The Shipibo-Conibo are an indigenous people along the Ucayali River in the Amazon rainforest in Perú. Formerly two groups, the Shipibo (monekymen) and the Conibo (fishmen), they eventually became one distinct tribe through intermarriage and communal ritual and are currently known as the Shipibo-Conibo people.
With an estimated population of over 30,000, the Shipibo-Conibo represent approximately 8% of the indigenous registered population in Peru. Census data is unreliable due to the transitory nature of the group. The Shipibo language belongs to the Panoan family.
Like all other indigenous populations in the Amazon basin, the Shipibo-Conibo are threatened by severe pressure from outside influences such as oil exploration and production, logging, palm oil cultivation, deforestation, commercial overfishing and narco-trafficking.
In the past the Shipibo lived in dispersed extended-family homesteads along rivers. Today they reside in villages with houses distributed along one side of a street, opposite kitchens and roughly parallel to the water. Villages are usually located on a beach alongside a river or a large ox-bow (i.e., crescent-shaped) lake. Some small households have their own kitchen, whereas larger extended or polygynous family households may share a kitchen, with each married woman maintaining her own earthen hearth.
Agriculture & Subsistance
The Shipibo traditionally practice slash-and-burn agriculture and subsist primarily on plantains and bananas, together with some sweet manioc, potatoes, and maize. These crops are supplemented with fish, game, and other wild foods collected from the forest.
The Shipibo of the village of Paoyan where we work used to have a diet of fish, yuca and fruits. Now, however, the situation has deteriorated because of global weather changes and now there is mostly just yuca and fish. Since there has been drought followed by flooding, most of the mature fruit trees have died, and some of the banana trees and plantains are struggling.
The Spirit World
The Shipibo are noted for a rich and complex cosmology. They live in the 21st century while keeping one foot in the past, spanning millennia in the Amazonian rainforest. Many of their traditions are still practiced, such as ayahuasca shamanism. Shamanistic songs have inspired artistic tradition and decorative designs found in their clothing, ceramics, tools and textiles.
Similar to other Amazonian groups, the Shipibo are animists. To them, animals, vegetation, as well as non-biological beings have spirits just like humans. All beings have two modes or aspects, one material and the other spiritual. The terms in Shipibo to distinguish or invoke the spiritual aspect of the plant, animal or other substance is íbo (a good spirit) and yoshín (a bad spirit).
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