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The Ashaninka

They have a long history of struggle, repelling invaders from the time of the Inca Empire to the rubber tapping economy of the 19th century and, particularly among the inhabitants of the Brazilian side of the border, combating logging from the 1980s to today. 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. 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.

( Munduruku Tribe )

Name and language

They belong to the Aruak (or Arawak) linguistic family. They are the main component of the sub-Andean Aruak, also composed of the Matsiguenga, Nomatsiguenga and Yanesha (or Amuesha). Despite the existence of differences in dialects, the Ashaninka have great cultural and linguistic homogeneity. Throughout history, they were identified under various names: Ande, Anti, Chuncho, Pilcozone, Tamba, Campari. Yet they are better known by the term ‘Campa’ or ‘Kampa’. This name was frequently used by anthropologists and missionaries to designate them exclusively or generically the sub-Andean Aruak, with the exception of the Piro and the Amuesha. Ashenĩka is the self-designation of the people 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).

( Bororo Tribe )

Ashaninka 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, and Envira rivers and in the igarapé (narrow branch or river channel, characteristic of the Amazon basin that runs through the jungle) Primavera, the history of occupation in the region It is, however, difficult to establish exactly. The information from regional historiography is vague and provides few indications about the presence of this people in Brazilian territory. 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 also occurred throughout the 20th century in the direction of the Amônia River.

( Puyanawa Tribe )

In the same way, although some families remained stable on the Amônia River as of the 1930s, there are ties that unite the Ashaninka of the Amônia with those located both in Peruvian territory and in other Brazilian lands. According to common hypotheses among scholars of this society, its presence 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 20th century They were brought from Ucayali to these border regions. But no one corroborates 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, they served the interests of Brazilian and Peruvian patrons who strategically promoted the traditional hostilities between the two peoples. Armed and encouraged by the whites, who offered them merchandise, they decimated and drove away the Amahuaka. 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. Although PThey participated in the extraction of rubber and the protection of the siringa areas, they did not integrate the economy of the extraction of the siringa, 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 Minas Gerais syringa area was located, were progressively occupied by the rubber tappers of 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 high 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 external 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.

( Bororo Tribe )

Cosmology and shamanism

Among them, we find the characteristics that define the shamanic cosmological systems present in the lowlands of the Amazon: universe divided into several levels; the existence of an invisible world behind the visible world, the role of the shaman as a mediator between these worlds, etc. Perhaps its peculiarity lies in its extremely dualistic conception of the universe, clearly defining the borders between Good and Evil. According to the anthropologist Gerald Weiss, the indigenous universe, organized vertically, comprises an indeterminate number of overlapping levels. Thus, from the bottom up, we find, successively: Šarinkavéni (the “Hell”), Kivínti (the first underground level), Kamavéni (the terrestrial world), Menkóri (the world of clouds) and other levels that cover the earth and make up the sky (1969: 81-90). The set of celestial levels is called henóki, but this term is also used as a synonym for sky, whose proper name is Inkite. According to Weiss, although these levels are interrelated, the inhabitants of each of them experience their world in a solid way. Thus, for example, if we take as a reference our Earth (Kamavéni), residence of mortal men, the sky visible from it constitutes only the floor of the level immediately above (Menkóri), most of which remains outside our visual perception. Below Kamavéni, there are two levels: Kivinki (-1), residence of “good spirits”, and Šarinkavéni (-2) which, according to the author, can be described as “Hell of the Campa”. Weiss points out, however, that level -1 is mentioned by few, many considering that, below the earth, there is only Šarinkavéni: the world of demons. The cosmology becomes complicated when Weiss identifies the inhabitants of the different levels of the universe, seeking to explain the role played by each of them, their various manifestations, and their relationships with the Ashaninka. In heaven, or more specifically, on top (henóki), good spirits live. This category is called amacénka and also ašanínka, that is, it is taken as an extension of the town’s own self-denomination.


Both the drink made from ayahuasca and the ritual are called kamarãpi (vomit, vomit). The ceremony is always performed 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 to communicate with the spirits, thank and honor Pawa. The kamarãpi is a legacy of Pawa, who left the drink for them to acquire knowledge and learn how to live on Earth.

The answers to all the 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 help 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 a paste, 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. Everyone in the village participates in the party, 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 peak of intoxication, they 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 reunited 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 the piyarentsi where both internal and external politics are strengthened. In addition to talking about everyday issues in the community, in the piyarentsi they discuss the projects and it is also there that they try to raise awareness among relatives who have just arrived from Peru, proudly explaining the history of the community and its organization.

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