Art & Culture of the Shipibo People in Peru
Episode #31 we explore one of the indigenous cultures in Peru’s Amazon, the Shipibo. This podcast includes an interview with a Shipibo artist who shares with us an emotional song.
Welcome to Podcast Episode #31. This podcast focuses on the culture of the Shipibo people of the Amazon jungle region in Peru. We examine some of the challenges facing the indigenous peoples of the world and specifically at the struggles of the Shipibo. This podcast includes an interview with a Shipibo artisan, in which we only scratch the surface in terms of exploring this beautiful culture. However, our hopes are that this podcast creates inspiration within you, our listeners and readers that you seek more information on this and other indigenous cultures.
Indigenous Peoples of Our Planet
Over 95% of the world’s high-biodiversity areas overlap with lands claimed by indigenous peoples, partly because biodiversity is central to indigenous sustenance and partly because indigenous lands have not been subject to the intensive development responsible for destroying the natural biosphere. As a result, today indigenous peoples are traditional stewards of 80% of the earth’s remaining nature.
Indigenous peoples throughout the world are as diverse as the places they live. Yet indigenous communities live with an intimate connection with the natural world and commonly share similar values:
- A deep value and spiritual connection between life and the eco-systems that sustains it.
- The sense of nature as a teacher.
- The unique value of nature as life.
- Honoring the interdependence between natural life and the viewpoint that all life is connected.
- Maintaining a sense of responsibility for their actions as a contributor to the ecosystem of an interdependent world.
According to Our Earth/ Ourselves web site, Indigenous peoples of the world characteristically maintain these values:
- Gratitude and reverence
The modern Shipibo culture consists of around 35,000 people living in over three hundred villages in the Pucallpa region. Their communities are mostly situated along the Río Ucayali. The Río Ucayali joins the Río Marañon to form the mighty Río Amazonas, the longest and largest river in the world. The Río Amazonas flows northward past Iquitos on its long journey north to the Atlantic Ocean.
The Shipibo people speak a native language, but today, most speak Spanish as well. Despite 300 years of sporadic contact with European and mestizo “civilization” and massive conversion to Christianity in the 1950’s and 60’s, the Shipibo people maintain a strong tribal identity and retain many of their ancient shamanic traditions and beliefs.
Shipibo artisans are well-known for their intricate designs on their pottery and colorful fabrics depicting their Ayahuasca-based cosmology.
Unfortunately, the proximity of most Shipibo communities to the burgeoning city of Pucallpa has made it inevitable that their culture has become altered by mainstream trade, exploitation and encroachment of western values. Still, the Shipibo are a resilient people.
In this podcast, you will hear Robert sharing with us the mythology of ayahuasca in the form of a traditional Shipibo song. Robert sang the song with such emotion. He went on singing for us for almost five minutes, sharing with us the traditional story of his people. The ceremony involved with taking the plant medicine Ayahuasca is not for entertainment purposes. It’s a healing voyage guided by their deceased ancestors.
Even though we did not understand the words of the song, we understood the voyage shared with us through Robert’s raw emotions. His singing brought tears to his eyes and in turn, transferred his passion into our experience as well.
What is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is a medicinal tea prepared from Banisteriopsis Caapi, a jungle vine, found in the tropical regions of South America, often combined with other plants, commonly Chacruna/Rainha (Queen); Psychotria Viridis.
The practice of ‘taking’ Ayahuasca has a rich legacy of associated traditions, myths, therapies and rituals , spanning from the primordial roots of the indigenous tribes of South America, including those of the Shipibo. According to wikipedia:
The brew, first described academically in the early 1950s by Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, who found it employed for divinatory and healing purposes by the native peoples of Amazon. How indigenous peoples discovered the synergistic properties of the plants used in the ayahuasca brew remains unclear. While many indigenous Amazonian people say they received the instructions directly from plants and plant spirits, researchers have devised a number of alternative theories to explain its discovery.
Although we have not had a personal experience with ayahuasca as of yet, we found the ancient traditions of this plant medicine to be intriguing. If you are interested in learning more about ayahuasca, we found a wonderful ayahuasca resource online that includes many articles on ayahuasca if you wish to research further.
