Amazonian Indian tribes in the Iquitos region of Peru

About a third of Peru’s population is indigenous, and the great majority of tribes are found in the Amazon region. These groups have, to one degree or another, assimilated into a riverine culture but tribal distinctions exist, sometimes markedly so. In the city of Iquitos it is possible to see, among the primarily mestizo population, a number of ethnic groups represented, especially in the markets. The tribe that is perhaps most obvious in the city itself is the Shipibo-Conibo. Shipibos, of the Panoan linguistic family, are widely established in distinct regions of the Peruvian Amazon but their center is near Pucallpa, some 675 miles south of Iquitos on the Ucayali. Shipibos make and sell fabulous painted and embroidered textiles and the traditionally dressed women hawk their wares along the boulevard and in artisan markets all around town.

Other ethnic groups in the region include the Kukama-Kukamiria, a riverine people of the Tupi-Guaraní linguistic tradition. Their traditional center lies in northeastern Peru and they sustain themselves via swidden agriculture and fishing. The Yaguas, of the Peba tradition, are centered downstream (East) of Iquitos. Perhaps best known for the skirt-like appearance of their traditional garb, Yaguas are hunters, fishermen, and agriculturalists who traditionally were expert marksmen with the blowgun.

One of the dominant ethnic families in the region includes three tribes that are actually of two distinct linguistic lineages: the Bora-Witoto, the Witoto, and the Ocaína. Agriculturalists situated mostly downstream from the city, their traditional center encompasses the Napo River and Pebas regions. Both the Boras and the Yaguas have settlements just outside of Iquitos where they supplement their incomes via traditional dances and ceremonies as well as sale of handicrafts. These Indians make traditional clothing, heavily painted with intricate designs, from the cortex of a tree.

Several times per year we receive inquiries from folks interested in visiting an uncontacted tribe. While the notion is exciting and romantic, the reality is quite another thing. It is likely that the Peruvian Amazon houses more uncontacted groups than any other part of tropical South America. Generally, they are uncontacted because they choose to be. Also, strict laws prohibit intrusion from the outside; it can bring unwanted diseases not to mention danger. And just think, if we visited the uncontacted tribes, soon there wouldn’t be any!


Urarina Indigenous Girl and Sloth

Urarina Indigenous Girl and Sloth

The Urarina are an indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon Basin (Loreto) who inhabit the Chambira, Urituyacu, and Corrientes Rivers.

Witoto woman

Yagua dance