The Ashaninka. Indigenous community that extends over an immense territory, from the Alto Juruá region and the right bank of the Envira River , in Brazilian lands, to the slopes of the Andean mountain range in Peru . People proud of their culture , moved by an acute feeling of freedom, willing to die to defend their territory, the Ashaninka are not simple objects of Western history.


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  • 1 History
    • 1 Trade and war in the Central Jungle
    • 2 Colonization and indigenous revolts
  • 2 History in Brazil
  • 3 Geography
    • 1 Demographics
  • 4 Economic development
    • 1 Social Organization
    • 2 Logging and the fight for land
    • 3 Inter-ethnic policy and sustainable development
  • 5 Social development
    • 1 Culture
      • 1.1 Traditions
    • 2 Material culture
    • 3 Legends
    • 4 Rituals
  • 6 Sources


They have maintained a long history of struggle, repelling the invaders from the time of the Inca Empire to the rubber extraction economy of the 19th century and, particularly among the inhabitants of the Brazilian side of the border, fighting the exploitation of wood from 1980 to today. His ability to reconcile traditional customs and values ​​with ideas and practices from the world of whites, such as those linked to socio-environmental sustainability, is admirable.

The history of contact between the Ashaninka and the world of the whites varies greatly depending on the region. In Peru, some local groups were contacted from the end of the 16th century with the missionary activities of the colonial regime, while others only began contact with the national society at the end of the 19th century, in the rubber and syringa period.

We can divide the history of the Ashaninka’s contact with the whites into two major periods: the colonial era, marked mainly by missionary incursions into the Central Jungle, and the period of Independent Peru, characterized by the expansion of rubber that shaped various Amazonian regions. and by the performance of new segments of white society alongside indigenous populations. If contacts with whites profoundly changed the life of the Ashaninka, the history of this indigenous people does not begin with the arrival of Europeans.

Trade and war in the Central Jungle

The Ashaninka have been present in the Peruvian Central Jungle for at least 5,000 years. The territory of the sub-Andean Aruak was bordering the central part of the Inca Empire, while in the Amazon region the boundaries between the Aruak and the Pano groups were less defined (both being called by the Inca of Anti). In several works, the French anthropologist Renard-Cazevitz (1985; 1991; 1992) showed how these three groups established neighborhood relations that took, depending on the circumstances, the friendly or warlike character.

Although on a small scale, prior to the arrival of the Spanish, there were continuous trade networks in peacetime between the lowland peoples and the Incas, and the Ashaninka actively participated in this trade. In the summer period, delegations of Amazonian Indians went up to the nearest Inca cities with products from the jungle: animals, skins, feathers, wood, cotton, medicinal plants, honey, etc.

In exchange for these goods, the Anti returned to their territories with fabrics, wool and, above all, metal objects (gold and silver jewelery, axes, etc.). Many of these products were distributed in kinship networks and in inter-Amazon trade. In addition to its economic value, acquiring rare and, therefore, precious goods was also a means of guaranteeing peace, establishing political alliances between businessmen and even kinship ties. Before the Inca Empire, the bases of the inter-Amazonian trade and warrior networks operated until the end of the 19th century, progressively beginning to decline with the most intense penetration of the whites in the Amazon in the rubber period.

In this commercial and warlike system, the Ashaninka and, in a general way, the sub-Andean Aruak, occupied a prominent place. Its privileged situation resulted not only from its strategic location between the highlands and the Pano groups – which allowed them to activate the mobilization of the “forest peoples” when the Inca or white threat intensified – but also from the control of production of the main product involved in the Amazonian trade: salt, called tsiwi among the Ashaninka of the Amõnia River.

For the “forest peoples”, salt was a highly valued product for the flavor it gave to food and for being the means of preserving food in the hot and humid climate of the lowlands. Located near the Perene River, in Ashaninka territory, the mines on the Cerro de la Sal hills constituted both the main source of supply for the Amazonian peoples, and the political, economic and spiritual center of the sub-Andean Aruak. While their traditional settlement pattern is dispersed, in the vicinity of Cerro de la Sal a greater concentration of different groups Amuesha, Matsiguenga, Nomatsiguenga and, above all, Ashaninka was established.

In this scenario, the Anti for centuries prevented the mass penetration of the non-Amazonian into their lands, keeping the border between the highlands and the lowlands relatively stable.

Colonization and indigenous revolts

Contrary to other indigenous societies in the Amazon, the Ashaninka people have a long history of contact with the white world, dating back to the end of the 16th century. After the occupation of the Coast and the Sierra, the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire and began their penetration in the direction of the Amazon. The Jesuits Font and Mastrillo were the first to establish contact with the Ashaninka, in 1595. Exploring the jungle from the mountainous city of Andamarca, the two letters sent by the Jesuits to their superiors constitute the first documented source about a group of Pilcozone Indians, today identified as Ashaninka.

Forty years after the first contact made by the Jesuits, the Franciscans began the evangelization of the indigenous populations of the Central Forest with an entrance further north, close to the Centro de la Sal region. In 1635, Jerónimo Jiménez inaugurated the arrival of the Franciscans, entering Ashaninka territory and founding the mission of Quimiri (current city of La Merced). In 1637, he organized the first exploration trip of the Perene River, but met his death, victim of an Ashaninka ambush. In 1648, attracted by the myth of Paititi that presents the place as rich in gold, an expedition of missionaries and adventurers heads to Cerro de la Sal, but is again decimated by an Ashaninka attack.

