Matsés

The Matsés, or Jaguar People, with an approximate population of 2200 people inhabit some of the most remote rainforests in the world. Their territory covers a vast expanse of Amazon rainforest in both Peru and Brazil. Across the river into Brazil, part of their territory lies within the Valle do Javari Indigenous Reserve, which contains the largest number of uncontacted groups remaining in the world. In Brazil, they are often called the Mayoruna, all speaking the Matsés language which is part of the Pano linguistic family.

The Matsés inhabit the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, an area of staggering natural beauty and almost inconceivable biodiversity, but a land deeply troubled and beset with threats from narco-traffickers, multinational petroleum companies, and loggers. It is one of the last frontiers.

 

 

Village Life

Traditionally, the large communal homes or malocas are hexagonal in shape with a rectangular body formed by two longer opposite sides. The straw roof covers the entire structure aside from two openings about 1.25 metres in height. These 'doorways' are located at the front and rear of the maloca at opposite ends of a central corridor that divides the house into two parts. Each half is divided, in turn, into small compartments separated by straw screens that serve as 'walls.’ In 1976, the largest malocas observed in Peru were up to 35 metres in length and 10 metres in height, sheltering 100 people. Today, the vast majority of contemporary Matsés houses have been built in the regional non-indigenous style.

Agriculture & Subsistance

Skilled hunters, the Matsés trek across large areas during hunting and fishing expeditions and use their knowledge of the forest paths not only to defend their territory but also to manage resources. By alternating their hunting, fishing and swidden sites, the Matsés avoid exhausting the soils and animal populations, despite maintaining relatively fixed communities on the river shores, and simultaneously ensure the occupation and surveillance of their lands. A wide variety of crops grow in their gardens, including staples such as plantain and manioc.

The Spirit World

Matsés healers have a deep understanding of how forest plants can be used to cure illness. To the Matsés, plants and animals have spirits just as humans do, and can ail or heal a human body. A healer will identify the cause of his patient’s illness and treat it with its respective plant medicine.

The Matsés are well known for their use of a frog medicine used by both men and women for courage and energy, and to increase hunting ability. The green tree frog known by the Matsés as ‘Acaté’ (sapo in Peru, kambo in Brazil) secretes a fluid which the men collect by rubbing the frog’s skin with a stick. It is then applied onto small holes burnt into the receiver’s skin. Dizziness and nausea soon make way to a feeling of clarity and strength that can last for several days. Additionally to the increased strength, the Acaté can give resilience to hunger and thirst, treat laziness but can also increase skills and transmit knowledge, for example if a hunter has been in a slump, he will undergo the ceremony to improve proficiency. Matsés men also blow tobacco, or ‘nënë’ snuff up each other’s noses to give them strength and energy.

Information Referenced from the Instituto Socioambiental | Povos Indígenas no Brasil, Survival International and Acaté Amazon Conservation.

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