Yagua Indians

The Yagua (YAH-wah) Indians of the Peruvian Amazon are known for their skill with the blowgun. It was the Yagua that gave the Amazon River its name. The Yagua wear grass skirts, when the Spaniards saw them through the trees with their blowguns they thought that they were women warriors. Thus, the Amazon river was named after the Greek myth of the Amazon women warriors. The Yagua are very creative in their use of various materials to make purse-type baskets.

They serve as an example of a tribe that has been almost totally acculturated, with fewer than a thousand individuals still living in the traditional way. The influx of Europeans, initially eager to exploit the rubber trade, is the reason for the slow cultural erosion. In 1864, Peru’s largest forest city, Iquitos, was established very close to the Yagua homeland. Then beginning in the 1890s, the city experienced an economic boom. Much of the finest rubber latex in the Amazon came from the forested areas surrounding Iquitos and the Colombian city of Leticia, located at the eastern border of Yagua territory. Foreigners swarmed the area eager to turn a profit, and the Yagua began to give in to the pressure and influence of non-native culture. The Yagua have been in close contact with these transplants for so long that their lifestyle and system of beliefs have been greatly altered.

yagua dress

Today, the Yagua dress in Western garb, much like theother people that live along the rivers. They still retain their traditional garments, however, and will put them on for visitors and traders. Men wear skirts made from the fiber of Mauritia palm fiber, while women don simpler skirts usually made of red cotton. Armbands and a small chest coverlet of the the same material are also worn, with a headdress often adorning the men. The palm fibers are often dyed a reddish orange color with pigments derived from annatto berries. Thissame pigment is also appplied to their skin as body paint.

Yagua must marry outside their own clan. A woman reaches the age of marriage when she is fourteen or fiteen. When a potential match has been arranged, the man comes to live at the home of his prospective wife for about a year. During this time, he works in her family’s fields and hunts for them. Usually during this period the woman has a baby. At the end of the year the couple returns to the man’s family to live and are considered offically “married.” The marriage is then clebrated with a party and feast.

The Yagua believe in a creator, but also in demons and spirtis, many of which are linked to forest animals. The mos t important god or spiritual being is Mayantu. Celebrations honoring Mayantu, in which the comes down from the sky, are held from time to time. They last for several days and nights and involve much drinking and feasting. During such rituals young children are given a secret name apart from their regular name that si known only to the men. In the case of a person’s death, evil spirtis are believed to be responsible. If the deceased is an important figure in the community, his entire house and belongings are burned to stop the spead of the malevolent spirtis.

Yagua Villages and the Maloca

Yagua villages usually consist of seventy to eighty people in less than a dozen houses located a short distance from a river stream. Hundreds of years ago, the community lived together in a large, beehive-shaped structure called a maloca, which was covered with palm leaves. The maloca also served as a fortress in case the tribe came under attack. From its protected interior, Yagua men could aim their spears between the leaves at the intruders. The attackers were hard-pressed to wound or kill someone inside.

Today, only men can enter the maloca, and it is solely used for religious ceremeonies. But the traditional, communal ife of the maloca relects Yagua notions of family and community. The Yagua view themselves as a large, extended clan. Each member plays a crucial role, working for the good of the clan and the community.

Economy as Artisans

The Yagua have exposed to money bust still barter for many othe things they need. Today they have also establised a lively trade wth neighboring groups and tourists. Handicrafts, generally made by the men, are often exchanged with neighboring groups. They include wood carvings, seed necklaces, dolls, flutes, baskets, and miniture blowguns. Today groups of tourists also make regular treks to trade with native villagers. A lively circular dance often welcomes the newcomers to the Yagua’s changing world.

Yagua sculpture

Yagua Masks

The Yagua masks are intricately carved from gourds or pieces of dried wood. These masks are etched with tribal designs and are then painted with paints that are created from pastes made from vegetables, pods, and fruits. They are often adorned with beading, shells, and feathers.

Yagua Masks Yagua Masks
Yagua Masks Yagua Masks
Yagua Masks

 

Yagua dolls

Dolls are created for the young to play with and for souvenier sells to other villages and travellers. Crafted from the pounded bark of the Llanchamo tree, they are also created with plant fibers, seeds, fish scales, and gourds. They are also hand painted and dressed in tradtional Yagua dress.

Yagua dolls Yagua dolls Yagua dolls
Yagua dolls Yagua dolls Yagua dolls
Yagua dolls Yagua dolls Yagua dolls
Yagua dolls Yagua dolls Yagua dolls

 

Yagua Jewelry

The Yagua people create some of the most beautiful pieces of jewelry from items that they find in nature around them. Teeth, shells, seeds, and other items are either left natural or dyed with paints made from vegetables, fruits, flowers, and seed pods.

Yagua jewelry Yagua jewelry
Yagua jewelry Yagua jewelry

 

Yagua Rattles

The Yagua create rattles that are made in one of two ways. They either bundle together the leaves from the Schacapa tree, which make a rattling sound that is used by the Shaman in ceremonies or they use the Schacapa seeds from the same tree. These seeds are bundled together and are hollowed out and dried. The sound created from them is very much like the castanet sound.

Yagua rattles Yagua rattles

Yagua Blowguns

Yagua men take the lead in providing for their families. Slash and burn agriculture is widely practiced, and skilled angleers test their luck in the fish-filled rivers. But Yagua men are perhaps best known for their talent with the blowgun. With these slim et effective weapons they hunt monkeys, pacas, sloths, birds, and other small animals. The women prepare the meals and are in charge of running the household.

Yagua Blowguns Yagua Blowguns Yagua Blowguns
Yagua Blowguns Yagua Blowguns Yagua Blowguns
Yagua Blowguns Yagua Blowguns Yagua Blowguns
Yagua Blowguns Yagua Blowguns Yagua Blowguns
Yagua Blowguns Yagua Blowguns Yagua Blowguns

Yagua blowgun Yagua blowgun
Yagua blowgun 17 1/2″ tall. Yagua blowgun 14″ tall.

Photos property of Hands Around the World

Additional Information

About the Yagua Indians
Amazon people – yagua dancers
Yagua and their Blowguns

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