Despite successive defeats, the entries of the Spanish continue. The dismantling of the native exchange system, through the installation of missions in strategic sites, is present for the first time in the evangelizing company of Biedma, a Franciscan identified as the first explorer of the Peruvian mountain region .

After obtaining, in 1971, a license to make new entries into the Cerro de la Sal region, Biedma organized a first expedition in 1973, reopening the Quimiri mission, until then lost, and created Santa Cruz de Sonomoro, controlling it. mode the main access routes to the highlands. In 1674, Biema founded the mission of Pichana with the aim of controlling the transit of the natives between the Ene and Tambo rivers in the direction of Cerro de la Sal. Left to the care of Padre Izquierdo, the Ashaninka population of Pichana, led by Cacique Mangoré, supported by the chiefs of Cerro de la Sal, rebels against the Franciscan administration, which tries to prohibit polygamy, and kills the missionaries.

In favor of the use of force to conquer the Indians, Biedma died in 1687 on another expedition to found a mission on the Tambo River. The tragic death of Biedma, probably a victim of the revenge of the Piro who, the previous year, had been attacked by the Conibo who accompanied the missionary, practically closed the Tambo river to white penetration until the beginning of the 20th century.

One hundred years after the first contacts between the Ashaninka and the whites, the results of Spanish penetration are practically nil. The efforts of the colonizers continued in the 18th century with the intensification of the pressure on the Cerro de la Sal. In some missions the parents installed forges and presented themselves as the only suppliers of metal instruments to attract and keep the native population under control. . Ignored at the time of Biedma, the Franciscan request to the Crown for the construction of forts in the region is concretized with the creation, in 1737, of the first fort in the mission of Santa Cruz de Sonomoro.

The larger missions could group hundreds of natives, but the proportion of the indigenous population in villages is minimal. Many Indians flee, leaving the missions, others prefer to remain isolated from the whites, while most establish sporadic contacts, generally through a chief, with the missionaries to obtain brass instruments and other merchandise. Despite this general observation, the progressive support of the Crown to the Franciscans, both in armed men and in money, increased Spanish pressure in the Central Jungle and the multiplication of missions had an important impact on the way of life of the indigenous populations, laying the foundations for native rebellions. In the indigenous view, life in the missions is also associated with death and the terror of disease.

The settlement pattern imposed by the missions was first translated by sedentarization and compulsory coexistence in multi-ethnic villages of a heterogeneous population characterized by ties of affinity, but also by internal conflicts and rivalries. The loss of freedom, the essence of Ahaninka life, was intensified by the prohibition of polygamy. As Bodley (1970: 4-5) pointed out, during the first centuries of Spanish conquest, the role of chiefs was decisive in the successes and failures of missions. While the distribution of merchandise to the chief allowed the missionaries to exert a certain control over the population, the behavior of the chiefs defied the Christian ideal. Attribute of prestige for the chiefs, polygamy was considered by the Franciscan fathers as a scandalous social behavior,

In this context, the indigenous insurrection led by Juan Santos Atahualpa occupies a prominent place in Peruvian history and deserves special attention. Through it, the Indians of the Central Jungle and, mainly, the Ahaninka, regain their political autonomy and the integrity of their traditional territory, progressively ceded to the whites. Presented as an Andean mestizo or a Quechua Indian, Atahualpa would have received a religious education in Cuzco and traveled through Europe and Africa (Angola and Congo) with a Jesuit father. He arrives at Quisopango, in the heart of the Gran Pajonal, in March 1742, accompanied by a Piro chief. Self proclaimed Inca or “son of God”, legitimate heir to the Empire stolen by the Spanish, Atahualpa intends to restore his lost Kingdom and expel the intruders with the help of his indigenous brothers,

With the news of the arrival of the liberating Messiah, indigenous messengers are sent from the Gran Pajonal and spread through the Central Jungle and the neighboring highlands. The Indians respond to the message and, quickly, the Franciscan missions are abandoned. Ashaninka, Amuesha, Piro, Conibo and other groups converge for the Great Pajonal animated by the hope of seeing the son of God. Highland Indians join the movement and the pan-indigenous rebellion is organized in the Central Selva. Juan Santos Atahualpa invites the Spaniards and Africans to retire to the highlands. The invitation is rejected and the armed confrontation becomes inevitable.

Between 1742 and 1752, the confrontations between Indians and Spanish troops multiplied, offering the rebels a series of victories that guaranteed the political autonomy of the Indians of the Peruvian Central Jungle and the inviolability of their traditional territories for more than a century. Atahualpa’s revolutionary ideal was not limited to the lowlands, but rather sought to rally all the Indians against the “non-Indians.”

During the decades that follow the rebellion of Atahualpa and the Anti, the Peruvian Central Jungle is under the domination of the Indians. The Spanish limit themselves to controlling the access routes to the highlands and protecting their positions in the Sierra. In the Lower Ucayali, the missionaries establish a trade with the Pano groups of the river, but the Ashaninka territory is inaccessible to the whites. When Peru conquered its independence in 1822, the Amazon remained a largely unknown region, a mysterious and threatening land whose integration is necessary for the consolidation of the new Nation-State.

