LANGUAGE: Matsigenka, a dialect of Arawak; Spanish
POPULATION: Between 7,000 and 12,000. (estimate)
RELIGION: Traditional native beliefs
The Matsigenka live in southeastern Peru. They have inhabited their present territory since long before the Spanish conquest, where they have sought to live peaceably and to be left alone, being less fierce and more likely to avoid violence than the Arawakan and Panoan groups that surround them. They managed to avoid the influence of the Inca culture and the Spanish conquest, thanks to the uninhabited cloud forest that separates the highlands and the high forest.
However, evidence of contacts between the forest people and those in the highlands pre-dates the Inca Empire. The Matsigenka and their neighbors traded with the highlanders, exchanging cacao, bird feathers, palm wood, cotton, and herbal medicines for stone and metal tools and bits of silver that are used in jewelry. But, that trade took a different turn in the early 20th century, when the rubber boom and slave trade translated into Matsigenka strongmen trading their own people into slavery in exchange for shotguns and steel tools. The practice continued even after the rubber boom collapsed, as colonists still wanted laborers and household servants.
Nevertheless, during the past decades, the Matsigenka population has been recovering from the losses suffered because of a series of lethal diseases brought by Europeans as well as the calamities and abuses caused during the rubber boom of the early 20th century. The Amerindian people were expelled from their historic lands by two groups. First, agriculturalists pressured them while locating their farms in Matsigenka territory to grow coca as well as tropical crops. At the same time, Matsigenka had to compete for hunting and fishing territories with other neighboring groups.
Today, despite some degree of dependence on Western culture (medicine, clothing, and tools), the Matsigenka retain most of their own traditions. They reckon time by moons (12 to a year), by moon quarters, and by the blooming of certain flowers. They measure short objects by spans and half-spans, and long objects with poles, but have no weights. Travel is estimated by sun positions. They regard the Milky Way as a river where animals bathe to gain eternal youth.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
The Matsigenka inhabit the tropical rainforest of the upper Amazon of southeastern Peru. Rain is almost a constant occurrence in this region: the wet season extends from October to March in which around 250 to 500 cm (98 to 197 inches) of rain poor in a single day. From April until September there is a less wet, but still rainy, season. Temperatures range from 14°c (57°f) on the coldest nights to 32°c (89°f) during the hottest days. The annual average is close to 24°c (75°f). The landscape is full of mountains, steep inclines with rushing mountain rivers, and hazardous trails, which makes traveling difficult. Copious rainfall on a mountainous terrain causes natural disasters. The Matsigenka are therefore fearful of floods and earthquakes. With the 1947 earthquake, many families disappeared. The condition of the soil—black and rich—and the availability of animals for hunting were very favorable until some 40 years ago. The use of firearms and the intensive agricultural activity by colonizers and Amerindians have reduced considerably the numbers of game animals and the fertility of the land. The Matsigenka traditionally live in small, semipermanent settlement clusters situated, when possible, near a source of water and often on hilltops and ridges, in the past for fear of slave raids and in the present day to avoid competition over resources and the danger of floods. A house up on a hill also allows them to enjoy the breeze and to escape mosquitoes.
Matsigenka means "people." The Matsigenka or Machiguenga language belongs to the Campa group of the Southern Maripurean or Arawakan dialects. Arawak is one of the largest and most important linguistic families in South America, both in extent and in number of component languages and dialects. There are two varieties of Matsigenka: Caquinte and Matsigenka. It is estimated that around 8,000 people in the Amazon of Eastern Peru speak Matsigenka.
As with any other vernacular, the Matsigenka language gives us an idea of how the Matsigenka perceive the world. The animal kingdom, for example, is divided into five categories: íbira, for domestic animals; yaágágání, for edible animals and birds; átsigantatsíri, for animals that bite; ógantéri, for animals that sting; and the last one is divided in two—sima, big fish; and síbaí, small fish.
Up to 50% of Matsigenka men are bilingual in Matsigenka and Asháninka. Being able to speak the Asháninka language facilitates trade. Most men also speak basic Spanish, and an increasing number of children are fluent Spanish-speakers after the first school years. In contrast, most women are monolingual, with only an estimated 30% knowing how to count in Spanish.
