Oxapampa, Central Amazon, Perú

A new UNESCO biosphere reserve called the Biosfera Oxapampa-Asháninka-Yánesha has been declared in 2010 in the province of Oxapampa, near the headwaters of the Amazon in the transition zone between the high Andes and the tropical lowlands of Perú. An innovative approach of participative protected area management is bringing the different population groups of the region to the decision-making table, and has received considerable national and international attention. The region is home to the indigenous Yánesha and Asháninka, as well as to Andean settlers from the highlands and descendants of German and Austrian settlers, which came to the region mostly at the end of the 19th century in search of arable land.

The Yánesha are the smallest population group of the region counting 8 – 10,000 members. Their long settlement history explains their strong ties with this landscape, whose landmarks give testimony both to their creation stories as well as to natural phenomena and historic events. The opportunities for young people to establish a livelihood in the region are however severely constrained by low prices for their agricultural products such as coffee and cacao. Rural exodus from the region is very elevated and nearly all young people migrate to the cities after finishing school to seek work in the nearest cities or find their luck in the capital.

During several visits to the region and the exchange with representatives of more than fifteen communities, it has become apparent that there is a strong interest in workshops to raise the awareness of the young generation of their rich but threatened cultural heritage, to make it known in the region via campaigns in schools and youth groups, and to create new income opportunities based on their culture. Many of the village chiefs organized within the indigenous federation FECONAYA expressed a strong urgency for such work with youth on the culture and history of the Yánesha.

Responding to a request by the local authorities, OrigiNations implemented a week-long pilot workshop in October 2016 with its own funds in cooperation with the municipalities of Oxapampa and Villa Rica and the indigenous federation FECONAYA. Twelve young people (nine Yánesha and three Asháninka) as well as two Yánesha elders participated in this event. During the workshop, topics such as the importance of their cultural and natural heritage, threats and strategies for its protection, as well as the role of the youth were discussed. One goal of the workshop was to develop statements for the conversatorium of the biosphere reserve immediately following the workshop. Five participants of the workshop took part in the „Segundo Conversatorio de Jóvenes de la Reserva de Biosfera Oxapampa – Asháninka – Yánesha“ and presented the video statements by the group.

We are currently seeking funding to continue the work with indigenous youth in the Biosphere Reserve. If you would like to support our work there, please mark your donation with “Yánesha, Perú”.

Background Information

  • Video statements from our first workshop with Yánesha and Asháninka youth in October 2016 can be found here (in Spanish):
  • A digital archive on cultural ressources of the Yánesha can be found here.
  • The facebook page of this initiative is here.

Ampiyacu, Northern Amazon, Perú

The Ampiyacu river is a tributary of the Amazon, situated in Northern Peru at the border with Columbia. The protected area of the same name has a population of about 2,000 people of four distinct indigenous groups. One of them, the Yaguas, are the earliest inhabitants of this region. The three other groups, the Huitoto, Bora and Ocaina are originally from Columbia. Their ancestors were brought here during the rubber boom at the beginning of the twentieth century, after the local indigenous population had nearly been exterminated caused by the harsh working conditions. The draconic exploitation of the labor force during that time, the eruption of diseases which led to the decimation of these groups, and the long influence of “civilizing forces” such as wide-spread evangelisation have had a deep impact on the social structures and life in the villages.

The situation of the young generation is especially worrisome and characterized by a great loss of orientation and high suicide rates. Many young people feel torn between the promises of “modern” life in the nearest cities Pebas and Iquitos, where they are heavily discriminated and live under bad conditions, and the often dysfunctional social ties in the villages which fail to provide them with a firm emotional hold.

As a response to a plea by the local indigenous federation FECONA and the Peruvian environmental organization „Instituto del Bien Común” (Institute for the Common Good, IBC), OrigiNations implemented a five-day workshop with youth on the preservation of cultural traditions and civil society organization in the village of Pucaurquillo in April 2016 in collaboration with these two institutions. This workshop, which took place in a traditional assembly hall, the “Maloca” (see picture), offered youth from the four indigenous groups a space to discuss topics such as discrimination and cultural identity, to reconstruct the history of their groups together with the elders, and to start to organize themselves as a group. In this way, the young members of the community can support each other, join forces in order to document and promote their cultural traditions that are being forgotten, and get involved in the conservation of their protected area to protect the basis of their future livelihoods in this territory.

Background Information

  • A 4-minute video on our workshop in April 2016 can be found here.
  • A short video on village life in Pucaurquillo.