History in Brazil

Currently, we find the Ashaninka in Brazilian territory in Alto Juruá. Originally from Peru and located today on the banks of the Amônia, Beru, Envira rivers and in the igarapé (narrow arm or river channel, characteristic of the Amazon basin that runs through the jungle) Primavera, the history of the Ashaninka occupation in the region is, however, difficult to establish exactly. The information in the regional historiography is vague and provides few indications about the presence of this people in Brazilian territory.

The French father Tastevin made several trips to Alto Juruá in the first decades of the 20th century and located Ashaninka groups at the foot of the Contamana hills, at the headwaters of the Juruá-Mirim river, a tributary of the left bank of the Alto Juruá. In his uprising of the indigenous groups of Acre, based on traveler and chroniclers sources, Castelo Branco (1950: 8) affirms that the Kampa already roamed in this region at the end of the seventeenth century and beginning of the eighteenth.

The population today located on the Amônia River comes from different horizons and is the result of successive migrations. In addition to population displacements in the Peru-Brazil direction, via Alto Juruá or some tributaries of the Ucayali, several migrations of the Ashaninka from Envira and Breu towards the Amônia River also occurred throughout the 20th century. In the same way, although some Ashaninka families remained in a stable manner in the Amônia River from the 1930s, there are ties that unite the Ashaninka of the Amônia to those located both in Peruvian territory and in other Brazilian lands.

According to common hypotheses among the scholars of this society, the presence of Ashaninka in the Brazilian Alto Juruá (as well as in the Bolivian region of Madre de Dios) is the result of the actions of the Peruvian rubber tappers, who at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the XX century brought them from Ucayali to these border regions. But not all the Ashaninka corroborate this version.

The Ashaninka confirm that, at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the Amônia River was also the habitat of the Amahuaka Indians, their traditional enemies and considered “brave” Indians. For the rubber bosses, the presence of the Amahuaka was a permanent threat to the exploitation of rubber and a constant concern. Known as excellent warriors, the Ashaninka served the interests of the Brazilian and Peruvian bosses who strategically promoted traditional hostilities between the two peoples. Armed and encouraged by the whites, who offered them merchandise, the Ashaninka decimated and drove the Amahuaka away. The Ashaninka who currently live on the Amônia River did not directly experience the struggles against the Amahuaka, but they remember the stories of their ancestors.

If the Ashaninka participated in the extraction of rubber and the protection of the Syringa areas, they did not integrate the economy of extraction of the Syringa, contrary to the other indigenous groups of Acre. However, they incorporated the ‘aviamento’ system that regulated commercial transactions in the region.

Abundant in syringa, the banks of the lower course of the Amônia, from the municipality of Marechal Thaumaturgo to the igarapés Artur (left bank) and Montevidéu (right bank), where the last location of the old area of ​​syringa Minas Gerais was located, were progressively occupied by the rubber tappers from the northeast from the end of the 19th century . In addition to being rich in hunting, fishing and hardwoods, the Brazilian Alto Amônia, of the igarapés (narrow arms or river channels, characteristic of the Amazon basin that run through the jungle) mentioned up to the international border, is characterized by the absence of syringa trees, this upper part being little valued by whites until the 1970s and the intensification of timber exploitation .

The organization of work and the population growth of the rubber tappers needed outside labor that could supply the sheds with food and other products, as well as ensure the permanence of the worker in their placement. The Ashaninca of the Amônia River integrated the networks of the rubber economy, offering new services to the bosses. In addition to the progressively declining rubber, the main activity carried out by the group until the 1970s, in exchange for merchandise, was hunting wild animals that supplied both meat and skins, valued in the Amazonian trade.


The Ashaninka area of ​​occupation extends over a vast territory, from the Alto Juruá region and the right bank of the Envira River , in Brazilian lands, to the slopes of the Andean mountain range in Peru , occupying part of the river basins Urubamba , Ene, Tambo, Alto Perene, Pachitea, Pichis, Alto Ucayali, and the Mountain and Gran Pajonal regions.

The vast majority of the Ashaninka live in Peru. The groups located today in Brazilian territory are also from Peru, having started most of their migrations to Brazil, under pressure from the Peruvian rubber tappers at the end of the 19th century. Here the Ashaninka are in distinct and discontinuous Indigenous Lands, all located in the Upper Juruá region (see next door in Inhabited Lands).

A tributary of the right bank of the Juruá River, the Amônia is born in Peruvian territory and guarantees relatively favorable navigation conditions along its Brazilian course. In the rainy season, a trip from the international border to the confluence with the Juruá, located in the municipality of Marechal Thaumaturgo, takes about ten hours of sailing in a motorized canoe.

Today in the lowlands of the Amazon River, we find the Alto Juruá Extraction Reserve (right bank) and a settlement of the Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), (left bank), while the upper part shelters the Earth on both sides. Kampa indigenous of the Amônia river.


According to the authors, the data from the censuses carried out by anthropologists who worked with this town show a great variation, highlighting the difficulty of establishing a population total. In Peru , the data varies, depending on the sources and dates of the investigations, from 10,000 to more than 50,000 individuals.

The researchers highlight the importance of the Ashaninka in demographic terms and present the group as one of the largest population contingents native to the Peruvian Amazon and also to the Amazon basin in general. According to the 1993 census of the National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (INEI), the Ashaninka people in Peru, total 51,063 individuals distributed in 359 communities, constituting the largest native population of the Peruvian Amazon (Zolezzi, 1994: 15).

