Wednesday, February 22, 2017

River Village Lives along the Amazon

On our recent trip to the upper Amazon in Peru, we passed a variety of villages, and visited a few of them briefly or once for several hours. These are not tribal people, but modern, Spanish-speaking river villagers. The native dress (shown above) that they wore for our visit dates back around 100 years (thus several centuries after the Spaniards claimed the Amazon territory and began to rule it). The woman in the photo above, wearing native dress and checking her cell phone, is a member of a group that advocates for women's rights and more participation in the public sphere.

During our visit, the villagers showed us how they extract cane juice with a hand-press to make into sugar-cane rum. They demonstrated how they dye locally-grown fibers with vegetable dyes. From the fibers they create traditional weavings and baskets to sell to tourists. They also showed us a number of ways they are completely modern and have the same need and desire for modern goods, modern communications, and modern medicines that we do.

The village is wired for electricity, but doesn't have enough money to fuel their generators all the time. They mainly live by farming and fishing, but many of the former residents now live in the larger cities nearby and work in the oil extraction industry in the region. Their homes appear to mostly have thatched roofs and dirt floors, though I noticed several items of modern furniture and cookware. The children, who all wear modern kids' clothing, attend a modern cinder-block construction school equipped by the government, with a teacher who commutes from the nearby city, Nauta, population around 25,000.

I do not sense any contradictions in all this.

A larger village with a satellite tower.
Village with a water tower.
A child's feet, dangling above her flip-flops.

At the village school -- not in session, but the children came to look over the
visitors from the cruise ship.

A kitchen at a camp farther back in the forest.
Much more primitive tribal villages exist in other parts of the Amazon, in locations that are many more days of river travel from where we visited. I read a couple of books about travel to these areas, which are much more inaccessible than the area where we enjoyed our cruise. These books tell the very painful history of the exploitation and near-genocide of many of the tribal natives, especially during the rubber boom at the beginning of the twentieth century. It's notable, I think, that the acts of the rubber barons against the natives inspired the coining of the phrase "a crime against humanity."

"Shotguns were rapidly replacing the bow and arrow as the weapon of choice among tribal hunters," wrote Scott Wallace in The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes. "Entire villages were relocating from the highlands to riparian mission posts in order to gain access to trade goods and remedies for deadly malaria outbreaks their own shaporis could not cure. The younger men knew some Spanish, and they’d acquired a taste for Nike shoes, Ray-Ban sunglasses, and the red-and-black caps of the Chicago Bulls." (p. 252)

Wallace's book is the story of his trip on the Brazilian Amazon in search of a fleeting glance at the members of a tribe that had had little if any direct contact with Europeans and modernized tribal groups. This was a very complex story of Brazilian politics and philosophies of how these deeply buried groups might be fairly treated. He and the expedition leaders had no doubt that modern metal tools and weapons and many other goods would be immediately useful to them, and many questions about how to give or trade these goods. There's much controversy about what would help them and what would harm them.

The Delfin 2 on which we traveled in luxury, quite isolated from actual river-village life.

Our fellow passengers on the small skiffs that took us
on short trips into the small streams and lagoons where we looked for wildlife.
A skiff in the farthest-back lagoon that we visited.

1 comment:

Vicki said...

What a beautiful place! It looks like you had an amazing trip, I think I'd like to visit there one day.