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Peruvian Southern jungle 02: The natives (indígenas)

Ese Eja, Huachipaeri, Amarakaeri, Sapitoyeri, Arasayri, and Toyeri - defense and preserver or working for the whites - or university study and coming back to the native villages

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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from: Dilwyn Jenkins: The rough guide to Peru; Rough Guides, New York, London, Delhi; 6th edition September 2006; www.roughguides.com

The white and mestizo industry is pushing back the natives - some tribes have died out - self destruction by gold mining and timber industry

Today the main problems facing the Indians, here as elsewhere, are loss of territory, the merciless pollution of their rivers [mercury by gold mining], devastating environmental destruction (caused mainly by large-scale gold-mining) and new waves of oil exploration by multinationals (p.541).

Off the main Madre de Dios waterways, within the system of smaller tributaries and streams, live a variety of different indigenous groups. All are depleted [reduced] in numbers due to contact with Western influences and diseases, but while some have been completely wiped out over the last twenty years, several have maintained their isolation. Many tribes were acculturated as late as the 1950s and 1960s, and occasionally "uncontacted" groups turned up during the 1980s and 1990s. These are, however, usually segments of a larger tribe that split or dispersed with the arrival of the rubber barons, and they are fast being secured in controllable mission villages. Most of the native tribes that remain in, or have returned to, their traditional territories now find themselves forced to take on seasonal work for the colonos who have staked claims around the major rivers. In the dry season (May-Nov), this usually means panning for gold - the region's most lucrative commodity [with all mercury effects]. In the rainy season, Brazil nut collection takes over. The timber industry, too, is well established, and most of the accessible large cedars are already gone.

If you go anywhere in the jungle, especially on an organized tour, you're likely to stop off at a tribal village for at least half an hour or so, and the more you know about the people, the more you'll get out of the visit.

Ese Eja indígenas

Downstream from Puerto Maldonado, the most populous indigenous group are the Ese Eja tribe (often wrongly, and derogatorily [with negative connotation], called 'Huarayos' by colonos). Originally semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers, the Ese Eja were well-known warriors who fought the Incas and, later on, the Spanish expedition of Alvarez Maldonado - eventually establishing fairly friendly and respectful relationships with both.

Under Fitzcarrald's reign, they suffered greatly through the engaño system, which tricked them into slave labour through credit offers on knives, machetes, pots and pans, which then took years, or in some cases a lifetime to work off. Today they live in fairly large communities and have more or less abandoned their original bark-cloth robes in favour of shorts and T-shirts.

Huachipaeri, Amarakaeri, Sapitoyeri, Arasayri and Toyeri natives - self destruction by gold and timber - university schooling and coming back

Upstream from Puerto Maldonado live several native tribes, known collectively (again, wrongly and derogatorily [with negative connotation]) as the Mashcos but actualy comprising at least five separate linguistic groups - the Huachipaeri, Amarakaeri, Sapitoyeri, Arasayri and Toyeri. All typically use long bows - over 1.5m - and lengthy arrows, and most settlements will also have a shotgun or two these days, since less time can be dedicated to hunting when they are panning for gold or working timber for colonos.

Traditionally, they wore long bark-cloth robes and had long hair, and the men often stuck eight feathers into the skin around their lips, making them look distinctively fierce and cat-like. Having developed a terrifying hatred of white people during the rubber era, they were eventually conquered and settled by missionaries and the army about forty years ago. Many Huachipaeri and Amarakaeri groups are now actively engaging with the outside world on their own terms, without interference from organizations with their own agendas. These days some of their young men and women have gone through university education and later return to their native villages (p.543).

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