Blog Text by Justin Henson.
Since 1979, more than 100 oil spills have occurred along the North Peruvian pipeline – a mega construction, stretching a massive 1,106 km from the Amazon to the Peruvian coast, operated and owned by state company Petroperu. The large majority of the spills happened after 2008. In 2016 alone, spills peaked at over a dozen incidents.
Most of the spills happened in the Loreto region of Peru, in the northern Peruvian Amazon. This particular region is also the largest region of the Peruvian Amazon, covering approximately 368,852 km2 of dense Amazonian rain forest, which is home to 27 different indigenous peoples, including indigenous groups living in voluntary isolation, and thousands of endangered species of plants, animals and insects.
The spills have gravely affected the environment, biodiversity, ecosystems, the health of communities and their basic access to water and food fit for human consumption, while at the same time aggravating social conflicts in the region. The affected indigenous peoples and their organizations have been struggling for years to have their voices heard, and organized several large protest. Ines Vasquez Ramirez, a Kukama Kukamiria woman from San Roque, on the Marañon River, spoke out about their situation:
“Water is very important because we live from it. Our waters are contaminated by the company. We are very sad. Our children are dying. We no longer have fish, neither in the river nor in our lakes. There are oil spills constantly. No matter how much we try to purify and treat the water, it is not fit for human consumption. We are ingesting heavy metals, such as lead. If there is no health, there is no life. I ask the state to give us treated water and food for our children who are malnourished in our communities. The state does not pay attention to us. That is why we have protested again, and if they don’t respond then we will protest again with even more strength. There will be an indefinite protest.”
A recent report by a commission from the Peruvian Congress concludes that the impacts of oil spills have not been adequately analyzed, measured or valued by the government, and that little information exists with regards to their impact on the health of local populations. Moreover, rather than confirming the deceitful claim made by the oil company and the media of indigenous communities deliberately causing the spills, the same report points to responsible third parties and highlights the negligence and possible corruption of state-owned oil company Petroperu in relation to the spills.
Sadly, however, the commission report argues that in order to make the North Peruvian Pipeline’s operations fully viable (and thus justify large investments to improve infrastructure), an intensification of oil exploitation in Peru’s Amazon is necessary. In these times of a largely human-driven changing climate, and in view of the catastrophic losses and irreparable social and environmental damages generated by the pipeline’s spills and the accumulated impacts of almost fifty years of oil exploitation, the question must be asked: “Is further investment in Peru’s oil industry a reasonable, just and responsible proposal?”
“An overwhelming majority of the leading climate scientists unanimously tell us that the clock is one minute to midnight if we want to prevent the global temperature from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid even more serious changes in our climate. The transition to renewable energy needs to happen now. Fossil fuels need to be kept in the ground and remaining forests conserved so they can continue to play their role as carbon sinks, among other life sustaining functions. While the catastrophic impacts on the communities along the North Peruvian Pipeline need to be adequately addressed NOW, we at Chaikuni urge government of Loreto to start tapping into its solar power potential and phase out oil. Why in 2018 isn’t there a single large solar plant in a region on the Equator with a vast potential for solar power?” Asks Stefan Kistler, the director of The Chaikuni Institute
Based in Peru’s region of Loreto, Chaikuni seeks to promote and honour the South American indigenous philosophy of “Buen Vivir” or “good living”, a way of life in harmony with nature. Through our Permaculture program, we investigate and promote sustainable access to plant medicine, healthy food, and economic opportunities for local communities by creating an integral agriculture model within our Amazon Permaculture center located in the Nanay river on a 200-hectare parcel of secondary tropical rainforest land shared with our sister organization, The Temple of the Way of Light.
Direction, Videography & Editing: Gavin Hoffman
Many moons ago, there were no rivers
Strong arms, bow and arrow, a melding
Created thousands of sizes and shapes
And so appeared the river, the great serpent
– Chorus of “Babel”
For the first time, Amazonian indigenous youth in Peru’s northern jungle have united to create a unique and exceptional music video in seven native languages. Entitled ‘Babel’ and filmed in the cities of Iquitos and Nauta, the video clip is a production by indigenous media Radio Ucamara in collaboration with Peruvian non-profit The Chaikuni Institute and Iquitos-based indigenous student organization (OEPIAP), with the support of the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network (REPAM).
