Awajún-Wampis

Photography: Tui Anandi (Xapiri Ground)

​​The Awajún people are part of the Jíbaro linguistic family, along with the Achuar, Shuar and Wampis peoples. The Jíbaro linguistic family recently named as "aents chicham", which translates into Spanish as "person who dialogues" or "people who speak" (Deshoulliere Utitiaj, 2019), this term proposed by the Achuar leader Santiago Utitiaj, refers to an act of communication that extends to the relationship between humans and non-humans. (Flores & et.al, 2022).

Considered the second most numerous native people in the Peruvian Amazon, after the Ashaninka, according to data from the Ministry of Culture (2015).  The Awajún traditionally settled in semi-dispersed hamlets with isolated houses located along the river. The houses were located around the residence of a man known as a "warrior" because of his courage and strength. Nowadays, the Awajún of the Peruvian territory are found in the departments of Loreto, Amazonas, San Martín, Cajamarca and Ucayali, in the main rivers and tributaries such as the, Alto Marañón, Nieva, Bajo Santiago, Cenepa, Potro, Apaga, Yurapaga and Mayo.

According to the Official Database of Indigenous or Original Peoples (BDPI), the Awajún have a total of 488 localities, of which 245 are recognised as native communities. According to the 2017 National Census, the population is approximately 70,468 people. Likewise, at the national level, 37,693 people feel or consider themselves part of the Awajún people.

One of the main subsistence activities is the horticulture production system, which is based on the slash-and-burn technique, the ashes of which serve as fertiliser. This is used to sow various vegetables such as yucca, sweet potato, peanuts and maize, using a chonta stick as a hoe.

The stories of the Awajún date back to the Moche culture between 200 and 700 AD, on the Peruvian coast. The possibility is raised that the Awajún could have shared territory with the Moche, who may have entered the Amazon jungle in search of gold. It is also speculated that the Awajún may have had encounters with the Inca empire during the reigns of Tupac Yupanqui and Huayna Capac. However, the Inca conquest did not succeed in establishing themselves in Awajún territory (Ministry of Culture, 2015; Sterling 1938 cited in Brown, 1984).

One of the most famous ceremonies of the Awajún is tsántsa, also known as reduced heads. In the past, when an Awajún warrior killed a Wampis enemy, he would quickly cut off the victim's head at the base of the neck. He would then carry the head slung on his back by a rope. After traveling a long distance, the group would stop to begin the preparation of the tsántsa. The skull was carefully removed to preserve only the skin and hair. It was boiled for about half an hour, reducing the original size of the skin, and hot stones were placed inside. When they returned to their village, the owners of the tsántsa would stop from time to time to dry the skin with hot stones and sand. The whole process was carried out with great care, as the aim was to keep the head looking alive. The skin was rubbed with charcoal and the lips were sealed with chonta sticks. The reason behind this whole procedure was to prevent the victim's soul from seeking revenge against the executioner (Brown, 1984). This practice is now extinct.

The Awajún are characterised by their commitment to the defence of their ancestral territory. As a result, in 2009 a national Amazonian strike was held in defence of their territory, which led to serious violent events on 5 June 2009, known as the "Baguazo", which have been the subject of investigation. This social conflict, in which the Awajún and Wampis peoples played a key role, marked a turning point in the recognition of the collective rights of Indigenous peoples in Peru.

The Awajún and Wampis people have formed what they call the "Awajún Autonomous Territorial Government" (GTAA) of the central jungle, a figure that is not legally recognised in Peru, but which underpins international legislation. With this initiative, they sought to have control and power over the territory where they live in order to confront the threats of illegal logging, illegal mining and oil concessions.

On the other hand, Awajún ceramics is one of the most important cultural artifacts of the Amazonian peoples. That is why in 2012 the Awajún ceramics was declared as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity, for its value, knowledge, wisdom and practices.

OUR WORK WITH THE COMMUNITY

Since 2018, the Xapiri Ground team has been working with the Awajún people. In November 2023, we undertook a trip to five communities in three watersheds, including a visit to the Wampis people located in the Santiago River watershed. During this visit, we began a collaborative bond with the artists of this community, which marked an exciting new chapter in our work together. It is vital to highlight that these interactions were possible thanks to the collaboration with the YAPIT association, led by Nelly Impi, who plays a fundamental role as a liaison to connect us with the communities.

The aim is to establish strong relationships with the communities and to continue working to strengthen Indigenous art. This commitment is materialized through fair purchasing practices that not only support the artists financially, but also seek to promote and make visible the artistic process of Awajun and Wampis art and its artists.

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In the Awajún universe, producing art is the product of a dynamic relationship between knowledge, ritual, and mythical narration. In their worldview, there are three powerful beings: Nugkui (spirit of the earth), Etsa (spirit of the forest) and Tsuqki (spirit of the water).

CERAMICS
TEXTILES
JEWELRY
BASKETRY
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