Shipibo Culture

The Shipibos belong to the large Pano linguistic family. This family includes more than thirty ethnic groups in the Peruvian Amazon. The majority of the Shipibos live in the Ucayali Region in the lowland jungle of Peru. They do not live in large villages, but rather in small community groups scattered along the rivers in order to have a more rational use of the agricultural lands. In many cases, their villages are flooded or washed away every winter by the river flooding and they simply move and build a new one.

Shipibos cover their needs by manufacturing everything that is essential. If they want to travel, they build a canoe, if they want to eat; they go fishing, hunting or harvesting; if they want to dress, they make their clothes. Their markets are the forest itself, with its plants, its animals, its rivers and its lakes. Fishing and hunting are the work of the men, which they do while the women take care of home and children and produce the objects for daily use and the crafts that they now sell to buy some industrial goods. However, this does not apply to all groups as many of them are quite isolated from the modern world and its influences.

Their whole life is based on the belief that everything is unity and must be harmonized to live in health and peace. The Shipibos world in which everything is that exists is composed of designs, is really an opening to the infinite, the cosmos, to the non-perishable. It is a source of wise knowledge, harmonious way of life and respect for the environment, for the human, for the divine and for creation. For them, every existing thing has a soul, an owner, a protector. They are called IBO. All ibo taught them to fish, hunt, make craft,… in various ways. They teach them the control and rational exploitation of the environment as well as the proper use of resources that allow them to live in the forest. The most important Ibo are the hummingbird, the anaconda and the ayahuasca, also considered as “mother of the master plants”.

The cosmos is very important in the life and beliefs of this ethnic group. They think that, like the earth and the sky are reflected and harmonized, in order to be at ease with ourself and the universe and to live a healthy life, we also should be in harmony with the cosmo. Their belief that the stars “ride through the sky in canoes” gives us a romantic vision of this people, who represent in their black background fabrics, a starry sky.

A characteristic of the Shipibo culture is the relationship its people have with plants and herbs. Hundreds of medicinal herbs are used by the community, mainly by the healers who knows the properties and virtues of each of them, which give him a very important role.

Shipibos healers are true experts in the use of master plants. The one that most identifies this ethnic group is Ayahuasca, and they have become great wise with this plant. They “travel” in a trance to the most distant spiritual worlds to find the origin of a patient’s illness, to find the solution for the well-being of their people and to guide and protect them.