Singing and rapping in Kukama, Wampis, Kandozi, Awajún, Kichwa, Ticuna and Shawi, the nine indigenous artists featured in this video embody the stories of their people, and share their memories, cosmovisions and relationship with the world through their song. This unique creation captures the extraordinary cultural diversity of first peoples in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest, which covers over half of the country’s territory, and most of which is indigenous land, increasingly under threat by the extractive industries.
Video by Radio Ucamara In Collaboration With The Chaikuni Institute, OEPIAP and With Support of REPAM
Text by Alan Chumbe
The Amazon rainforest is a great example of symbiosis, where every part plays an important role in the functioning of this living system. This happens at all ecological levels of the forest in a natural way. But what happens when the “natural” is not the optimal, when this symbiosis can be improved without altering the landscape? This can be achieved by enriching the forest or chacras (“food gardens”) with species of significant ecological, social and economic value for Amazonian rural populations.
The Chaikuni Institute’s Permaculture team was delighted to recently donate twelve baby pineapples or “mashquis” (a local word using to designate young plants) to families in the community of Tres Unidos as part of our outreach work with local communities. In accordance with nature’s processes, introducing species to new environments must take into consideration the qualities and potentialities of the land and the species. The good drainage qualities of the nutrient-poor sandy soils in the area from the community of Tres Unidos create good conditions for the growth of pineapples which enjoy well drained soils.
Considered the third most consumed tropical fruit in the world, the pineapple represents an opportunity to generate economic income for rural families, and to continue with the process of diversifying their crops as part of their chacras, a process which Chaikuni’s Permaculture team is closely accompanying with expert advice, monitoring as well as workshops.
As part of revaluing the beliefs and customs of local inhabitants, most of the pineapples were sown in accordance to a particular time of the lunar cycle – the fifth day after a full moon.
Stay connected to The Chaikuni Institute’s social media channels and check the blog for more regular updates on our Permaculture program’s work in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest.
Through the lens of young Amazonian biologist and photographer Jorge Salvador Pizarro García, Amazonian flora and fauna are not only magnified but celebrated. From brightly colored frogs and snakes to the blooming flowers of medicinal plants and trees, Jorge documents the astonishing diversity of natural life in Peru’s Amazon. The Chaikuni Institute was delighted to recently invite Jorge to photograph a unique portrait series of medicinal Amazonian trees and plants growing at our Permaculture project in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest on land shared with our sister organization, The Temple of The Way of Light. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Jorge on his photographic work and the importance of the Amazon.
Text and Portrait by Sophie Pinchetti
CHAIKUNI: Where does your fascination for flora and fauna come from?
JORGE SALVADOR PIZARRO GARCIA: When I was a kid, I always liked to go fishing with my mother. That motivated me to study a degree in biological sciences, it connects me to my family and the forest, which I have always identified with. I specialize in the subject of herpetology, which is the study of amphibians and reptiles such as frogs, toads, snakes, lizards. Culture and religion have made us repudiate these animals. I’ve always asked myself why that is. I have always held a passion towards these animals and so I decided to investigate them. I hope that my work can be a tool to generate information so that our society can get to know their resources. I come from a very small community called Requena in Loreto, and in a certain way, it makes you value many things from the natural world. It is a type of worldview that an Amazonian has.
CHAIKUNI: You recently exhibited your photographic work in Iquitos at the DDC-Loreto. Can you tell me about how your work crosses between science and art?
JORGE: I realize that the scientific world is a very specialized and somewhat closed world. So to make subjects visible in a simple, more didactic way, I thought about photography. I feel that all types of art are based on reality. To me, art is nature. Nature inspires many artists and in many different ways. With ayahuasca, for example, you can enter a world that many consider spiritual, and that is through the means of a vine, through nature. So many artists are inspired by reality and reality is nature. Here in the Amazon, nature is above all the forests, it is an ecosystem. When I take a photograph of a landscape, I am not only seeing a panorama, but also birds, there are amphibians, reptiles, there are myths and legends – there are many things and I try to capture that.