In the Brazilian part , surveys carried out by anthropologists, indigenous organizations and FUNAI (National Foundation of the Indian) reveal large variations due to the lack of records. These technical difficulties are compounded by a strong tendency towards migration , characteristic of traditional Ashaninka society, which makes it difficult to carry out more precise surveys. Despite the difficulties, the NGO CPI-AC estimated the Ashaninka population living in Brazilian territory at about 869 people.

In 2004, according to the CPI-AC, the Ashaninka population of the Amônia River represented a total of 472 individuals, that is, more or less half of the Ashaninka living in Brazil. More than 80% of this population lives in the Apiwtxa village or in its vicinity (less than thirty minutes by motorized canoe). By river, the Apiwtxa village is approximately 80 kilometers from Marechal Thaumaturgo and 350 from Cruzeiro do Sul. In a straight line, the distance is 13 and 80 kilometers respectively. This village was created in 1995, in the lower part of the TI, near the border with the Alto Juruá Extraction Reserve and the INCRA settlement.

According to the CPI-AC data, the TI of the Breu River had a population of 114 Ashaninka in 2004. At the Igarapé Primavera TI there were 21 people on that date and 262 individuals at the Envira River TI.

Economic development

The conquest of the Peruvian Central Jungle is progressively organized from the Chanchamayo region in the direction of Cerro de la Sal and del Perene. Although the work begun by the Spaniards in previous centuries continues, the new Peruvian colonization takes a slightly different course, guided mainly by economic and political interests and, secondarily, by religious or civilizing interests.

First step of the reconquest, a Peruvian military expedition was organized in 1847 in the direction of Cerro de la Sal. Despite indigenous resistance, the military, accompanied by Andean settlers, founded the fort of San Ramón, established new doubles and progressively retaken control of the Ashaninka foundries.

The colonization of the Chanchamayo Valley, the Perene Valley, and the Cerro de la Sal is encouraged by the government through a policy that facilitates migration of Andean origin and incentives for foreign immigration. In 1891, the Peruvian government granted 500,000 ha of land located on the banks of the Perene River to the Peruvian Corporation. The British company is responsible for the development of the area, mainly through coffee plantations in which hundreds of Ashaninka are progressively incorporated as labor.

Displaced to the Gran Pajonal and the lowlands or gathered in agricultural colonies, the Ashaninka gradually give way to the intensifying white presence. At the end of the 19th century, Peruvians controlled the Cerro de la Sal and began the industrial production of the product. While the loss of salt heralds economic dependence, a dramatic story reaches the lowlands of the Peruvian Amazon and profoundly modifies the lives of indigenous populations: the rubber boom .

The search for rubber, native to the Amazon, profoundly changed the history of the region and had dramatic consequences for indigenous populations. The Peruvian lowlands, as well as Acre, were the theater where various indigenous peoples were decimated. This exploitation began in the 1870s and reached the Ashininka in the Alto Ucayali region. It is important to note that the main rubber production (generic term) in this area comes from rubber (Castilloa elástica) and not syringa (Hevea brasiliensis). Of inferior quality to syringa, rubber (Castilloa elastic) is distinguished by the itinerant nature of its production, which requires permanent mobility of the workforce in search of supplier trees.

Contrary to the syringa collector, settled in the production areas, who daily travels the roads of his place to collect the latex of the hevea, the extraction of rubber requires the felling of trees and leads to a permanent territorial expansion of the workforce as the production of each area is exhausted. If the extraction methods are different and the environmental impact is more destructive in the case of rubber (Castilloa elastica), the economy of rubber (generic term), both for syringa and rubber, is based on the same economic system: the ‘aviamiento ‘or the’ habilitaçao ‘.

In the ‘habilitação’ as in the ‘aviamento’, the entire rubber economy is structured through a hierarchical chain of debts linking the various intermediaries. At its base, that is, in the boss / producer relationship, money does not circulate and serves only as an abstract reference for the establishment of debt, permanently reactivated through the acquisition and supply of new merchandise in exchange for the rubber produced. The fictitious prices are arbitrarily determined by the employer in order to keep his workers under his control through the control of the debt that must never be canceled.

Modern slavery system, the ‘aviamento’ ties the worker to the rubber area and to the rubber boss. Similarly, the ‘habilitação’ establishes, through an eternal debt, a relationship of dependency between the rubber boss and his workers. Although important, the difference between the exploitation of rubber and the syringa resides, basically, in the mobility that becomes necessary in the rubber system, plus the economic structure that bases and guides rubber production, in a general way, is identical .

The exploitation of rubber in the Peruvian Amazon is associated with the bloodthirsty figures of the great bosses such as Carlos Sharf or Julio Cesar Arana. The latter had an “empire” in the Iquitos region, but history chose Carlos Fitzcarraldo as the “King of Rubber.” Fitzcarraldo took refuge among the Indians of the Gran Pajonal after being accused of espionage for Chile and sentenced to death by the Peruvian authorities. Interpreted by the Ashaninka as the “Messiah” back, and more specifically, as the personalization of an amachénka spirit sent by Pawa (the Ahaninka demiurge), Fitzcarraldo manages to gather under his control several Ashaninka whom he rewarded with weapons.

The Campa are joined by the Piro and some mestizos, constituting a ‘true militia’ that allows Fitzcarraldo to control rubber production in a vast area. The death of Fitzcarraldo during a shipwreck in Alto Urubamba in 1897 closes the adventures of a character responsible for the bloody offensives that marked the history of the region. The exploitation of rubber decimated many native populations. In addition to using traditional rivalries between the groups, Fitzcarraldo promoted intra-ethnic struggles among the Ashaninka, breaking the ban on internal warfare in the group.