The Matsigenka believe they were originally made out of pieces of wood—palo de balsa—by a powerful creator spirit named Makineri, who cut sturdy saplings into lengths and brought them to life by singing and breathing on them. Makineri was one of many spirits or beings called Tasorinchi, who were created from nothing and were very powerful. They changed many Matsigenka into animals. One of the female Tasorinchi is the "mother of fishes." A male Tasorinchi one tried to drown the Matsigenka by causing a flood. He was then nailed to the trees, where he still lives, and when he struggles to free himself he causes earthquakes. Several Tasorinchi finally became armadillos.
Another myth tells about the Inkakuma spirits, who were mining and dug through the underworld. The Chonchóite, a legendary cannibalistic tribe, emerged from the hole that was eventually plugged and those remaining below became the Kamagárini or demons. One of those demons from the underworld created the Kugapakuri, a tribe of bow hunters; and the Viracocha, the people of the Puna.
The Matsigenka also believe that formerly people lacked teeth and ate only potter's clay. Kashiri, the Moon, brought manioc (cassava) roots to a menstruating girl and taught her to eat them.
The deep sections of the rivers are the home of a great man-fish, Quíatsi, who hunts careless swimmers, takes them to the bottom, and weds them to his daughters. He is not considered a bad spirit. Mountain caves are homes of malignant spirits, and roaring winds are feared because they are believed to bring illness and death. The swallows that make their nests in the Matsigenka houses, on the other hand, bring good luck; and a kite (a type of bird), the yasíbántí, is protected since it takes the souls of the dead to other levels of existence.
Good and evil were the two forces involved in the creation of the world. Matsigenka associate "good" with happy and "not good" with sadness. It seems as if the pleasure principle were operating at its most elemental level.
According to Matsigenka cosmovision, the Creator made the world by mounding up mud into land. The Evil Contender created the bad things in the world, like stinging flies. These two figures are no longer active, but good and bad spirits are still present. Many things have spirits, and animals have spirit rulers, so if one of them is killed, their spirits should be appeased. Some animals are in fact descendants of humans that committed a crime, like theft or incest. Women have to beware of the various demons that haunt the forests and can impregnate them with a demon child.
It is possible for a human soul to fly to the land of the Unseen Ones by ingesting an alkaloid hallucinogen called kamarampi, "death medicine." The Unseen Ones can perform cures, see the future, and instruct. After death, the soul begins a voyage towards a better layer of the cosmos. There are 10 levels of existence. The gods inhabit the top 5. The earth is the eighth level. After death, the soul can choose to remain on the seventh level, above the ground, where people live just as they do on earth but do not suffer or die and can still enjoy earthly pleasures. The higher levels can be reached, providing the soul is not caught and thrown back down by dangerous spirits that inhabit the sixth level, running the risk of falling to the deepest level where all is suffering, perpetual fire, darkness, and hunger. But, the soul can be rescued by the Quíbintí, which inhabit the ninth level below the ground, where there is life and happiness. If the soul manages to reach the highest levels, it will be happy forever.
There is only one major religious holiday, but it is celebrated every month: the Moon Festival. The Matsigenka have kept through the centuries the tradition of dedicating one day and night to honor the moon. During the last century, the festival took place from Saturday evening through Sunday. But, in the last years, this tradition has not been practiced with the same frequency. During the festival, the Matsigenka wear their best clothes, dance, and drink mildly fermented masato. In a big clearing, men in couples march together in a circle playing their soncari, or pan pipes. Meanwhile, the women, holding hands, form a long line and move as they sing a melody different from the one the men are playing. The words of the song are in an archaic dialect, and many young girls do not understand it. When the men finish a certain tune, they stop, look at the women, bow, go back one or two steps, bow again, and then start their music once more. The music and dancing continue through the night, with only a few short breaks to rest, drink masato, and take some coca.
In the last few years, and because of the opening of schools for the Amerindians, the Matsigenka have joined the Peruvians in the celebration of national holidays. For Independence Day—independence from Spanish rule—Matsigenka children march, holding paper lanterns in the shape of stars, houses, airplanes, etc. When available, they like to march to the beat of drums, playing trumpets.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Ceremonies are rare among the Matsigenka. Their parties are more about dancing, singing, getting drunk, and joking, rather than invoking spiritual forces. Being a very individualistic people, the curing and spiritual encounters are conducted by individuals in the privacy of their homes.
There are no ceremonies for birth or naming the child. Some baptize their children with a Spanish name; otherwise, the children get a Spanish name from their teacher when they go to school. Puberty rites have disappeared. Girls used to have their hair cut and were isolated for one or two months, during which time they spun cotton.