CHAIKUNI: Can you share some of your impressions from working on the medicinal plants project with us at Chaikuni?
JORGE: It was a beautiful project. It really puts the spotlight on the diversity of plants that you can have in a forest. It’s incredible that a certain piece of land or area can have so many medicinal plants. I was in wonder. With nature, one gives what one receives – and I felt that Chaikuni Institute has always given good energies to the area, you can feel that there are strong energies with regards to the plants.
“Plants represent a very important energy that we have to take care of.”
CHAIKUNI: Yes, reciprocity with nature.
JORGE: It’s good. Happiness comes more from a state of mind, a state of energy. Our bodies are made of energy and nature is the same. So if you transmit positive energies, nature will return it and transmit it to you, she will offer you tranquility in a certain way.
CHAIKUNI: More and more scientific studies are being made on the sentience of plants.
JORGE: Yes. There are studies showing that plants are interconnected and related through their roots, and this generates a harmony in the forest. The plants are also part of the food chain, they are the primary producer at the base of the food chain. So plants represent a very important energy that we have to take care of.
CHAIKUNI: What do you think of the threats which the Amazon faces today, and the damage being done to Amazonian biodiversity through extractive activities?
JORGE: The issue of deforestation is a very complex issue. The best tool to combat that is education. It implies a culture of reading, informing oneself about what is happening in the Amazon. Loreto is one of the regions with the highest rate of illiteracy, so from that point of view, I think we should improve on that. A new era, a new change must be made now.
CHAIKUNI: Why is the Amazon so important?
JORGE: It’s one of the most diverse places in the world with an incredibly important biodiversity. It has important resources like water, which is the main source of life for all living beings. Without water, there is no life. We have to conserve, preserve and in a certain way manage our resources in the Amazon. There are particular ways of life here too, for example the ways of life of indigenous peoples – a civilization in contact with nature. They have a valuable way of life, as well as valuable traditions and cosmovisions. And above all, they understand how important it is to manage natural resources responsibly.
Coming Soon: The full series of over 100 Amazonian Medicinal Plants & Trees By Jorge Salvador Pizarra Garcia, photographed at The Chaikuni’s Institute Permaculture site in the Peruvian Amazon will soon be viewable from a dedicated web page. Stay tuned!
In the Peruvian Amazon, over 40 years of irresponsible oil exploitation have affected countless indigenous communities. While scientists still do not know the long-term impacts of oil spills and water contamination, the links between indigenous rights violations, socio-environmental conflicts and the petroleum industry are becoming increasingly clearer. In this exclusive story, indigenous Kichwa student & Vice-President of indigenous student organization OEPIAP, Elisvan Greffa Yumbo, presents his observations following a research trip as part of an investigation which we facilitated with Lima’s prestigious Pontifica Catholic University on the right to clean water in the region of Loreto. The cases documented in the investigation, focused on the communities of Vista Alegre in the Tigre River and Cuninico in the Maranon river, were presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights during a hearing on May 7th 2018 with hopes to advance much-needed and overdue justice for Peru’s Amazonian indigenous peoples.
Text and Photographs by Elisvan Greffa Yumbo
Portrait of Elisvan Greffa Yumbo by Sophie Pinchetti
The right to water is a human right and as human beings we have the right to exercise it and to demand that the water we consume be treated, so that it is healthy to drink.
We embarked on an 18-hour trip from the town of Nauta to the indigenous community of Vista Alegre, which is located in the district of Intuto in the province of Loreto, with the aim of collecting information on water contamination and its consequences on the human right to water, in particular around the Tigre river.
During the tour of the Tigre River, I first observed the lack of birds that live on the banks of the river and feed on fish, such as the white heron, which can be seen in large numbers around the Marañón river. I couldn’t hear the songs of the howler monkey which I usually hear around the Putumayo river, which is where I come from.
“I first observed the lack of birds that live on the banks of the river and feed on fish”
When I arrived in the community I felt as I were arriving in my own community. All rural Amazonian populations have something in common, whether it’s the way of building their houses along the banks of the river or their hospitality, amongst other things. I felt calm, at home and drank the typical drinks offered to visitors, and ate the fresh fish of the river – a common way of life in the community.
