Machiguenga Indians Essay

Machiguenga Indians

Back in the 1970s, few readers outside the Amazon would have been able to name a single Amazonian Indian group. Today, even if readers still cannot pronounce the names, numerous articles on groups such as the Machiguenga make it more likely for them to have a sense of rain forests as a home to diverse peoples (Slater 148). To the south and west of the Piro heartland on the Bajo Urubamba, there is a large area of territory inhabited by the Machiguenga. The influence of coca/cocaine, at least in terms of where coca is planted and harvested, appears to stop just about where their lands begin, perhaps because of their fierce reputation toward outsiders. In addition, their lands are generally not accessible by road and are on remote portions of the waterways. They cultivate coca traditionally for use as an anaesthetic, according to Johnson. Baksh described a decline in their quality of life with increased integration into the market economy (Hobbs 258).

The Machiguenga have their agriculture: they raise bananas, sweet potatoes, corn, cotton (and then use it for producing of the shirts), chili peppers, goobers, and other crops in small vegetable gardens that are cleared out of the rain forests (Bennett 29). Machiguenga Indians eat fish, game animals, and fruit. They also hunt peccaries, tapirs, agoutis, and monkeys. The Machiguenga use bamboo arrows that are decorated with feathers of eagles or hawks. The Machiguenga hunters can walk up to 16 miles a day hunting.

Some customs of the Machiguenga are that they have bees sting them to take their power before hunting. The Machiguenga are very susceptible to communicable diseases brought in by strangers. However, nature gave them strong health, and they have their own solely efficacious pharmacopoeia of native plants.

The Machiguenga people live in the rainforests and therefore they have no contact with communities like ours. People that live in villages around the rainforest do not treat the Machiguenga Indians well. So to earn money and to buy necessary things the Machiguenga have organized ecotourism. These tours help the Machiguenga of southeastern Peru to survive.

The Machiguenga are eager seekers of protein, which they get through hunting of monkeys, paca (a delectable rodent), and a large variety of bird. Hunting is particularly popular in the wet season, and this is because there is more fruit in forests and, hence, the monkeys are well-fed during that period. When the river is low in the dry season, protein is also got through fishing. The Machiguenga Indians use a fish poison with the help of which they stun large amounts of river fish. After that they shoot them with arrows. The Amazon Basin is a house for 2000 species of fish, which is edible by tribal standards.

The Machiguenga eat large amounts of vitamins A and D. They find them in many animal foods such as turtle eggs, insects, and frogs. Green tagua palm nuts and particularly large amounts of peach palm fruit are a supplementary source of fatty acids in the Machiguenga nutrition. The peach palm fruit are prepared by merely putting in hot water and peeling off the scaly rind. The fat, got from a palm, includes monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids (41 percent palmitic and 58 percent oleic acid.)

One of the features of the Machiguenga diet is a comparative scantiness of greens. In the centre of the greenest places on Earth, there grow no salads, and no leaf components in the diet. The reason is that leaves are used as medicine and many include alkaloids or other components that render them distasteful, but powerful in medicine. Exclusion is avocado, which the Machiguenga eat as other fruits, and like for its taste, healthful fat content, and plentiful protein.

An approximate accounting of the Machiguenga mineral and vitamin intake shows that they eat all essential vitamins. Vitamin C and carotenoids are found in their many fruits. B vitamins are included in their meats, plants and seeds. Vitamin E is well supplied through a variety of plant foods. The meat, organs of fish, game and lipids contain vitamin A.

Machiguenga families are unusually steadfast. Almost all women marry at the age 17, and have about 10 pregnancies. Baby mortality is high, and Western communicable diseases seem to be the main factor. In spite of this, Machiguenga children are clever, very tranquil and curious.

The tribe has an uncommon eating hierarchy for set meals: men begin first, women eat second and their children settle for what is left. The Machiguenga believe that the hunters need the most energy and should be properly supported.

These peoples speak dialects of an Arawakan language. The languages of Campa/Machiguenga are often mutually intelligible. At the nineteenth century, the Campa and Machiguenga were excluded from the large rivers of the area, and seem to have lived primarily along the smaller mountainous rivers of the ceja. Campa colonization of the lower Tambo, and Machiguenga movement into the Bajo Urubamba, seems to post-date the rubber industry.

