Matsigenka Subsistence

Subsistence activities can be traditional and non-traditional. In the Shipetiari community, the following activities that are linked to the land and the forest are still carried out.


The Matsigenka work their farms every 3 to 5 years, since, with continuous cultivation, the minerals that nourish the soil disappear. The technique they use is slash and burn, a traditional method used throughout the Amazon. They first clear the land and then plant their crops in the summer, when the rains have stopped. During this process, the men work alone or with their children, while the women assist the workers with masato, a drink made from boiled, chewed and fermented yucca. Afterwards, daughters and women are in charge of planting and both men and women can participate in the harvest, (Fabian, 2020).

In the past, in the process of planting cassava, it was important to follow guidelines to ensure a good farm, as Romelia tells us:

“The full moon is observed to sow the yucca, and the stalk is also harvested. The seeds do not have to be too close together, because it is said that it resembles the canilla (legs) of the siwayro. The seeds that are not good, will always be consumed by that animal, so they must select the seeds (...) Before the sowing, women who are not menstruating only can participate, because if not, they will not produce a good product, good yucca, the plants can dry out and will not give a good result (...). Pregnant women do not go to the farm to walk, they are forbidden, they cannot plant, after the baby is born, after 3 months they are allowed to go to take out the yucca" (Romelia, Shipetiari; 2023).

These rules and prohibitions were fundamental in the Matsigenka cosmovision, as they predicted a good harvest and benefited the entire community, seeking quality food for all. However, some of this knowledge is being displaced by new forms of production, processed foods and a modern vision of development that does not value native food biodiversity.

Among the foods they grow are yucca, plantain, sweet potato, corn, squash, uncucha, cacao, sachapapa and sugar cane. They also grow a variety of fruits such as papaya, coconut, camu camu, copoazú, pineapple, citrus, among others. It is important to recognize that these practices protect food sovereignty and the well-being of the community as a whole.


Gathering as an activity is complementary to the other productive activities, it is done when they go out to hunt, fish or go to work on the farm. In addition, seasonal fruits from palm trees such as huasai, aguaje and ungurahui, and other plants such as chimicua and machete de gato are used to share with the family and the community.

Another important activity is the collection of suri, an edible worm very popular in the Amazon, as a food rich in protein. There are many types, including three varieties known as "pigirio" and "paigri" (small and large), shigopa that are harvested from aguaje, pona, huicongo and shapaja palms. The most abundant months for harvesting are: February - April, during the rainy season.

Hunting and fishing are year-round activities in the community. Generally, these activities are associated with men, but in the case of fishing it can vary, as women can also fish or accompany them. Sometimes, fishing becomes a family activity, in which men, women and children participate.


Hunting is an activity traditionally performed by men and is associated with rites of preparation for going into the forest, asking permission from animal owners, and male initiation. According to Rosengren, "hunting is an exclusively male activity, as it is believed that menstrual blood attracts the owners or spirits of the animals, powerful spirits that disturb the balance in the bush, which can affect the hunter's ability".

A good hunter shows respect for the spirits of the forest, known as saankariite in Matsigenka, and carries the ivenkiki or piripiri seed, which protects him and helps him hunt. The ivenkiki is used in hunting, fishing and agriculture. It is believed that by biting the seed and passing it over the back, evil spirits that roam the jungle are chased away, guaranteeing protection and success in the hunt.

To hunt animals such as peccaries, monkeys and birds, weapons such as bow and arrow are used. The types of arrows have about 7 different tips for different animals, both for hunting and fishing. To hunt large animals, especially four legged animals, long arrows are preferably used, which allow them to enter deep into the body of the animal, there are also arrows that have four or five small points (a central one and the others diverging to the sides) made of brown wood (Swierk, 2006).

In monkey hunting, they use arrows with tips made of pijuayo wood and other hard palms, as well as tips made of paca, which is a type of bamboo (Swierk, 2006). They also use modern weapons such as shotguns, the latter of which has been introduced to the community through contact with outsiders.

Hunting requires great energy, skills to hear animal sounds and knowledge to move through the forest. It is a skill that is learned with practice, which is why youngsters are initiated between the ages of 8 and 10, accompanying adults and practicing with small arrows made by their parents. Once they have acquired some skill, they are allowed to make their first hunt using larger tools. It is important to note that the first prey should not be consumed by the hunter, as it is considered a bad omen, as Javier explains:

"The first time I hunted, I hunted huangana, the second time it was monkey, the third time it was picuro. When it is the first time you hunt, you don't eat (that meat), you have to eat something else (...) In the fourth time if you kill something from 6 then you can eat already (...) The first time you can't eat, because if you eat you don't hunt anymore then, bad luck" Javier, young man from Shipetiari, 2023).”

This testimony shows the traditional codes established to maintain an "order and a limit" to ensure balance in survival activities so as not to make them predatory of the forest. These limits, based on respect for other forest beings, have allowed a positive coexistence between Indigenous peoples and Amazonian biodiversity, using its resources and allowing its regeneration.


This is a very common activity that the Matsigenkas engage in throughout the year, in the creeks and rivers, as fish provide protein and nutrients to their diets. This is important for the food security of the community.

In the Amazon, there are two climatic seasons that determine the abundance of fish: the dry season and the flooded season. During the flooded or rainy season, when the rivers increase their flow, it is the right time for fishing, as many of the fish migrate to the large rivers. It is in this vital time-space where species such as the boquichico and the carachama are mainly found.

Fishing requires specific skills and knowledge, which are inherited from generation to generation. From the age of 8, Matsigenka children begin to practice basic fishing skills. In addition, they adhere to strict diets for a week to ensure good fishing, as Javier mentions:

When they took me fishing, there were a lot of sardines, they told me you are not going to eat that, when you are eat alot you are not going to fish a lot of sardines, you have to do a special diet for one week, you have to eat cassava (...). What he hunts, then I have to eat what I hunt, he has to eat" Javier, young man from Shipetiari, 2023.

The Matsigenkas continue to use traditional tools for fishing, such as arrows made from chonta palm to give a better finish to the tips, which are adorned with feathers from birds such as the macaw, curassow, and trumpeter. Another technique employed is the use of barbasco, a poisonous substance of vegetable origin that is placed in the creeks of the rivers to stun the fish. They also use "modern" instruments, such as hooks and synthetic nets.