When the research activities began, I was surprised to hear the reality of the community. In the interviews, people told us about the details of the environmental contamination caused by oil extraction, the direct consequences to health and the genocide carried out by the oil companies.
I listened to the story of Mr. Benjamín Cariajano, an elder 72-year old man. He told us about how life before the oil company arrived, and how the population of the community had a healthy life and consumed water from the river without getting sick. They lived happily, hunting, fishing in the river and their lakes, and they did not have health problems as they do now. With the arrival of the oil company Occidental Petroleum Corporation (OXY), oil exploitation and water pollution began in the Pastaza, Corrientes and Tigre rivers. In the community of San Juan de Bartra, which is located in the Montano stream (affluent to the Tigre) and which also passes through the Montano lake where, 29 oil wells were installed.
“They lived happily, hunting, fishing in the river and their lakes, and they did not have health problems as they do now.”
“With the arrival of the oil company Occidental Petroleum Corporation (OXY), oil exploitation and water pollution began in the Pastaza, Corrientes and Tigre rivers.”
Once the oil wells were installed along the Tigre river, the wastewaters and petroleum residues started to be deposited into the water and so the contamination began. With the rains, this pollution flowed from the Montana stream to the Tigre river. In between 1980 and 1982, pollution was at its peak as spills began in the oil blocks and reached the river, staining the surface of the water black. Fish and animal species began disappearing as they drank the contaminated water. The first to die were the fish and animals. The birds that feed on the fish and all the birds that live along the banks of the river died. Next, began the death of people and in between 1980 and 1982, twelve people from the community of Vista Alegre died. Among the twelve people were two of Mr. Benjamín’s children, ages 5 and 4. It was a great tragedy and many people also became sick, marked with spots on their faces.
“During these times, people did not know why they were dying, children bathed in water with oil and painted each other with oil.”
During these times, people did not know why they were dying, children bathed in water with oil and painted each other with oil. They didn’t know what it was. As the water and soil became contaminated, so started to appear diseases which people had never had before, and which they didn’t know how to heal. The shortage of food also began: people couldn’t find animals, there were no fish, and if there were, they were sick, thin and dying. The animals ran out. This situation was disastrous for the local population, said Benjamín.
A woman called Arminda Sandi Tuitui informed us that there were no diseases such as malaria before. She told us that the state gave indigenous lands to the oil company with all its inhabitants, contaminated the rivers and abandoned them. They do not receive support from the local or national state. When they realized the water was contaminated, people looked for water in the most remote areas of the community, which had not been touched by the contamination. Currently the community needs help to fight diseases caused by the contamination of their water.
“As an indigenous Kichwa student from the Putumayo river, I observed the violations of the rights of indigenous populations.”
After listening to people’s testimonies during the interviews, I realized the situation this community has suffered, and it is one similar to the rubber boom. As an indigenous Kichwa student from the Putumayo river, I observed the violations of the rights of indigenous populations. The state has not fulfilled its obligations to provide the most basic services such as health and education, which are the fundamental basis for the development of a people.
With regards to health, this population is abandoned. Despite being an endemic area, there are none of the necessary supplies. The healthcare manager for the town said that there are 20 to 24 cases of malaria every three days, which is alarming. National and local authorities responsible for this area are not taking on their responsibilities, and the healthcare manager is not able to treat all patients. There is also a lack of adequate medications.
“The state has not fulfilled its obligations to provide the most basic services such as health and education, which are the fundamental basis for the development of a people.”
For education, there is only one building in the area, and it is in precarious condition. There aren’t enough teachers necessary for classes, nor the materials to develop the classes properly. During these plus-four decades of oil exploitation in the area, no one has become a professional nor accessed higher education level, told us Walter Fachin Sandi.
During this investigation on the right to water, I found violations of human rights of all sorts, and the state as a direct accomplice to these acts of vulnerability. Despite what this indigenous territory provides to the country’s economy, the state does not provide basic services. Despite this area’s great importance to the country’s economy, there is no development.
