Our Alliance

The word 'Arkana' comes from the Quechua noun Jark'ana: a blocking object or force, and the verb Jark'akuy: to protect oneself. The Shipibo have adopted the word 'Arkana' into their language to mean a 'protective force'. Together with 'Alianza' in Spanish ('Alliance' in English), the name of the organization, 'Alianza Arkana', expresses our vision of a protective alliance to defend and respect the extraordinary diversity, vitality and planetary importance of the Amazon by working in partnership with its indigenous peoples and other organizations.

We would like to thank all of our donors who have made our work possible, especially the Temple of the Way of Light, who generously provided significant funding, which successfully helped establish Alianza Arkana throughout the first three and a half years of our existence.

Read our 2016 Annual Report

Read our 2017 Annual Report


Dr. Paul Roberts

Director of Research and Organizational Development

Brian Best

Specialist, Regenerative Solutions


Marcos Urquia

Director of Permaculture

Liz Melendez Rengifo


Carolina Mahua Nunta

Project Coordinator, Shipibo Health Specialist

Nine Uhlich

Project Coordinator, Homeopathy and Herbal Medicine Specialist

Gilberto Nahuama Lopez

Project Coordinator

Macarena Arias

Development Team and Program Coordinator

Jessica Northridge

Intercultural Health Program Coordinator

Eva Melendez

Administration Intern

Valerie Baquerizo

Development Coordinator

Laura Dev

Research Coordinator

Sebastián de los Heros

Program Coordinator

Gabriela Delgado Maldonado

Communications Coordinator

Susana Carreiras

Communications Assistant

Silveria Pino Canayo

Project coordinator

Marcelita Suarez

Project Coordinator


Diego Villegas Kau

Agro-Forestry Specialist

Lily La Torre

Abogada de Derechos Humanos

Ranin Koshi / Jeiser Suarez Maynas

President of ARIAP

Professor Eli Sánchez

Intercultural Education Advisor


Bena Jema

Santa Clara

Regional Partners


Partner Organization

International Partners

Our History

Alianza Arkana was founded in January 2011 out of the shared intentions of Matthew Watherston, Dr Paul Roberts and Brian Best who wanted to give something back to the Shipibo people out of gratitude for the abundance of gifts they and many others have received from the traditional healers of this culture.

Naturally, the shared intentions would have meant nothing without the collective actions of Marcos Urquía, Roberto Muñoz, Orestes Rengifo, Rebeca Melendez, Liz Melendez and many other concerned and integral members of the Shipibo Nation and the Alianza Arkana team. Collective intentions with collective actions by a team of equals has been our recipe for success

The early work of Alianza Arkana focused on building relationships with key indigenous organizations and other organizations working with the Shipibo people. In the Ucayali region, these included: the native communities of Paoyhan, Santa Rosa de Dinamarca, Bena Jema and Puerto Firmeza; UNIA (the first Peruvian intercultural university based in Yarina); ORAU (the Ucayali regional organization of the national indigenous peoples’ organization

AIDESEP); USAID; and UNICEF. This was when we began our work and presence in the area, tested out partnerships and got to know and understand the Shipibo culture better. We have started to use the arts in our work. In early days, this included the use of theater-based techniques in workshops for adults and young people and developed, largely based on the interest and skills of our volunteers, to include community based murals, participative photography, dance and music.

In January 2013, we began an important part of our work, projects with young women, which was established in cooperation with two US based non-profits – Shipibo Joi and Girls for the World.

In 2013, our permaculture work developed to include workshops run in the communities. We also began research projects in the areas of nutrition, midwifery, the indigenous economy, and investigating oil company activity in Shipibo territories.

In 2014, we began to cooperate extensively with UNICEF in constructing effective, low-cost, and ecologically-sensitive basic sanitation and waste management systems. In May, after occupying different small offices in residential areas of Pucallpa, Alianza Arkana moved into Casa Ametra which also offers on-site volunteer accommodation. Another key milestone occurred in October, when we became financially independent of the Temple of the Way of Light and established Alianza Arkana as a non-hierarchical organization. October was also a significant month for Alianza Arkana when we started working with the community of Santa Clara to create an integrated permaculture and intercultural education program. In 2017, this project won the National Globe Energy Award for Peru.

In 2016, we began an eco-social justice program in the Ucayali area. A major focus of the work was investigating the expansion of palm oil cultivation in the Ucayali region, supporting the Shipibo community that had been strongly affected by this and working with the local indigenous federation involved. Also, we initiated an innovative and highly cost-effective approach to health care with our mobile health clinic.

In 2017, we began new projects in the community of Nuevo Saposoa and Paoyhan focusing on environmental solutions and education. Additionally, we began new areas of work in the field of language revitalization and supporting traditional womens’ craft work. At the end of 2017, we welcomed a newly-formed indigenous non-profit called ARIAP (Asociación de Raices Indigenas de la Amazonia Peruana) to share our office space at Casa Ametra.

In 2018, we deepened our Intercultural Health program, hiring two Shipibo nurses, Marcelita Cairuna and Silveria Pino Canayo, so that they could co-lead a health rights program together with Macarena Arias. At the same time, we started our collaboration with ARIAP through the radio program "Axenon Ikanwe". We also carried out our first pilot assessment of the medicinal forest conservation model through the "Indigenous Living Pharmacy" project carried out in the community of Paoyhan

Recently, in 2019, we evolved in our youth empowerment program through the Kené Néte and Koshi Shinanya initiatives, we transferred the Indigenous Living Pharmacy project to the Paoyhan community, and then replicated it in other location. We also named our first entirely indigenous board of directors conformed by Marcos Urquía as president, Eva Melendez as Vice-President, Liz Melendez as Treasurer, Marcelita Cairuna as Secretary, and Ketty Gonzales as spokesperson. We are excited about this new turn in the organization, and we hope to continue promoting indigenous leadership in the future.

The Shipibo-Konibo

The Shipibo-Konibo, 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:

  • 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

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.

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.