Starting in 1912, the rubber economy progressively entered into crisis with the fall in rubber prices on the international market. The institutionalized struggles by the rubber bosses diminished during the first decades of the 20th century, until they disappeared. With the advances of Peruvian colonization in the Amazon region, many Ashaninka began to work in various economic activities promoted by the whites: hacienda, agriculture, coffee, hunting, wood and rubber.

Faced with the violence of the rubber economy , many Ashaninka also fought with arms, some migrated to the Brazilian and Bolivian border regions, others found a form of protection in the Protestant and Evangelical missions.

Social organization

The struggle against the exploitation of wood and for the demarcation of the Indigenous Land caused important transformations in the social and political organization of the Ashaninka of the Amônia River. Since the beginning of the 21st century, most of the Indians have been changing their settlement pattern, traditionally dispersed along the banks of rivers and igarapés, to come together in a community. This move affected the internal political organization. New institutions, such as the cooperative and the school, were created to fulfill indigenous demands and today occupy a central place in the social life of individuals.

With the creation of the Apiwtxa association, the new leaders that emerged during the struggle for the demarcation of the area became the mediators between the Ashaninka and the different sectors of indigenous people (Funai, NGOs, State Government, etc.) and today design the paths of inter-ethnic politics.

These transformations in the internal politics and social organization of the Ashaninka of the Amônia River result from external factors, but also reveal the dynamics and creativity of Ashaninka society itself, which incorporated these new models by reinterpreting its traditional social structure. Thus, for example, the grouping in the Apiwtxa village brought together several families around Antonio Pianko, but the settlement pattern remained organized in small domestic groups. Similarly, the new leaders occupy a privileged space in the politics of inter-ethnic contact, but they did not replace the mechanisms of the old “mandate”, whose powers are also limited and guarantee the freedom of each family .

It is important to note that the figure of the “boss” is not always found in Ashaninka society and the institution of mandate, when it exists, also presents great flexibility. When it exists, the “chief” can be identified by the term kuraka (or curaca), of Quechua origin, or by the Ashaninka word pinkatsari.

Among the Ashaninka of the Amônia, these two definitions are present. Still, many claim that pinkatsari is not necessarily a “chief” or kuraka. Pinkatsari is an ãtarite (“one who knows”), but a warrior (owayiri), a shaman (sheripiari) or an old man who stands out for his wisdom and experience can also be described as pinkatsari, without necessarily being a kuraka or “chief ”. In this way, we can raise the hypothesis that there is no word in the Ashaninka language to designate “chief”, being the term of Quechua origin kuraka the only one unanimously recognized to qualify this function.

Logging and fighting for land

Distant from the urban centers and road axes, the Ashaninka did not suffer directly and intensively the effects of the expansion with the agricultural economy that characterized the “second conquest” of Acre in the 1970s. If the “paulistas” ( name by which the new settlers from southern Brazil were described) also acquired several areas of syringa in the Alto Juruá region to transform them into farms destined to the creation of cattle, the Amônia river was relatively far from this expansion front, Despite its margins, it has also suffered deforestation for this type of economy.

If some Ashaninka families went to work with bosses on haciendas, planting the land or “clearing” the fields to create cattle, the rubber crisis and territorial pressure in search of new resources were characterized in the Middle and Upper Amônia River, essentially, by the exploitation of wood. This activity developed from the 1970s on and intensified in the 80s, multiplying the contact of the Ashaninka with the regional white society.

The abundance of fine wood, mainly in the part occupied by the Ashaninka, regionally earned the Amônia the nickname of “river wood”. The intensification of logging in the 1980s, with mechanized invasions and large-scale logging, had disastrous consequences for the environment and the native population. The logging activity profoundly affected the social organization and cultural reproduction of the Ashaninka of the Amônia River.

From the initial cut to the industrialized sale, the logging system in the Amônia river involved different types of protagonists: the extractor, the intermediary (or trader), the patrons of Cruzeiro do Sul and the European buyers. The Ashaninka and the white occupants acted at the base of this system as simple labor. This workforce was used to open the roads in the jungle, locate and cut the trees into pieces, which were then rolled to the igarapés. This work was generally done in the “summer”, during the dry season.

According to the Ashaninka, the bosses generally wrote down the accounts in a notebook, but “always stole.” The Indians were deceived in the footage of the wood. In these transactions, the Ashaninka claim that a piece of mahogany could be exchanged for a kilo of salt or soap.

Various companies bought wood from the Amônia River, but Marmude Cameli Ltda. Was the main responsible for the damage caused to the environment and the Ashaninka population, insofar as it was involved in all the indigenous invasions of the Land, promoting the withdrawal mahogany and cedar on an industrial scale. More than ¼ of the TI suffered directly or indirectly from intensive logging, which profoundly affected the lives of the Indians. The most affected area is located between the Taboca, Revoltoso and Amoninha igarapés, where there were three mechanized invasions – 1981, 1985 and 1987 – that opened a total of about 80 kilometers of roads and branches in the jungle.

The Ashaninka refer to this time as a period of hardship and famine, as opposed to the situation of abundance that existed in Alto Amônia when they lived more isolated from the whites. During the timber decade, the piyarentsi ritual was frequently invaded by the occupants, accused of getting the Indians drunk with cachaca and of sexually abusing their wives. Indigenous music and dance were despised by the whites, who carried their recorders and imposed their musical preferences.