Consequently, the communities are helpless, abandoned and sick, exposed to die with epidemics. In this part of Peru, genocide is committed and Amazonian biodiversity is destroyed.
Text by Sophie Pinchetti; Photos by Sophie Pinchetti, Alex Kornhuber and Courtesy of the community of Cuninico
Indigenous peoples affected by oil activity in the northern Peruvian Amazon have yet again raised their voices and demands for justice in another important hearing with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), this time focused on the case of the right to water in the indigenous communities of Cuninico and Vista Alegre. These two communities, representative of the grave crisis faced by many other communities from river basins affected by over 40 years of oil exploitation and the constant oil spills from Peru’s rusty and leaking North Peruvian pipeline, continue to have their access to safe drinking water systematically violated.
“For how many more years are we going to continue drinking this contaminated water?”, asked indigenous leader Watson Trujillo Acosta from Cuninico, a small community of the Kukama-Kukamiria people struck by a 2 500 barrel-oil spill on their territory in 2014 owing to a rupture in the North Peruvian pipeline operated by state company Petroperu S.A., and has been struggling for justice ever since, pleading for access to clean drinking water and basic medical attention. Sitting alongside him was indigenous Kichwa leader Llerson Fachin Tuituy from Vista Alegre in the Tigre river, a community which now counts three cemeteries due to the high levels of child mortality in recent decades. Since the Eighties, Vista Alegre has been heavily contaminated due to the dumping of toxic production waters into rivers and spills by companies such as Occidental Petroleum Corp (OXY), Pluspetrol S.A. and Frontera Energy Corp. operating in Peru’s most prolific oil Block 192. The leaders pleaded the commission to “exhort to the Peruvian state to stop killing indigenous peoples like this”, with demands including the provision of water fit for human consumption, health, education, remediation, and compensation for the impacts of contamination.
“For how many more years are we going to continue drinking this contaminated water?”
The Right To Clean Water
The Commission indicated that the Peruvian State has not adopted sufficient measures of prevention and remediation in the face of these disasters. “We make our just claim to the right to water, the right to health and the right to food. Rights that are being affected precisely by this situation of oil spills”, said Joel Hernandez, Rapporteur for Peru for IACHR. “It seems that in the last 40 years it is a recurrent phenomenon along the North Peruvian pipeline, no effective measures are adopted.” In the past two years alone, spills from the North Peruvian pipeline have increased, with just 40 spills being documented in Peru’s most prolific oil block 192 and 24 spills along the Maranon river. Built in the Seventies, the North Peruvian pipeline’s four-plus decades in the acid waters of the Amazon river basin have left the infrastructure in a deteriorated and alarming state.
“We make our just claim to the right to water, the right to health and the right to food. Rights that are being affected precisely by this situation of oil spills”
As part of the evidence handed to the Commission by a delegation consisting of the indigenous leaders, Peru’s prestigious Pontifica Catholic University (PUCP) and the Vicariate of Iquitos, was included the investigation entitled “The human right to water in the context of socio-environmental conflicts in the basins of the Tigre and Marañón rivers Loreto, Peru” led by Lima’s prestigious PUCP university and facilitated by the Chaikuni Institute, as well as the Peruvian Congress’ investigation on the recent oil spills from the North Peruvian pipeline. Photographic evidence of oil spills curated by The Chaikuni Institute was also presented to the Commission’s panel, who called the photographs “very impactful […] The photographs speak for themselves”.
“Indigenous peoples teach us that water is more than a right – water is a living being, the world needs it for its subsistence”
Rivers are a vital source of life for Amazonian indigenous peoples, providing not only communities’ main water source and livelihood, but also carrying with it much cultural and spiritual significance as part of indigenous people’s cosmovision. “The water of the river is everything to us: from there we take our fish, it is our family, our life, part of our cosmovision, without it we cannot exist”, said Llerson. During the hearing, IACHR’s Soledad García Muñoz, Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights stated that “we must emphasise the importance of the realization of respect for water, for our Mother Earth (Pachamama), our societies and indigenous peoples who teach us that water is more than a right – water is a living being, the world needs it for its subsistence”.