Marriage does not happen until the accepted groom builds a house and plants a garden near his in-laws' dwelling. The ceremony is attended only by the bride's parents. The father orders his daughter to roast yucca for his new son-in-law. The bride offers some yucca to the groom and from then on they are considered husband and wife. Both of them have the right to throw the other one out if they get bored with each other.
An extreme lack of death ritual was previously found among the Matsigenka, who not only threw their dead unceremoniously into the river but similarly disposed of hopelessly ill people. They traditionally only buried those who were killed in warfare. To prevent the soul of a person who had died through attack by an evil spirit to linger in sorrow near his or her home, the house was burned down. The remainder of the family moved away so the soul would have no reason to stay and would begin its journey to the higher level of the cosmos.
Nowadays, when a person dies, the family weeps quietly so as not to attract evil spirits. For the first two weeks after a death, the family can only eat green plantains and rice. Afterwards, the closest relative bathes in a special brew and the nuclear family cuts their hair to avoid causing the deaths of other people. The body is washed and dressed in a cushma (the standard Matsigenka dress) specially dyed with achiote, and is buried with its personal possessions. It is believed that the soul of a dead person is evil, so the survivors try to forget the dead person to prevent the soul from coming back.
Though each Matsigenka household is virtually self-sufficient, game and fish are shared generously among people of the hamlet. Hamlet-dwellers exchange visits at dusk and on weekends. When a visitor arrives, the host asks, "Néga pijáque?" ("Where are you going?") and the guest replies, "Naniáquemíni" ("I am visiting you."). This is the same greeting used in casual encounters. The host always serves boiled yucca and masato (a type of drink), sometimes accompanied by other seasonal foods. At times, the guest brings food.
Gossip and shaming, together with early socialization, are quite effective methods for teaching people to control aggres- sive impulses. If an individual does commit a crime, such as homicide or incest, he or she is punished by being ostracized or expelled from the community. Verbal fights with limited physical contact occur occasionally within the household and hamlet, usually after drinking at a beer feast. Conflicts with outside groups in the late 20th century are at a minimum. The Matsigenka are courteous towards strangers, but they are generally not too friendly as they fear exploitation. Friends share the meat from the hunts and some of the foods they collect, like palm nuts. They do not, however, buy each other presents.
There is virtually a lack of political organization as it is known by Western society among the Matsigenka. Leaders are elected by tacit agreement, rather than through elections. The basic rule is household autonomy, and the Matsigenka are notorious for leaving an area if their autonomy is compromised. There are no chiefs or councils to set policy, but recently they did form a multicommunity union and elected a council head, mainly to deal with the alien industries moving into their territories. They respect a person's word of honor, so agreements do not require written contracts. They do not have written laws either. Traditions of this kind have made encounters with the Whites and Mestizos difficult.
The Matsigenka can be considered semi-nomadic or semi-sedentary. The reason of this double condition resides in the fact that they spend part of the seasons in sturdy houses where they store their possessions. However, this Amerindian tribe also leaves their houses for extended periods, living in temporary shelters part of the year, when they become nomads.
Matsigenka houses are constructed entirely from local materials. They are built with heavy hardwood posts tied with bark, have palm-wood walls, and are covered with a thatched palm-leaf roof. Houses were traditionally low, oval-shaped structures. Today many have raised palm-wood floors and are larger and rectangular in shape. Inside, there is always a fire burning. The Matsigenka prefer to build their homes next to a river or stream. Around the house, there is usually a clearing that helps keep snakes and rats out of the house. They usually plant flowers, and sometimes they place their kitchen in the garden. The clearings are an informal demarcation of ownership, although land is not owned as such. Men announce in advance their intentions to clear gardens in specific locations. Abandoned gardens revert to the public domain.
Some of the plants grown in the kitchen gardens are ingredients for the large number of herbal remedies known to the Matsigenka. It is believed that illnesses are caused by evil spirits; there are no physical causes: the symptoms that follow a snakebite are not caused by the snake's venom but by the spirit that inhabits the snake. A suggestion of nutritional deficiencies is beriberi, which the Matsigenka attribute to eating papaya after sungaro fish, roast crayfish, or hips juice. To cure coughs and rheumatism, they rub the body with the sap of a tree called cobe, which is like menthol. For the shooting pains caused by the bite of a manií ant, the remedy is to drink and bathe in an infusion made with a bulb called manlíbenqui. They chew coca to counteract fatigue. Despite their impressive knowledge of natural medicine, there is a growing dependence among Matsigenka on Western medicine due to social changes and foreign diseases.