Due to the presence of whites, the frequency of piyarentsi and kamarãpi decreased; some Ashaninka also stopped wearing kushma and switched to dressing like the regionals; The native language was discriminated against and many men, constantly in demand in cutting wood or in other tasks at the service of the whites, progressively stopped making their crafts, in such a way that certain pieces, exclusively produced by them, such as the bow, the arrows and hat, almost disappeared.

In addition to this reduction in the cultural activity of the town, the period of logging is also considered by the Ashaninka as the time of most illness and death. Intensive contact with whites was characterized by the multiplication of diseases: flu, pneumonia , cough, measles, hepatitis , typhoid fever, cholera, etc. Although there are no quantitative data that allow an accurate assessment of the impact of these diseases on the indigenous population, the Ashaninka affirm that they became endemic, causing several deaths, affecting mainly children and decimating many families.

However, if the Indians refer to the “time of the wood” as a period of great difficulties and many concerns, they also highlight that it was this that gave rise to the organization of the community and the union of the group in the struggle for Your rights. In this process, the struggle for the demarcation of the land is considered a decisive moment that allowed them to free themselves from the dependence of the bosses and regain their freedom. Starting in the mid-1980s, the growing mobilization of the Ashaninka people of the Amônia River was integrated into the context of Acre’s indigenism and is characterized by an intensification of conflicts between Indians and whites, which reached their peak at the end of the years. 1980s and early 90s.

Inter-ethnic politics and sustainable development

Milton Nascimento with Benki Pianko Ashaninka, on the occasion of the visit of the singer to the Apiwtxa village. Photo: Beto Ricardo, 1989.

The cooperative created by the Ashaninka of the Amônia River began operating in 1987, with resources from Funai. The Ashaninka also received, between November 1989 and February 1990, a grant from the Gaia Foundation (a British environmental NGO) that allowed them to acquire a pier and have a small working capital. They were later supported by the BNDES.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the Ashaninka began to invest in the production of handicrafts, whose trade was favored in that context by the political and media visibility of the Alliance of the Peoples of La Floresta. During ECO-92 in Rio de Janeiro, for example, Ashaninka handicrafts were sold within the Alliance. In the following years, they became partners with the São Paulo store Amoa-Konoya, with the American company Aveda and with Funai (Artindia stores and Moitará project, with an exhibition and trade of handicrafts in Brasilia).

Until today, the production and sale of handicrafts represent 70 to 80% of the capital of the cooperative and are the main commercial activity of the Ashaninka. Yet despite the capital that comes with this trade, Ashaninka’s access to manufactured goods remains, by their own choice, restricted to essential products: salt, ammunition, fishing line, hooks, soap, etc.

In order to offer a legal device capable of negotiating and executing projects, such as defending the interests of the Ashaninka of the Amônia River, the Apiwtxa association was created in 1991, officially registered in 1993.

The process of affirmation of ethnicity and cultural revitalization appears in a significant way in the area of ​​school education through the idea of ​​”differentiated education” and the project promoted since 1997 by the leaders of the Apiwtxa to create a “traditional school.” . Recently, the Ashaninka also appropriated the use of video to record important moments of the community and their traditional knowledge. The school and the video, instruments of Western society, acquired a new meaning with the Ashaninka of the Amônia River. Thus, the instruments of the whites were reinterpreted by the Indians and today serve to strengthen their cultural traditions and affirm their ethnic identity.

After the demarcation of the Indigenous Land, in 1992, the Ashaninka of the Amônia River also began to carry out a series of sustainable development projects with different allies of the indigenous population, in search of alternatives for logging. They initiated an ambitious policy of protection and environmental recovery of their territory and sought to commercialize some of their natural resources, produced in a sustainable way. Thus, in the new context of indigenism, marked by the growth of environmental concerns, the Ashaninka of the Amônia River found new ways to protect their environment and, at the same time, benefit from their natural resources.

Together with the CPI (Centro de Pesquisa Indigenista, an NGO that no longer exists), the Ashaninka association developed a project for the use of oils and essences from native palms in the region. More than fifty products, including oils, leaves, pulps, chestnuts and others were investigated and cataloged during the three years of the project. In 1994, still within the scope of the Alianza de los Pueblos de la Floresta, the Ashaninka obtained from the embassy of the Netherlands an environmental monitoring and conservation project that financed a minimum infrastructure for the protection of indigenous territory against invasions.

In 1995 and 1996, the Ashaninka of the Amônia River experimented with collecting native tree seeds. Aimed at the reforestation market, the production was directed to the IPEF (Institute of Forestry Research and Studies), of the ESALQ (Luis Queiroz Higher School of Agriculture), in Piracicaba (SP). By the agreement of the society, the institute was in charge of the commercialization of the seeds and, after charging a 25% rate for storage and conservation expenses, it passed on the remaining value for the Apiwtxa according to the sales.

In 1999, at the same time they were collecting murmuru chestnut (astrocaryum sp) for the Tawaya company, the Ashaninka worked with a liana regionally known as “Espera-ai” (Uncaria tomertosa). The production of about 25 tons was ordered and sold for the Biosapiens company, which has a representation in Cruzeiro do Sul.

In 2000, in cooperation with the Amazon Coordination Secretariat of the Ministry of the Environment (SCA-MMA), with the government of the State of Acre and with funding from UNDP (United Nations Program for Sustainable Development), the Apiwtxa implemented a beekeeping project .