Ongoing Defence Processes But Still No Solutions
While indigenous peoples affected by oil activity have organized many protests and sustained countless dialogues with the state, which in turn succeeded in important agreements being signed to resolve the problematic, there is still no solution in sight. “The state has only dedicated itself to delaying agreements through more dialogues and meetings, until today there is no concrete result with regards to what the communities from different river basins demand. We hope the Commission requires the Peruvian state to comply with its obligations” tells us Llerson.
In the case of Cuninico, this hearing with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was the second time the community presented its case. Back in a 2016 hearing entitled “The situation of abandonment of native communities affected by oil spills” held within the 158th session of the IACHR, community members had already denounced the lack of attention received from the state for clean water and medical attention, and the lack of adequate remediation by oil company Petroperu, which still denies compensation to the community and continues to benefit from impunity despite the irreparable damage it has caused to indigenous peoples and the Amazonian ecosystem in Loreto.
Cuninico also has a legal case at the national level, in which the local court of Nauta in Loreto issued a historic resolution in March 2018 urging Peru’s Ministry of Health and the Regional Government of Loreto to comply with the “precautionary measures” which it had issued in 2017 and designed to help protect the rights of individuals or communities at risk. “We still have no water and no basic sanitation”, says Watson. “In January 2017, Peru’s Ministry of Health declared a health and sanitary emergency in our district, alerting people to not use the river water because it is not fit for human to not not to use the water. The oil spill happened back in 2014!”.
In the case of Vista Alegre, this is the first time the community has brought its case to IACHR. Indigenous leader Llerson Fachin Tuituy emphasized that despite an environmental and health emergency being declared by the state in the Tigre river basin in 2015 following an indigenous uprising, the state installed water plants in communities as a means to treat the water from high levels of contamination from crude oil. But results from two studies by Peru’s health authorities assessing the quality of the water processed by the plant have been hidden from indigenous peoples, testified Llerson. No toxicology studies to investigate levels of heavy metals has ever been carried out in the affected communities either, said Llerson. “The contamination of the water is permanent”, tells us Llerson, “The heavy metals continue to flow down and our children continue to bathe in this water with oil.”
“After the hearing, we have much hope that we can be heard. In Peru, many years have passed, and to this day we still do not have clean drinking water.”
The Commission is due to schedule a visit to the Tigre and Maranon river basins soon to gather evidence in order to produce a report and issue exhortations. “After the hearing, we have much hope that we will be heard” told us Llerson as he was about to travel back to his community. “Perhaps, through other higher-level institutions, we can get the attention we need and our problems can be solved more quickly. Here in Peru, many years have passed, we are not heard, and to this day we still do not have clean drinking water. We hope this Commission will help us to secure the basic things we need to survive – clean water”.
Photography & Text By Sophie Pinchetti
Rivers are life for Amazonian peoples. Yet in Peru’s northern region of Loreto in the Amazonian jungle, nearly half a century of irresponsible oil exploitation has left rivers, streams, creeks and lakes contaminated with heavy metals. Indigenous peoples continue to demand respect for their rights, such as the fundamental right to water.
Although women have always been present in the socio-environmental resistances against extractive projects in the Peruvian Amazon, their struggles have not always been made visible. Their voices are seldom heard in meetings with the state and women lack representation in the leadership of indigenous organizations. Being a woman, poor and indigenous is a triple discrimination, which means that indigenous women are subjected to “situations of violence, discrimination and food insecurity”, as recently stated by the United Nation’s FAO.
Today on International Womens’ Day, and every day, we celebrate the voices of indigenous women who are on the front line defending their territories and communities and present four inspiring and courageous indigenous women speaking on the importance of protecting the water and river. Hailing from the Maranon river basin, these women come from communities affected by oil spills from Peru’s rusty and leaking 854 km North Peruvian Pipeline built in 1977 and operated by state company Petroperu. Decades of spills have created a toxic environment in what was once pristine rivers and rainforest. In alliance with indigenous peoples from other affected river basins including Corrientes, Pastaza, Chambira and Tigre, these women are part of the movement demanding justice with an agenda including an independent study of the pipeline, integral remediation of oil blocks 192 and 8, and a Truth Commission.