Pucallpa (Quechua: puka allpa, “red earth”) is a city in eastern Peru located on the banks of the Ucayali River, a major tributary of the Amazon River. It is the capital of the Ucayali region, the Coronel Portillo Province and the Calleria District.
Pucallpa was founded in the 1840s by Franciscan missionaries who settled several families of the Shipibo-Conibo ethnic group. For several decades it remained a small settlement as it was isolated from the rest of the country by the Amazon Rainforest and the Andes mountain range. From the 1880s through the 1920s a railway project to connect Pucallpa with the rest of the country via the Ferrocarril Central Andino was started and dropped several time until it was finally abandoned. Pucallpa’s isolation finally ended in 1945 with the completion of a highway to Lima through Tingo Maria.
ChonomeniRobert’s Shipobo name, and the name he uses to sign his paintings, is Chonomeni, which means “bird who paints.” Here are two links that sell his paintings online:
Servindi: This organization provides information in Spanish related to indigenous communities and ecology in Peru, as well as internationally. The gallery page contains a link to Robert’s work.
Runcato: This environmental group began a meal program for Shipobo mothers and children, which the Shipobo now administer. The organization sells Shipobo art and other items through this site, including Robert’s paintings.
eGallery Amazon Project: This page features artists from the Usko-Ayar School. The goal of the school, in the words of Pablo Amaringo, is to act as “a tool for the conservation of the Amazonian environment and culture. By observing and depicting nature, people – especially young children – become more aware of its beauty and richness, and they learn to respect it. In addition, the students hope that their paintings will inspire other people to share similar attitudes of appreciation and reverence.”
Pablo Amaringo: A brief biography of the Shipobo artist and shaman who was awarded the Global 500 Peace Prize from the United Nations Environmental program.
Ayahuasca Visions: This link provides some images of Amaringo’s paintings from his book, as well as the table of contents, in English.
This NGO website in English offers a glimpse of Shipobo life and describes some of the projects it had initiated to respond to the community’s economic poverty and support cultural preservation. From the NGO’s first post in August 2011 (last post in September 2011):
“Maybe our biggest originality is that the whole project, since its original idea to the way of achieving our goals, emanates from the medicine, through the visions of ayahuasca. Our project is born from the harmonious meeting of westerner and Shipibo practitioners and beneficiaries of the medicine, working together with the spirits of plants and nature to bring a better future to theShipibo people and the world.The NGO’s first objective is overseeing the construction of a large project whose long term goal is the full development of the whole Shipibo people. It will work towards the implementation of various projects in all areas including whatever the Shipibo need today: agriculture with the creation of seed banks to prevent situations of extreme weather, livestock and fish farming, construction, water supplies, education, communication, health and culture.
The NGO’s strategy for succeeding is by fully valuing and using all the resources of the Amazonian traditional medicine. By advertising a new tourism based on education and ecology, but also on the Shipibo medicine which is unique in the world, the NGO hopes to contribute significantly to the economic and social development of all the Shipibo communities in the Ucayali region, centred on the city of Pucallpa in Peru. In the long term, this work will contribute to the wellbeing of all Peruvians, including the Indian Mestizos and other communities like Ashaninka.”
Alianza Arkana is a Peruvian non-profit, non-governmental organization with offices in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, in the regional capitals of Iquitos and Pucallpa. Our sister organization in the United States is The Arkana Alliance, based in San Francisco and is fiscally sponsored by SEE (501c3).
Alianza Arkana is committed to raising awareness about the current environmental and social crises in the Amazon; supporting the creation, connection and strengthening of strategic networks and regional and community-based alliances; and inspiring positive change at local, national and international levels to protect and preserve the people, environment, and ancient traditions of the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest.
The Amazon is under siege by destructive and unsustainable practices driven by prevailing social and economic policies. Through community-based projects, field investigations, activism and strategic communications inside and outside Peru, Alianza Arkana is deeply committed to bringing urgent attention to the grave risks we all face if the destruction of the Amazon continues. Through our many partnerships and programs we seek viable alternatives and a new paradigm of sustainable development.
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