Still in 2000, the Ashaninka of the Amônia River directed an ambitious project of “management of agroforestry systems and environmental recovery of degraded areas” to the PD / A (Demonstration Projects type A, one of the sub-programs of the Pilot Program for the Protection of of the Tropical Forests of Brazil).

The concern of the Ashaninka with the environment and the sustainable use of its resources is also visible in relation to the fauna. After the damage caused by the logging, fishing and predatory hunting carried out by the whites, the Ashaninka initiated a wildlife management plan on their own in the Indigenous Land. Many animals, such as the tracajá – a species of tortoise -, (shenpiri), almost disappeared from the region during the 1980s.

In 1993, at a community meeting, the Ashaninka discussed the management of tracajá and decided to prohibit the collection of eggs and the consumption of meat from the animal for a period of three years. The population of tracajás, which was in extinction in the Amônia river, increased again. Through the Management Project for the Reproduction of Quelonios, carried out in conjunction with IBAMA and the NGO SOS Amazonía, since 2003 the Ashaninka promote a festival every year, with the presence of authorities from the world of whites, on the day of the release of hundreds of chelonians for repopulation in the rivers of the TI del Amônia.

The Indians also prohibited the use of the poison waakashi (timbo) in the fishing carried out in the Amônia river and in the main igarapés to preserve the fish. Like fishing, hunting was also the target of important initiatives aimed at repopulating the forest with animals traditionally hunted by the Ashaninka. Since 1992, the leaders of the Apiwtxa affirm to carry out a rotation of the hunting areas and established refuge zones for the animals.

Thus, over the last fifteen years, Apiwtxa obtained funding from various sources and initiated alliances that made it possible to implement economic alternatives that are respectful of the environment. The Ashaninka of the Amônia River not only adopted the “course of sustainability”, as they are considered today, a very successful example of the new political orientation of Amazonian development, seeking to reconcile the preservation of nature with viable economic alternatives for the community. Not by chance, the Ashaninka Indian Francisco da Silva Pianko in 2001 was Secretary of the Environment of the municipality of Marechal Taumaturgo, a position held today by his brother Benki Pianko. Francisco, since 2003, has held the position of Secretary of State for the Indigenous Peoples of Acre.

Social development



The Ashaninka belong to the Aruak (or Arawak) language family. They are the main component of the sub-Andean Aruak, also composed of the Matsiguenga, Nomatsiguenga and Yanesha (or Amuesha). Despite the differences in dialects, the Ashaninka have great cultural and linguistic homogeneity.

They have been identified by various names: Ande, Anti, Chuncho, Pilcozone, Tamba, Campari, but they are better known by the term ‘Campa’ or ‘Kampa’. This name was frequently used by anthropologists and missionaries to designate the Ashaninka exclusively or the sub-Andean Aruak generically, with the exception of the Piro and the Amuesha.

Ashenĩka is the town’s self-designation and can be translated as ‘my relatives’, ‘my people’, ‘my people’. The term also designates the category of good spirits that dwell “on high” (henoki).

Material culture

The Ashaninka say that they always had canoes (pitotsi), houses (pãkots) and land (owãtsi) with various qualities of yucca (kaniri). Formerly, the houses were different, they had walls and were directly seated on the floor. Today, they are built on columns. Although regional whites also live in elevated houses, those of the Ashaninka generally have no walls or partitions and are covered with straw, while the river Wiakotxa use aluminum.

Unlike most other indigenous groups in the South American lowlands, the Ashaninka always wore clothing. Traditional Ashaninka dress, the kushma is an important element in ethnic difference. It should be noted that the word “kushma” is of Quechua origin and, although it is also used by the Indians, the Ashaninka have the term “kitharentsi”, which is used to refer to clothing, loom and weaving.

It was the daughters of Pawa who taught Ashaninka women how to weave and make costumes. For men, the neckline has a “V” shape, while for women it is a “U”. Men’s clothing features colorful vertical lines, which are obtained after dyeing the cotton yarn. In the female kushma, the lines are horizontal. The motifs made from vegetable tinctures are also different. In men’s tunics, these are woven and represent body details of animals: the face of a macaw, the tail of a bico-de-jaca (a kind of snake), characteristics of larvae, birds, fish, etc.

In the female kushna, the designs are painted and represent birds, larvae, fish and, above all, jaguars and snakes. After a certain time of use, both garments are dyed with mahogany shell and slat, which gives them a brown / black color. The most significant difference between the two kushma is that the men’s tunic is still traditionally made from cotton (ãpe) woven on the loom, while the women use industrialized fabrics.

The hat (amatherentsi) is made with a coconut palm tree straw (kõtaki) and adorned with macaw feathers. Although its use in the Indigenous Land is restricted, when packing their luggage for trips outside the village, the leaders, along with the kushma, generally do not forget the hat.

The txoshiki is a type of necklace made with various species of native seeds. Hanging in a diagonal band, with many turns, these are generally ornamented with ornaments (thatane) that fall on the back. These ornaments are made with seeds, chestnut shells or feathers (macaw, parrot, toucan, mutum, etc.). Among several models of necklaces, the kenpiro reproduces the designs and colors of the snake and is considered the original and the most traditional txoshiki by the Ashaninka.

