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The Shipibo people have a population of between 35,000 and 40,000 people and are one of the largest and most resilient tribes in the Peruvian Amazon. Today, the Shipibo live in approximately 150 small communities nestled along the Ucayali River. Around 1600, Spanish missionaries first began to flood the Amazon rainforest, looking to convert the Shipibo to Christianity and to colonise the region.
The Shipibo resisted and it wasn’t until 1950’s that Christian missionaries attempted once more, with varying degrees of success to convert the Shipibo people. The Shipibo people are a resilient tribe, and despite numerous attacks on their culture and traditions, they have retained their traditional knowledge and customs.
The Shipibo people are deeply respected for their knowledge of the sacred plant medicines, ceremony and their spiritual connection to the rainforest environment. Traditionally, the Shipibo women, or Shipiba’s are artisans and are responsible for creating intricate and beautiful pottery, textiles and jewellery. The ceremonial songs, or Icaros and the energy that the songs produce is used to inspire the visual aesthetics of the Shipibo’s textiles, resulting in designs that are truly unique and hypnotic.
This language is spoken in Peru and Brazil by approximately 26,000 speakers according to recent census data. It is considered an endangered language with only 500-1000 children speaking this language as their first language. However, there are many adults who still retain knowledge of this language. The Shipibo language belongs to the Panoan language family and is somewhat distantly related to other languages such as Ashaninka which it has about 40% lexical similarity with.
Several terrible political policies in the past have led to widespread degradation of the Shipibo’s natural environment. Increasing pollution of the waterways, unsustainable palm oil plantations, oil spills and the predominance of multinational oil and timber companies is an unrelenting threat to the Shipibo people. With this is mind, AYA Healing Retreats is committed to not contributing to the devastation of the Shipibo people that has been legislated by the Peruvian government for decades. We are committed to supporting the Shipibo tribe’s right to self-determination and to contributing what we can to restoring the vitality of the Amazon Rainforest.
Shipibo ayahuasca sessions are part of the Indigenous Shipibo healing tradition, an elaborate system that involves not only ayahuasca but also various other plant preparations. In addition to traditional medicinal plants, they incorporate a range of indigenous techniques to help foster a deeper connection to the plant spirit realm.
The Shipibo Tribe believes that subconscious trauma and distress cause illnesses. This results from negative experiences with family members, other people in the community or an individual’s past lives. The healing process therefore includes strategies to reestablish positive relations with one’s deceased ancestors, with plant spirits and with fellow human beings.
At AYA Healing Retreats we are blessed to have the depth of knowledge provided by our Shipibo curandero, Don Miguel, who is a part of a rich lineage of shamans. On retreat, you’ll absorb a lot of knowledge from his stories, guidance, and presence.
The Shipibo Tribe is famed for their distinctive geometric designs used in their artisan handmade crafts such as ceramics, textiles, and embroideries. The designs vary in intricacies but often include prominent use of maze like patterns, which are directly connected to their beliefs in cosmology and ayahuasca medicine work.
They traditionally use natural dyes such as annatto for colouring their textiles and baskets with plant extracts. The natural colours range from yellows, oranges, browns and blacks; however synthetic colours have been introduced into the market place making it difficult for those looking for truly authentic shipibo crafts.
The famous and distinct geometric patterns of the Shipibo tribe are most commonly produced by embroidery such as running stiches or cross stiches, to create unique patterns. Innovative techniques and use of beads or new colors has allowed the art to continually evolve, while maintaining a sense of tradition. Embrodery continues today to supply Shipibo women with income whilst helping perserve their cultural heritage.
Shipibo textiles are steeped in cultural history. The design work, or ‘Kené’ in the Panoan, includes traditional techniques passed down generation to generation maternally. Often these Kené motifs are inspired by the anaconda or Amazon River, both key symbols in Shipibo ancestral beliefs. The creation of some of these textiles is a months-long process, and ayahuasca may be used to create visions which manifest gorgeous patterns to be used in the designs.
Shipibo women are renowned artists. In their villages, the intricacy of their skirts signals “shina” – a combination of intellectual and creative prowess. The art of the Shipibo Tribe represents the universal oneness, the non-dualistic nature of all things, and a channel of communication to the spirit realm. This great visionary art helps bring these concepts into a tangible, physical form. The embroderies are also directly connected to the tribe’s healing songs or icaros. The icaros are an audible form of the geometrical patterns and colors, and an experienced curandero is able to recognize and sing the song of a specific pattern.
The Shipibo have a long history with shamanism which they have continued to honor to this day. Through years or even decades of training and intensive plant dietas, expert curanderos emerged from the tribe. Working with energy, they are able to cure a wide array of ailments from physical to psycho-spiritual. Using focused energy work and icaros, they access the spirit world during ayahuasca ceremonies to create a harmonized environment to facilitate healing. As a result, patients in their circle are able to gain self awareness, self-actualize, do shadow work, and heal trauma.
The Shipibo believe that our overall health is the result of a balance of body, mind, and spirit. Each plant they work with contains a specific and unique healing energy, which they channel vibrationally into the healing songs or icaros. These songs act as a conduit to facilitate the plant medicines in their ability to heal.
Another term for the curanderos or shamans of the tribe is onanya. Using focused energy work they can remove blockages and restore energy to trapped systems. They transmit the geometric frequencies of icaros to the ceremonial space, and purge negative energies with the use of smoke (mapacho). To learn more about Shipibo Shamans, Onanya, who were the mystical Murraya, and who are the Brujos, Sorcerers, check out our online Shipibo Wisdom mini-course.
The Shipibo have a deep respect for the cosmos, the jungle, and animals in their story telling. Many myths have been told involving jaguars, eagles, plant spirits, and more. If you think you may find the ancient myths interesting, you can read more in the Cosmic Zygote.
The Peruvian Montana includes the highly variable terrain from the eastern slopes of the Andes, with their high, arid, cold, and rugged topography; through the ceja de la montaña, and festooned with many epiphytes; to the flat alluvial lowlands of the upper Amazon drainage system and its broad, muddy, meandering rivers like the Ucayali, rich with the silt of the Andes. The Ucalayi is formed by the confluence of the Urubamba and the Tamboo rivers, which flow from southern Peruvian highlands. It rapidly descends through gorges and boulder-strewn beaches until it reaches its mouth at Iquitos.
The Ucalayi and its tributaries run through a varied topography of upland forest, slopes, and lowland jungles. A shallow gradient of the river is typical which allow for many sand bars and islands to be formed. The Ucayali has an average depth of only 0.25m with widths reaching over 400km during high water season. The alluvial soils are easily eroded because of the large amounts of silt that flow down from the Andes mountains.
This annual fluctuation can cause problems in navigating by boat or plane as it makes the river much shallower at low periods. As well, these fluctuations make fishing difficult as fish populations migrate according to water levels.
As elsewhere in Amazonia, the arboreal fauna play a more important role as dependable, everyday food resources. Palm fruit of some sort is available year round at most riverside localities. Fish and eggs are the main animal protein foods. Hunting occurs in a variety of forms: ranging from very elaborate communal hunts to individual spear fishing efforts. Most hunting takes place in the early morning or late afternoon when animals come to feed on specific fruits or nuts that have been found.
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