they could watch unobserved up and down along the river. Even during our fieldwork in the s the fear was so great that, on long trips through the forest, we would usually find the homesteads we happened on empty, often with food smoking over the fire: the inhabitants had heard us coming and had fled silently to a safe place in the forest.

Although living scattered and well hidden was certainly adaptive during the slaving period, it was also profoundly in character.

They do not live in nucleated villages and have no fixed notions of territoriality. They are not divided into clans, lineages or moieties. Their society is loosely structured and they themselves are generally individualistic. All evidence indicates that they have been this way during the indefinite past. All signs of intensification and social elaboration—terracing, roads, monumental architecture—are clearly of Andean origin.

Even the outgoing sociability and frequent group rituals reported for some Panoan groups Shepard 85 are largely absent among the Matsigenka. Surely, their fear of disease was a powerful motivation to remain isolated. In fact, given the history of decimation of other tribes, disease may be an indicator of the degree of success with which different groups maintained isolation. Those from the Kamisea showed the least exposure to contactrelated diseases 2.

This might be evidence that the Urubamba region, closest to the old areas of trade with the highlands, had experienced more continuous contact with the outside than had the hinterlands of Kamisea and Manu. The old isolation is moderating as Peruvian laws, especially the Agrarian Reform Law and the Law of the Selva, protect the Matsigenka from the exploitative practices of the past and as new generations with immunities replace those lost to disease. As difficult as these laws are to enforce, they do indicate change.

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The highland farmers who descend the mountain valleys and take up residence alongside Matsigenka families bring not only population pressure but also greater savvy about how the national political system works. And the growing density of farmers with products to sell encourages both infrastructural development and an increased government presence.


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For the most part, the Matsigenka in the s were welcoming these new opportunities and the security they afforded.

Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon
Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon
Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon
Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon
Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon
Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon
Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon

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