Among the musical instruments, the Ashaninka stand out the drums (tãpo) and the sõkari-type flute. The variable size drum is made of cedar wood. The trunk is excavated and covered on both sides with the leather of a piglet, queixada (jungle pig) or various species of monkeys (black, prego, potbellied, etc.), but rarely, stingray. The leather is tied to the wood with a natural fiber rope (imbaúba). The batida is made with drumsticks made of wood or a monkey’s bone, usually the femur. The sõkari is a pã flute made up of five bamboo tubes, tied with a rope made from cotton line. The bamboo used is of a species that the Indians call “shawope” and that they go to look for in the Peruvian Alto Juruá. The sõkari is generally worn by older men and has an important symbolism. Informants say that this is used to honor Pawa and is distinguished from other flutes, such as the showiretsi or totama that are played in the piyarentsi, simply to dance.


In Ashaninka mythology, the gender of Sun and Moon are opposite to Portuguese, the first being feminine and the second masculine. According to Weiss, Pawa would have been born from a sexual relationship on the Moon with an Ashaninka woman who died burned while giving birth to the Sun. In this way, Luna is considered the father of Pawa. Before going up to heaven, Sun and Moon lived on earth for a long time.

Luna offered yucca (kaniri) to the Ashaninka who, until then, only fed on termites. However, despite being the father of Sol and also considered as a God, Luna occupies a lower status than the Sun because of his activities that take him away from life and bring him closer to death. Being a cannibal, Luna feeds on the dead and the fate of the Ashaninka is to be eaten by him.

This relationship of filiation between the Moon and the Sun seems a bit problematic among the Ashaninka of the Amônia River. Kashiri is not always recognized as Pawa’s father, to the extent that many informants affirm, categorically, that he always existed and created everything, including the Moon. This is seen as an ambiguous being, at the same time considered as a God supplier of yucca (kaniri), but also associated with a cannibal being who periodically fights with the sun (eclipses) and is associated with the world of the dead.

According to the Ashaninka of the Amônia River, after life on Earth, the dead (kamikari) go, at first, to the world “below” (isawiki), where they remain for a time. In the phases of the new moon, Kashiri swallows them and takes them to Pitsitsiroyki, where he delivers them to a star. She is in charge of washing, perfuming and storing them until Pawa visits, who periodically chooses the Ashaninka from the dead whom he recognizes as legitimate children and wishes to keep close to himself.


Among the Ashaninka, both the drink made from ayahuasca and the ritual are called kamarãpi (vomit, vomit). The ceremony is always held at night and can last until dawn. An Ashaninka can consume the tea alone, as a family, or invite a group of friends, but generally the meetings are made up of small groups (five or six people). The kamarãpi is characterized by respect and silence and contrasts sharply with the festive animation of the piyarentsi ritual. Communication between the participants is minimal and only the songs, inspired by the drink, break the silence of the night. Contrary to piyarentsim, these holy kamarãpi chants are not accompanied by any musical instrument. These allow the Ashaninka to communicate with the spirits, thank and honor Pawa.

The kamarãpi is a legacy of Pawa, who left the drink so that the Ashaninka acquired knowledge and learned how to live on Earth. The answers to all men’s questions are accessible with shamanic learning, which is carried out through regular and repetitive consumption of the drink, for years. The shaman training (sheripiari), however, can never be considered as completed. If experience gives him respect and credibility, he is always learning. It is through the kamarãpi that the sheripiari travels to the other worlds and acquires the wisdom to cure the ills and diseases that affect the community.

The cure carried out through kamarãpi is effective only for native diseases caused, generally, by means of sorcery. Against the “white diseases”, the Ashaninka can only fight with the aid of industrialized remedies.

The piyarentsi, in turn, has a markedly more festive dimension, but it also has economic, political and religious dimensions. Ritual is the main mode of sociability and social interaction between family groups. In the piyarentsi everything is discussed: marriages, fights, hunts, problems with targets, projects, etc.

In Apiwtxa, the organization of one or more piyarentsi happens very frequently, generally every weekend. The invitation to drink has the character of a social obligation and refusing it is considered an offense. After having the help of the man to pluck the yucca, the woman is solely responsible for the preparation of the drink.

Shelled, washed and cooked, the yucca (kaniri) is placed in a large pan (intxatonaki), where it is scooped with a wooden shovel (intxapatari). A small portion is put in the mouth and chewed to the consistency of pasta, at which point it is placed in the pan. This process is repeated with all the cassava. The pan is then covered with banana leaves and the dough left to ferment for one to three days. The invitation is generally made by the husband, who passes from house to house informing the other heads of the family that there will be piyarentsi.

All the Ashaninka in the village participate in the feast, when they drink large amounts of piyarentsi. Getting drunk on this occasion is always a goal and a source of pride. Men demonstrate their physical stamina, spending days and nights drinking, going from house to house, without sleeping. At the height of drunkenness, the Ashaninka play their music, dance, laugh. They claim that they make piyarentsi to honor Pawa, who is happy to see her children happy. It was during a piyarentsi gathering that Pawa gathered his children, got drunk, and underwent the great transformations before leaving Earth and going up to heaven (Mendes, 1991: 108).

Today, if the community assemblies appear as new rituals generated by the contact situation, it is still in piyarentsi where both internal and external politics are strengthened. In addition to talking about everyday issues in the community, in the piyarentsi the Ashaninka discuss the projects and it is also there that they try to raise awareness among relatives recently arrived from Peru, proudly explaining the history of the community and its organization.


by Abdullah Sam
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