Indigenous women spend much time in managing the lands and resources of indigenous peoples not only for livelihood activities, but also for cultural and spiritual practices. Across Latin America, from Ecuador to Guatemala and Mexico, indigenous women are increasingly organizing and taking on leadership roles to protect their territories and highlighting the links between extractivism and patriarchy. Yet in the Peruvian Amazon, indigenous women leadership still lags behind. Women must be empowered and be provided the support and the space to take leading roles and to amplify their voices.
Maria Shunia Pirco
From The Indigenous Kukama Community of Roca Fuerte, Maranon River
“Water is our life, we have to protect the water. We, Indigenous Peoples, are drinking contaminated water, we get sick, we die. So many children are dying because the water is contaminated. And the fish. Everything is contaminated. That is why we are here asking for a solution. I would like everything to move forward, for the state to give us good water. We do not have water to live well.”
Flor de María Paraná
From The Indigenous Kukama Community of Cuninico, Maranon river
“Water is life. The river is like a mother we have and water is a mother of life for human beings. Now we are demanding our rights in the face of the pollution which Petroperu has caused with crude oil, ruining our mother, natural water, which is for the consumption of all human beings.
We use water every day – we cook, wash, drink with it, that is why water is the most important thing for the life of human beings. When we had clean water to drink, healthy fish to eat, we did not bother the state because we had enough food and clean water to drink. We have streams and lakes in our communities which used to be like our market but now they are contaminated. They no longer provide us with enough food. The fish are too thin. The state must immediately provide us with water and food. We, native communities, are in a state of great necessity.
The state has to solve the spills and take care of the pipeline so that these kinds of things do not happen, so that native communities do not continue to be harmed. We are putting on the pressure because the pipeline is still not secured. That is down to the irresponsibility of the state and the Petroperu company.”
Inez Vazquez Ramirez
From The Indigenous Kukama Community of San Roque, Maranon river
“Water is very important because we live from it. Our waters are contaminated by the company Pluspetrol, we are very sad. Our children are dying. We no longer have fish, neither in the river nor in our lakes. There are oil spills constantly. No matter how much we try to purify and treat the water, it is not fit for human consumption. We are ingesting heavy metals, such as lead. If there is no health, there is no life. I ask the state to give us treated water and food for our children who are malnourished in our communities. The state does not pay attention to us. That is why we have protested again, and if they don’t respond then we will protest again with even more strength. There will be an indefinite protest.”
From The Indigenous Kukama Community of Cuninico, Maranon river
“The river is a source of life. Without this river, without water, we can not live. As a mother, I demand that the first priority be water, because it is contaminated. Before we lived in a well-cared for community, with all of our nature, we had no difficulties like now. Now we get up at 1 or 2 in the morning when it rains, to collect the water because if we don’t, we do not have anything to cook with. It is a great sadness for us when it doesn’t rain. The state is at fault because we really need to be supported. So far we do not see any results. As indigenous peoples, we are human beings as they are. We need respect, we have a right to life, to water, to food, and to health.”
The Amazon is our world’s treasure. Based in Peru’s region of Loreto, a hotspot of unparalleled biodiversity and home to an astounding diversity of indigenous cultures, Chaikuni is blessed to be able to work to protect this vital ecosystem in partnership with local and indigenous peoples. This work could never be possible without a growing network of allies, partners, and donors, who share in this vision for a thriving Amazon rainforest. This year, we are both excited and grateful to be initiating a partnership with The Amaru Fund founded by Western shaman Rebekah Shaman, who has over 20 years experience living and working in the Peruvian Amazon. 10% of all funds from Rebekah’s plant medicine businesses will be channelled to Chaikuni, providing vital support to our grassroots work in support of indigenous and nature rights, and regenerative alternatives honoring the indigenous philosophy of Sumak Kawsay or “Buen Vivir” (Good Living). We spoke with Rebekah on her Amazon journey to date and the plans ahead.
Text by Sophie Pinchetti & Photography by Rebekah Shaman
Chaikuni: Can you tell us about your connection to the Peruvian Amazon?
