The Matsés practice slash-and-burn agriculture, normally an area located outside of the village. Their diet consists of plantain, corn, and manioc supplemented with forest fruits, fishing and hunting. The main Matsés drinks are Chapo and Chicha.
Matsés slash and burn gardens known as ‘chakras’ are normally located a short walk or boat ride outside of the village. A wide variety of crops grow in their gardens, including staples such as plantain and manioc. Most days Matsés women and their children will visit their gardens and collect food for the family. The mothers as they also learnt, teaching their daughters and passing on these agricultural methods for the next generation - ancestral transmission in action.
Chapo is drank on a daily basis in the villages, as relatives and friends visit each other's houses chapo will often be offered - be it morning or night the drink plays a central role in Matsés culture. Made by boiling plantains the watery mixture is strained to leave a delicious sweet drink which can be consumed both hot and cold.
Well known throughout South America, chicha is a fermented or non-fermented drink made from different grains, maize and fruits. Different ethnics have their own way and style of making chicha, the Matsés use dried corn and plantain in their recipe.
Corn which has been dried above the fireplace is separated into a wooden trough where it is crushed with a heavy wooden utensil in a laborious rocking motion. After working the corn the plantain is added and more work pulverises the ingredients together.
Water is added and the mixture is then squeezed and strained through a woven strainer. The liquid collected under the strainer is the chicha, this process is repeated numerous times, the corn mixture is crushed again then put into the chicha water and strained again. Finally the creamy liquid is boiled over the fire before it is ready to be served.
To supplement their staple diet of plantain, corn and manioc the Matsés fish and hunt, relying on their encyclopedic knowledge of rainforest ecology and honed hunting and fishing techniques.
The Matsés hunt a wide variety of rainforest animals; primarily tapirs (donkey-sized mammals related to the rhinoceros), peccaries (reminiscent of wild boars), deer, two-toed sloths, armadillos, woolly monkeys, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, saki monkeys, uacari monkeys, capuchin monkeys, pacas (beagle-sized rodents), agoutis (smaller dog-sized rodents), curassows (similar to wild turkeys), guans (chicken-sized birds), trumpeters (terrestrial birds that travel in flocks), tinamous (partridge-like birds), wood-quails, and caimans.
Being egalitarian people the Matsés after a successful hunt will traditionally share the meat with their next of kin.
Fish supplements the jungle meat with the Matsés recognising over 100 species, including wolf-fish, hatchet fish, dog-toothed fish, knifefish, armored catfish, peacock bass, piranhas, freshwater stingrays, and electric eels. Fishing today is more commonly exercised with hook and line but they also have an ingenious method using a toxic plant.
This plant known as chiun in Matsés (huaca in local Spanish; Latin: Cliabadium remotiflorum) is used to intoxicate the fish causing them to jump in and out of the water allowing for the Matsés to simply net the flying fish. This toxin soon leaves the fish returning them to normal and sparing the fish that are too small to eat, unlike the more toxic barbasco vine commonly utilized to poison streams in the Amazon.