Most of the Matsigenka region is reachable by road. There are bus services, and trucks travel along the highways. Within the region, the Matsigenka often walk, and the traditional carrying devices were tumplines, infant-bearing bands, and small bags. Early explorers observed that Matsigenka men and women could carry up to 34 kg for 24 km (75 lbs for 15 mi) a day.
Commonly, Matsigenka live in a single-family residence. Even though family life conditions vary from one kinship to another, it is possible to suggest that on average households are dwelled by seven to eight members. Husband and wife—or wives—are independent of other households and are free to leave the house site for shorter or longer periods as their convenience indicates. With the division of labor among its members, a household is a self-sufficient unit capable of living on its own for long periods of time.
Traditionally, marriages are arranged at an early age and often with members of the families that share the hamlet. As a result, many Matsigenka are related in some way to everyone else in the vicinity. But, this convenient arrangement often fails, and the unmarried ones have to visit other settlements to procure a mate. There are a small number of cases of polygamy, and in such cases, each wife has her own living space within the house. Women provide most of the child care and prepare nearly all of the food. Men participate in the preparation of food for storage, like smoked meat and fish. Infants are fed on demand, pampered, and enjoyed. After the age of 1 year and until the age of 5 years, discipline is by verbal reprimand, rarely accompanied by corporal punishment. Starting at age 5, children begin to acquire adult skills by going with the parent of their sex to work. From then on, scolding is common, but the process is gentle and gradual. Young ones learn the values and customs of the group by oral instruction and imitation. Norms are taught mainly through legends.
According to early explorers, a Matsigenka man could exchange wives with a friend or lend his wife to a visitor. The women practiced abortion and gave birth in the woods, immediately after which the mother returned to routine life. Today, they give birth in a special hut built by the husband, aided by an older relative. The husband should be present to cut the umbilical cord with a piece of bamboo; otherwise, the mother's teeth will wear away.
The standard dress of the Matsigenka is the cushma, with a neck opening that runs from front to back for men in the shape of a V and from side to side for women, in a straight line. It takes a woman about three months, working during her free time, to make a cushma. Made of wild cotton and colored with vegetable dyes, it is ornamented with feathers, beads, etc. The most commonly used dye comes from the bark of a tree called tsótoroqui. To extract the dye, the bark is boiled in water. The cloth is then submerged into the resulting liqueur and dried under the sun. The process is repeated three or four times to get the desired color: from lilac to a reddish brown. Whatever the tone, it gets darker all the time as it is exposed to the sun, and it does not run or fade when washed. The cushma has vertical stripes for a man and horizontal for a woman. The designs of the stripes differ between communities so they can easily identify visitors.
For dress occasions, some Matsigenka nowadays wear European clothes. Since cushmas do not have pockets, the Matsigenka men use bags to carry things like matches, a knife, wax, cotton thread, a little bag with coca leaves, and a whistle to call birds. The women carry their things in baskets. As ornaments they wear cotton wrist and ankle bands, various seed necklaces, and gold-colored earrings. As men used to place pins through their noses, some of them have a perforation there. The men make crowns in the shape of topless hats decorated with feathers. Both sexes paint their bodies with achiote, both as decoration and as protection against sunburn and insects. The Matsigenka were known to paint even their animals.
Like many other Amerindians in the region, the staple food of the Matsigenka is yucca or manioc (cassava). The long tubers are peeled and then boiled or toasted to make their bread, which is a large flat pancake, and also masato, a thirst-quenching drink. Some kinds of yucca have a poisonous juice inside them, and after grating the tuber it must be squeezed out in a tipiti. Boiled yucca is also eaten accompanied by soups made with meat, fish, snails, plantains, pumpkins, nuts, fruits, maize, chili, larvae, or eggs.
The importance of the yucca is highlighted by a wonderful story that tells how the Matsigenka came to have it: it was a gift from the Moon, Kashiri. Long ago, the Moon came down in the form of a handsome man wearing a yellow feather crown. He met a girl, married her, and gave manioc, maize (corn), plantains, and other foods to her parents. He also taught them how to grow and prepare yucca the right way. The girl bore four boys, all Suns: the Sun, Venus, the Sun of the Underworld, and the Sun of the Firmament, which gives light to the stars. Then Kashiri went back to heaven. Since then, Kashiri watches over all his daughters—the yucca—and the plants complain to him if people tread on them or do not prepare them the right way.
