Pisco Sours, Ponchos & Panpipes PART 2

Mmm well time is counting down till we head to Peru – not long to go now just a few days. We leave about 2am on Monday morning to get to Bristol for our flight to Lima via Amsterdam will be a long day travelling but definitely worth it.

I wanted to take some time to tell you a bit more about the visit. The trip is a pilot for beginning the Cool Earth Teacher Fellowship, the goal of the Cool Earth Teacher Fellowship is to support teams of teachers from around the world in collaboratively deigning curricula in biodiversity and rainforest conservation, based on their travels to scientifically significant regions of the world.  Stephen Brodbar from New York will be one of the representatives from Cool Earth leading the fellowship next week. He has put a link together of where we will actually be heading geographically.


I wanted to talk a little about the people we will visit the Ashaninka tribe. Here is some information below that I have taken from some of the background information provided by Cool Earth.

The Ashaninka tribe is one of the largest indigenous groups living in the Amazon today. Their home territory is relatively high jungle region directly east of Lima in the Gran Pajonal plateau and along the rivers Apurimac-Ene, Tambo, Perene and to a lesser extent, the Urubamba. Traditionally the Ashaninka are semi-nomadic, living in scattered communities of 50 to 200 people in an area a little bit larger than Wales, UK. Despite fierce resistance to acculturation by the outside world, in the 21st century there are few communities without at least limited and sporadic contact and trade with non-Ashaninka people.

As a tribe, the Ashaninka are still not well covered by anthropologists, but they have a rich culture tied into knowledge of plants and medicine, including the teacher plant (or hallucinogenic entheogen) ayahuasca, an important key to the tribe’s spiritual wisdom and plant lore.

The entire territory is covered with a dispersed network of small communities. The nearer the community is the closer the kinship connections. So villages within a day or two’s walk consist mainly of cousins, aunties and uncles. Beyond that, the kinship relationships get weaker, non-existent or lost in the depths of time. Every couple of weeks, a few villages get together for a party, drinking manioc beer and dancing.

Food-sharing is a fundamental custom among the Ashaninka. They live from harvesting the forest and rivers as well as having small clearings in the forest for gardens. Wild fruits, honey and nuts are gathered along with snails and insect delicacies. Fishing, both individually and collectively, provides much of the Ashaninka’s protein, particularly in the dry season. The rest of the year they’re more dependent on game from the forest, which they hunt mainly with bow and arrows, though most villages have at least one shotgun (even if they don’t often have cartridges).

Greed and private personal consumption just doesn’t happen. Everyone gets their fair share. When a large animal, like a Peccary is killed, it is cut up fresh and divided between two or even three villages along kinship lines. Each relative will then cut it up and divide it further within their family units before cooking their portion. Once it’s ready to eat it is shared again. The food is traditionally eaten from a communal bowl, thus sharing again as a gesture of solidarity.

The background to the Cool Earth partnership

The Ashaninka tribe today is on the edge of western industrial civilisation. Some of them, nearest to the frontier town of Satipo, are relatively acculturated. Along the Tambo and Ene rivers, the Ashaninka have permanent contact with colonists and river traders, coca growers and loggers. Deeper into the forest there are still some Ashaninka communities where the way of life has changed little in the last 600 years. These remote communities want only machetes and medicines from the outside world. Those Ashaninka who live along the main rivers have developed needs and desires for a wider range of western goods – from clothing to foodstuffs.

To pay for these goods they need an income. The most rentable cash crop by far in this region is coca for the illegal cocaine markets. This would be a dangerous and illicit economic strategy for the Ashaninka. The other obvious source of income is in lumber from the forest. For the first time in the Cutivireni area of Ashaninka territory, 2008 saw several mahogany trees being extracted with unauthorised permission given to illegal loggers by a handful of Ashaninka. Some of the local indigenous communities are angry at this. All of them have requested help in developing alternative, more sustainable products and markets for their non-timber rainforest and forest-gardens products. This is where Cool Earth, with its local partner, Ecotribal, have created Peru’s first avoided deforestation project.

I have had a quick look around on youtube for some video footage of the Ashaninka people and found some short videos for you to have a look at:

A video filmed in a school (I think) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_xypRgiu4I

A part of a documentary (In Spanish but good footage of the area and people) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWY2Ub9ppR4

Some general footage from ecotribal http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieKSyoXR5is

I can’t wait to meet everyone now and I will be writing more whilst I am there and on my return. Keep posted! Also don’t forget if you are interested in getting your students involved in any of the projects around this on my return then please leave a message and I will get in contact.

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