The Machiguenga had no intensive contact with missions until the twentieth century. The Franciscan missionaries in Cochabambillas on the upper Urubamba prevented travelers descending the river into Machiguenga and Piro territory, and controlled the trade between the lowlands and the Andes. Camino describes the annual ascent of the Urubamba by Machiguenga traders to the trade fair at El Encuentro at the mouth of the Yavero, or to the mission of Cochabambillas. This trade continued throughout the early and mid-nineteenth century, and involved the exchange of forest produce such as medicines for steel tools.

Vickers, while studying the Machiguenga, estimated the energetic efficiency of fishing at 3:1, less than that of hunting in a new village settlement but more than the return for the labor of hunting in an old village (Henrich 974). The Machiguenga live in smaller groups (that is, seven to twenty-five members) in an upland habitat where game and fish are less abundant than in the lowlands. The groups hunt deer, monkeys, and other animals without regard for age or sex of the prey. The forest offers a low rate of return on labor: the region is mountainous, trails are steep, and resources scattered. Hunting provides 0.16 kcals for each kcal spent, gathering yields 0.68 kcals for each kcal spent, and fishing averages 1.95 kcals (Moran 278).

In a case study of the Machiguenga of the Peruvian Amazon, Johnson has shown that even an unambiguously wasteful use of natural resources and a lack of thorough resource knowledge and applied management criteria can prove to be perfectly sustainable, in the sense that no resource degradation occurs, as long as there is an abundant supply of land and food, limited population pressure and a rapid regeneration of natural resources. It would be over-romantic, indeed plain wrong, to suggest that all these forest Indians, in addition to their other virtues, are archetypical conservationists, living in perfect harmony with nature. They will often take what they want from the forest with sublime disregard for any principle of conservation. They may fell a whole tree to get a single meal of fruit, or kill a bird for the transient pleasure of putting its plumes in their hair. That the forest is not devastated by such treatment is simply because their numbers are so small and the areas over which they wander are so vast (Wunder 65).

Parents desire children despite their economic cost and that the labor of post reproductive individuals and adults with few dependents supports this high fertility. To illustrate this, consider a hypothetical Machiguenga couple with husband and wife both being between 30 and 40 years of age with three living children, a boy aged 4, a girl aged 8, and a boy aged 12(Barclay 44). According to the food production and consumption, the daily deficit for the whole family would be 2160 calories. This deficit must be balanced, at least in part, by the surplus production of other adults with fewer dependents, otherwise the adults could not maintain weight and the children could not grow.

Among the Machiguenga, women and children tend to eat from one pot and men from another. But women serve the dishes with little male supervision and children appear to eat freely. Children do other chores, such as cleaning, bringing water, and caring for other children. Adult women and men appear to spend much more time in domestic chores than do children. Virtually all firewood is acquired by adult women. The only individuals observed to engage in building and repairing houses were adult men and women. Although children are frequently sent for water, those trips rarely last more than five minutes because village sites and foraging camps are located along water courses. The study of the Machiguenga shows that children spend little time in productive and domestic labor. In fact, it is likely that this analysis underestimates the cost of children because it does not include parents’ time spent in child care. Observations of Machiguenga children under the age of 6 revealed that the primary caretaker is the child’s mother 61 percent of the time, other adults 25 percent of the time, and children only 14 percent of the time.

Caldwell (1982) proposes that a principal economic benefit provided by children is the increase in status and power associated with large families. As children become adults, large sibships may increase parental influence in the community (Bunn 133). The Machiguenga do not exhibit high levels of social stratification or differential access to resources. This is why the regressions of adult work effort and food production on number of children and grandchildren are so revealing.

Neither hunting territory nor arable land is a limited resource for the Machiguenga. They are surrounded by large tracts of forest. Individuals choose an area they wish to clear, cut down the trees, and make a garden. A new patch is chosen when the soil is no longer fertile. Hunting is also characterized by free access. Therefore children cannot be the vehicle of resource access. Resource production is completely determined by individual variation in time allocation and the productivity of time. If older people are working harder as a result of their number of grandchildren (and hence of their adult children), it cannot be because they have greater access to resources or because they are storing wealth (as almost none is stored); it must be because they are responding to greater payoffs to (demands on) their productivity.

Caldwell (1982) also suggests that a large number of surviving children may ensure that parents wilt have someone to care for them if they do not die before they become frail. The Machiguenga adults with dependent children produce more food and work longer hours as the number of children increases. The same is true of older adults, who increase food production and time in garden labor as the number of grandchildren increases. If this is the case, parents and grandparents work very hard through most of their adulthood and middle age to “pay” for that security. While it is true that people do become frail and nonproductive in very old age, suicide and “euthanasia” are reported frequently among the Machiguenga as causes of death among the frail. When people become too weak to work, death often follows quickly. In this society, in short, the overall flow of wealth appears to be downward from parents to children and from grandparents to grandchildren.