Early explorers talk about the ways the Matsigenka cooked meat, using a pyramidal or rectangular babracot; the smoke helped preserve it for a few days. Rock salt from Cerro de la Sal and pepper were used as condiments. Today their favorite way of preparing big meals for a party is the pachamanca: the uncooked food is placed in a hole in the ground that contains hot stones, covered with leaves and earth, and left to cook slowly. They eat their meals with wooden spoons or monkey skulls, and the women eat separately from the men. They also use plates and spoons made of pumpkins, and they have their meals sitting on the floor on mats. Sometimes they drink coffee, but they prefer tea and other warm drinks made with cacao seeds, lemons, maize, and sugarcane.
Education in some ways has been the reason for a change in the traditional living conditions of the Matsigenka, who have been drawn out of their isolation into school communities with airstrips. Matsigenka school communities, with family households of an average of 6 people each, range in size from 100 to 250 individuals. The change started in the 1950s, when the Peruvian government opened monolingual (Spanish) schools in the region. A few years later, a group of Matsigenka became schoolteachers, trained by a Protestant group in Pucallpa at the Summer Institute of Linguistics. The schoolteachers often serve as a link with the commercial world as well. In some communities, the children study in bilingual schools where the textbooks are in Spanish and Asháninka. The schools, with only one exception, offer only primary education. Children who finish when they are 13 years old have only one option if they want to go on to secondary education.
School terms are nine months long, from April to December. From 8:00 am until 2:00 pm, five days a week, the students study language, history, social and natural sciences, math, hygiene, sports, music, and religion. Their main problem is learning Spanish. Most of them do not speak it at home, and because their parents do not know it well, they cannot really help the children with lectures and math. Sometimes, Matsigenka children have to repeat a grade a few times before they learn enough Spanish to go on to the next one. There is also the problem of shortage of books and other materials and teachers. Nevertheless, the Matsigenka students learn how to read and write and recently have been finishing school in less time. According to observers, they particularly enjoy extracurricular activities, like playing in the school band.
The Matsigenka like to sing and are good at it. Their songs are hypnotic repetitions and counterpoint, performed in groups of up to four people and accompanied by musical instruments. A traditional instrument is a two-headed, monkey-skin drum. They also play flutes and panpipes. When the singing and the music are mixed with manioc (cassava) beer, the rhythm accelerates into a rapid 4/4 time and the Matsigenka start dancing. While men dart and whirl around the clearing, women dance by walking behind the men, holding hands and singing.
Farming is done in the traditional slash-and-burn method. After the morning bath in the river (from which they bring back water) and breakfast, the men go to the fields carrying a pumpkin container filled with masato (a thirst-quenching drink). They work from dawn until 4:30 pm without lunch and have breaks every two hours. Some days the men go hunting or fishing. Each Matsigenka family has its own clearing, which is made anew every two to three years. Men help one another prepare these clearings, but subsequently each woman cultivates and harvests her own plot. Women clean the house each morning and evening, light the fire, cook and take care of the children. They also make clothes and pots, gather firewood, and help the men with their work.
To supplement their diets, the Matsigenka fish, hunt, and collect nuts, wild fruits, and mushrooms. To fish, the Matsigenka use a drug called cadge, bone hooks, grill nets, hand nets, large nets with sinkers, fish pots, spears, and arrows. They also use a weir and dam to drain a section of the river. Men do all the hunting, using bows and arrows and traps. The arrows have cemented, spiraled feathers, and their points are never poisoned. Some Matsigenka have shotguns that make hunting easier, and they end up with enough catch to share with local households and thus offset resentment. To catch birds, the Matsigenka smear a glue on tree limbs. Early explorers observed that the Matsigenka were the only group in the Peruvian mountains to keep ducks, along with chickens, which were common elsewhere. To make fire, they used the drill method, with cotton, raw copal, or resin as tinder.
Money has only recently been introduced into the local economy. In communities with schools, they are encouraged to develop commercial crops such as coffee, cacao, peanuts, and beans for sale. The Matsigenka manufacture nearly everything they use, except machetes, axes, aluminum pots, and factory-made cloth. They also trade with their neighbors. A handmade cushma (traditional dress), for example, can be exchanged for a machete, an axe, two cans of gunpowder, or one parrot.