Rebekah: Twenty years ago, in 1998, while I was working at a hotel in Machu Picchu, a shaman from deep in the Peruvian Amazon came to me in a vision and told me that he had the medicine I needed to come out of my confusion, depression, and show me my purpose. Following this vision without doubt, I flew to the Amazon and found the shaman from my vision living on a tributary river fourteen hours from Iquitos. I became his apprentice and lived with him and his family, drinking the visionary brew, Ayahuasca, dieting other plant medicines, and being initiated into traditional Amazonian shamanism. That time in the Amazon put me on the path of shamanism and changed my life forever. My experience was so intense and life-changing that it has taken years to understand the full impact of the apprenticeship with my teacher, as I learn more about myself each day. I now work with plant medicines to help people realise their connection with the natural world but in a nutshell my journey has shown me that if we want to see change in the world, we must be living it.
Chaikuni: Why is the Amazon so important to you?
Rebekah: My heart is in the Amazon, as this is the place that has defined who I am. Whenever I arrive in Iquitos, I feel a deep sense of coming home. This is the lungs and pharmacy of the earth and it isn’t until you go there, that you realise how amazing our planet is. It is such an important eco-system that is essential to keep our Planet in homeostasis. The tribal communities that live within it have a knowledge and wisdom about the medicines, and animals, that are vital for human survival. If we destroy our Amazon, we are effectively destroying the future for the coming generations.
Chaikuni: Based upon your experience living and working in the Amazon, what have been some of the most important things you have learnt and want to share?
Rebekah: The most important thing I learnt is that we are an essential part of nature, something I had forgotten living in the urban city of London, and this disconnect was exacerbating my feelings of depression and hopelessness. When I found the shaman, and began living in tune with the natural world around me, and learning the rhythms and flows of nature, I became much happier and peaceful. I also saw how vital the Amazon is to Planet Earth’s health and wellbeing, and all living things that are a part of this eco-system. If we destroy the Amazon and the indigenous tribes that live there, we are effectively destroying a habitat that we rely on for survival.
Chaikuni: Drawing upon your perspective as a Western shaman, what do you feel is most urgent in today’s world?
Rebekah: Living in the Amazon I learnt first hand how we are a part of nature, not apart from it and when we start living symbiotically with it we feel so much happier, more peaceful and harmonious. In the West we have been taught a different story, where the earth’s natural resources are the rights of humans to do whatever we want. We are also in the illusion that there is continuous growth and profit, whereas in natural lore, there is only a cycle of birth, growth, decay and death. This narrative is creating devastating consequences for all living things that share this planet with us. We need a shift in consciousness from the ego-centred human ‘Me’, to the all-compassing ‘We’. If every human realised how vital we are in the unfolding planetary story, and how the impact of our actions are now affecting us so negatively, things would change very quickly.
Chaikuni: What inspired you to create the Amaru Fund?
Rebekah: I believe that one of the easiest, and quickest ways we can come out of the environmental, social and economic mess we are in is to invest profits of business back into the community and the environment. The profits I make from my plant medicine businesses can now be ploughed back into helping support and sustain my spiritual home, the Amazon and its tribal communities, and help preserve and protect this sacred place for the future generations.
Chaikuni: What makes Chaikuni’s work important to you?
Rebekah: Chaikuni’s work is very important to me, because they align perfectly with my values and ethos. They are working at a grassroots level, so all the money I am donating goes straight to the people and projects that need it the most. They are also based in Iquitos, and in the part of the Amazon that has the most emotional connection with me, and my story. I feel very blessed to be able to give the profits from the shamanic work I am doing now directly to the place and its people, which set me on the path all those years ago, and has given me so much!
Chaikuni: Any upcoming projects or plans this year, which you would want to share?
Rebekah: I’m launching the Amaru Fund on 18th March with a Spring Equinox Cacao Ceremony in London. I am also organising two 10-day retreats in December for those who ware interested in experiencing the Plant Medicines, Ayahuasca and Chiric Sanango, deep in the Amazon. 10% of profits from all sales of my Ashananika cacao and my Plant Medicine retreats in the Amazon will be going to the fund.