Parents do not increase productivity calorie-for-calorie in relation to the net food requirements of their children. In fact, young families and large families do not meet their caloric needs with their own production and are supported by older people and individuals with few dependents. In addition, some individuals are exceptionally high producers and share the resources they acquire with other families. For example, one Machiguenga man acquired about 45 percent of the total meat eaten in the community of Yomiwato. The provisioning of children, either directly or indirectly; by individuals other than their biological parents should affect age at first reproduction and total fertility. It allows young adults to reproduce when they are still dependent upon their parents for resources, allows families to have multiple dependent children they cannot support, and allows mothers of young infants to work little and to engage in intensive care of infants.

Michael Baksh observed that among the Machiguenga the developmental trends differed between sexes and among groups (Nickerson 223). Girls’ food production exceeded that of boys from age 6 to about age 20, after which males outproduced females. Girls help their mothers with the harvesting and processing of garden products, while boys spend considerable time traveling in play groups, shooting small lizards with miniature bows and arrows. Boys acquire more meat than girls throughout adolescence. Since meat acquisition is much more time intensive than harvesting garden products, girls may not be cheaper to raise than boys. There is also evidence of developmental change during adulthood among men. Men between ages 20 and 40 acquire the most meat. Men over age 50 hunt less and spent more time clearing and weeding gardens. (Henrich 975).

A most uncommon feature of Machiguenga culture is that they have no personal names. In his discussion of the phenomenon, Smith presented his conclusion:

It is indeed a primitive group that does not name its individuals. Very few tribes have been discovered that exist without some sort of personal appellation, although certain aborigines in Australia have been found to be without personal names…. When you consider it, you will see that men without names can be little higher than animals when they can live together without feeling the imperative need to designate each other in some exact way by the spoken word (Johnson 9).

The Machiguenga is an Indian culture surviving in the Peruvian Amazon. These people live in settlements, scattered along the river. They are an elemental and degraded human organization incapable of producing a material or symbolic culture that might enable them to go on autonomously. The reality of the Machiguenga, perhaps like the history of the Andean peoples, is dissolved by the transformational power of our current understanding of the crisis of representation. What has become familiar about today’s Amazon Rain Forest is that which is most predictably exotic. This blend of familiarity and exoticism at the beginning of a new millennium is nowhere more obvious than in portrayals of Amazonian peoples. Almost certainly, the single most important difference between the Rain Forest of the 1970s and that of succeeding decades is the expanded, newly vital role of its human inhabitants. Although unpopulated green expanses still appear on a host of calendars and fruit juice bottles, they now coexist with other representations in which people appear. The reasons for the new presence of Amazonian peoples in popular representations are easy to pinpoint. The increasingly vocal presence of various indigenous peoples’ movements on the international stage during the 1980s makes it hard to portray an Amazon that is home exclusively to jaguars, vines, and parrots. At the same time, the presence of a series of flesh-and-blood natives who do not look or behave like one another challenges the idea of Amazonian peoples as uniform embodiments of nature.















Works Cited

Barclay, Frederica. Tamed Frontiers: Economy, Society, and Civil Rights in Upper Amazonia. Westview Press. Place of Publication: Boulder, CO, 2000: 44.

Bennett, Elizabeth. L. Hunting for Sustainability in Tropical Forests. Columbia University Press. New York. Publication Year, 2000: 29.

Bunn, Henry T. Meat-Eating ; Human Evolution. Oxford University Press: New York. Publication, 2001: 133.

Henrich, J. “Does culture matter in economic behavior? Ultimatum game bargaining among the Machiguenga of the Peruvian Amazon.” The American Economic Review, 90, 2000: 973–979.

Hobbs, Joseph J. Dangerous Harvest: Drug Plants and the Transformation of Indigenous Landscapes. Oxford University Press: New York. Publication, 2004: 258.

Johnson, Allen. Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA, 2003: 9.

Moran, Emilio F. Human Adaptability: An Introduction to Ecological Anthropology. Westview Press: Boulder, CO., 2000: 278.

Nickerson, Raymond S. Cognition and Chance: The Psychology of Probabilistic Reasoning. Mahwah, NJ., 2004: 223.

Slater, Candace. Entangled Edens: Visions of the Amazon. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA., 2002: 148.

Wunder, Sven. The Economics of Deforestation: The Example of Ecuador. Basingstoke, UK. 2000: 65.