Explorers say that archery was the game of Matsigenka boys, while the girls tossed balls made of bladders. For some festivals, the Matsigenka organize archery tournaments, gymnastic events, blindfolded cassava-peeling competitions, and poetry contests. Recently men and women have begun to practice organized sports. Soccer is the most popular. Basketball and volleyball are also played. But, the practice of sports in front of crowds or as a commercial activity is not part of their culture. The Matsigenka are good swimmers. They learn to swim at an early age, following the example of older boys who often choose the deeper sections of the rivers and know how to move in torrential waters.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
The Matsigenka value their free time and find many ways to enjoy it. Conversation is one of their favorite pastimes, whether serious, humorous, or simple gossip. They play word games, laugh at each other's misfortunes, and make fun of different accents or dialects. They discuss sex openly and often exaggerate its practice when telling legends. Children have few inhibitions: they speak their mind and defend their opinions with passion.
Games are another form of entertainment. Two games introduced by Quechua colonizers are very popular. One is called "Pull the Duck." A duck is hanged from a tree with a rope that can be pulled, and the participants try to get the duck down from the tree. The winner keeps the duck. In the second game, they hang a bag of sweets and treats from a tree and dance around it, periodically hitting the bag of sweets with an axe until it falls, and they then fight to get the treats. Recently, card games have been introduced. The Matsigenka play cards, betting small sums of money. For their own pleasure, some men play their flutes and drums. The Matsigenka also have a lot of fun teasing their domestic animals: they really enjoy pulling their dogs' whiskers.
Matsigenka smoke tobacco in pipes or take it as snuff through V-tubes. They also chew it with the ashes. To get drunk, they drink chicha, made with yucca, maize, sweet potatoes, bananas, and other produce.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
The Matsigenka make their own pots. They use the clay found in riverbanks and mix it with cotton fiber. When the pot has dried thoroughly, it is put in the fire for an hour, and as soon as it is taken out they fill it up with yucca water to make it waterproof. Decoration is rare in pottery and other objects and simple tools that are made of wood. But they do make children's toys of wood, and necklaces of animal teeth and carved bones. Women spin cotton and weave cloth, make mats for sleeping and sitting, and make the plaited sifters and strainers used in food preparation. Men are responsible for house-building, making bows and arrows, and making the fiber twine for netting.
Malnutrition has made the Matsigenka population more susceptible to parasites and epidemics. Cultural changes have affected the Matsigenka's psychological well-being, resulting in a number of suicides and an increase in alcohol consumption, which is helped by the availability of bottled and canned alcoholic drinks. Some communities are so isolated that medical help cannot always reach them. Formal education suffers shortages of teachers and materials. The teachers do not stay very long, as they are often not from the region and find the conditions difficult.
Women provide most childcare, prepare nearly all the food, manufacture cotton cloth, and grow certain "women's crops," such as yams and cocayam. In addition, Matsigenka women spin cotton, weave cloth, make mats for sleeping and sitting, and make plaited sifters and strainers used in food preparation. Men do all the hunting, most fishing, the bulk of agricultural work, build houses, make bows and arrows, and create fiber twine for netting used in fishnets and carrying bags. Men and women occasionally work together in the garden or on foraging trips, complementing one another's tasks. With this division of work strongly gendered in Matsigenka households, many women left behind by their husbands who search for employment and leave their villages for periods of weeks and sometimes months, have difficulty keeping themselves and their children adequately nourished.
Other serious impacts of modernity include the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among the Matsigenka. Syphilis appears to be present in at least one community at an unprecedented rate: 35% of the pupils at one Matsigenka high school had tested positive for syphilis. Although the route of this disease into the communities is not clear, the timing strongly suggests that it is related to the increased contact between the Matsigenka and outsiders as a result, direct or indirect, of the gas project in Peru.
Medicinal plant knowledge is widely shared, though a degree of specialization is found along gender lines: women are more knowledgeable about plants for childcare and fertility control, while men specialize in hunting medicines and treatments for wounds and snakebite. Mildly psychoactive plants are used to improve women's concentration for spinning and weaving cotton, to control negative emotions, such as grief and anger, to manipulate the content of dreams and to pacify sick or frightened children.
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—revised by C. Vergara