By valuing indigenous history, knowledge and ethics while forging grassroots partnerships that
confront the challenges and injustices of modernity and colonial history, we are co-creating alternatives
for the emergence of a healthy, just, and regenerative future for the Amazon Rainforest and her people.
Our efforts are designed to:
- Help create sustainable livelihoods where we live and work, and beyond.
- Combine traditional ancestral knowledge with appropriate Western knowledge and eco-technological innovations.
- Promote the resilience, wellbeing and regeneration of Amazonian ecosystems and communities.
These tasks bring great challenges, as our team – comprised of Shipibo community members, non-Shipibo Peruvians, and non-Peruvians – navigates the delicate terrain of differing cultural understandings and conditioned assumptions on a daily basis. We recognize that in our work we enter a field marked by the legacy of 500 years of colonialism and ongoing discrimination against indigenous people.
We believe that the way we talk about and market our work should reflect these complex realities, rather than promote an idealized version of what we do, where the real issues and challenges are hidden or, worse, denied.
Instead of working in a conventional top-down way, we want to embody the values of partnership and the principles of permaculture within our organization, as well as in the external work we do. This means working in a non-hierarchical organizational structure with more participative forms of decision-making, whilst still retaining clear areas of responsibility and accountability.
The organization is continually evolving. The work is very challenging and we learn from our many mistakes. Currently, we are welcoming very talented and committed volunteers who are helping improve and expand our work. Each of us has been deeply touched by the beauty and richness that is at the heart of Shipibo culture and our work aims to help the Shipibo in their fight to persevere.
Lungs of the Earth
Covering 40% of South America, an area roughly the size of the United States, the Amazon River Basin is home to the largest rainforest on Earth. This forest of approximately 1.4 billion acres accounts for one third of Earth’s remaining tropical rainforests and her 4,100 miles of rivers sustains one fifth of the world’s freshwater. In addition to housing at least 10% of the world’s known flora and fauna biodiversity, it is also a biocultural landscape shaped for thousands of years by human habitation, home to at least 400 distinct indigenous groups and cultures from 8 different South American countries.
Along with crucial ecosystem services such as biomass production, soil formation and retention, also water and nutrient cycling, the Amazon Rainforest regulates regional, continental, and global climates, ocean currents, and weather patterns. An estimated 20% of Earth’s oxygen is produced here, and the forest absorbs more than one billion tons of atmospheric carbon that is emitted by the burning of fossil fuels annually.
The Amazon is presently witnessing a period of mass deforestation driven by the uncontrolled extraction of raw resources, with devastating consequences to the people, plants, and animals it harbors and nurtures. More than 30% of the Amazon has been cleared. If allowed to continue at the present scale and pace, every person on this planet will also suffer the repercussions of this destruction.
Repairing the damage that has been done requires active regeneration of the Rainforest. Healthier and more harmonious ways of relating to, conserving, and harvesting from the Amazon are possible and our work sets out to find that path.
The Shipibo-Conibo, usually called the Shipibo, with an estimated population of around 32,000 people, represent approximately 8% of the indigenous population of Peru. They were traditionally a riverine and forest-dwelling people who are now globally renowned as artisans and healers with a profound knowledge of rainforest flora and fauna.
Due to extensive deforestation over the last fifty years, the younger generation of Shipibo is growing up with less knowledge of the ecosystem from which their culture arose. The intact rainforest has become a hazy memory and the traditional knowledge of its people now remains with primarily the elders and traditional healers; thankfully though there is a growing youth movement to revitalize cultural identity.
In addition to deforestation, the Shipibo face many other threats to their livelihoods, in common with indigenous people all over the world:
All of this has affected Shipibo well-being and social fabric, cultivating a more Western mindset of scarcity and individuality - in contrast to ‘la economia de la abundancia’ (the ‘economy of abundance’) where good quality food in rural communities was freely and easily available up to 30 years ago, thus weakening the Shipibo core value of sharing.
loss of natural resources and widespread environmental contamination in their territories from large-scale extractive industries notably oil and gas companies, commercial overfishing, and illegal logging and mining
migration to cities, especially Pucallpa, from rural communities
absorption into the global market economy; inadequate nutrition and consequent poor health due to increasing consumption of inexpensive, low quality, processed foods
racism against indigenous people
loss of traditional values through the effect of globalized mass media communication and assimilation
Community-based economic opportunities have been diminished and resulted in high rural-to-urban migration of Shipibo youth seeking employment, often resulting in a high concentration of Shipibo people living in environmentally-contaminated fringe settlements such as the urban community of Bena Jema (approx. population 1,300 families).
These urban settlements are rife with challenges such as child sexual abuse, predation, and exploitation, drug abuse, gangs and violence, pollution, illness, discrimination, and accelerated degradation of cultural identity.
The emergence of ayahuasca tourism and increased interest in traditional healing and medicinal plants has created a complex socio-economic context in which Shipibo community members are now practicing traditional ecological knowledge in new ways. This has led to increased awareness of the Shipibo within the international community, many of whom, including ourselves, have benefited from this healing tradition. This is a key part of our motivation to give back to the Shipibo through our work.
Despite these challenges, the Shipibo culture still retains a beauty, vitality, humor and resilience, which enchants most people who come into contact with it.
We aim to do all we can to revitalize this culture and others, whilst recognizing that it is now impossible to return to the traditional culture as it was, even 30 years ago. New cultural forms are being created which have deep roots in the Shipibo culture whilst still giving especially the young people the ability to navigate Western political and economic systems which are now an unavoidable part of their lives.
In our time, greed, exploitation, and thoughtlessness have contributed to a global environmental crisis, putting people and our planet in peril. It is now imperative to live in right relationship with the larger Earth community embodied in the concept of Gaia or Pachamama, as a living organism that sustains us and the wider community of beings with whom we share this home.
The indigenous South American way of living, Sumak Kawsay, commonly translated as ‘Buena Vida’ or ‘Good Life’, (Jakon Nete in Shipibo) has emerged as an important idea in response to the ecologically and socially destructive, neoliberal development practices of the last century. This philosophy emphasizes the fundamental necessity of living in harmony with other people and nature in order to build thriving livelihoods, focusing on qualitative gains of human development rather than quantitative gains in economics and productivity.
Genuine regeneration will come by shifting mindsets and actions to be in true relationship and alignment with Sumak Kawsay or Jakon Nete. Activities, which prohibit our ability to do so, are a violation of basic human and environmental rights.
In practice, this means cultivating:
A relationship with nature based on respect, humility, and cooperation rather than control, arrogance and exploitation.
Comprehension that we are part of nature rather than separate from he
Celebration of the interconnection of all life-forms rather than isolation and separation from them.
Recognition that all life is sacred, not only human life
Individual, organizational and social relationships that are founded on community, reciprocity and altruism rather than hierarchy, power and selfishness.
Egalitarian community development models that preserve the rights of and protect the needs of current and future generations.
Genuine appreciation for the rich indigenous systems of sophisticated wisdom as vital ways of knowing, living, and grappling with contemporary realities.