Native peoples: Southeastern Peru’s forests have been inhabited for millennia

28 December 2017

According to FENAMAD (Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River and its Tributaries), the Madre de Dios region in southeastern Peru, where Tambopata National Reserve and other state protected natural areas are located, has been occupied by diverse ethnic and cultural groups for some three thousand years. Belonging to seven linguistic groups, the indigenous peoples of the Madre de Dios region are:

  • The Eje Esa, from the Tacana linguistic family, who live in the forests around the lower reaches of the Madre de Dios River, as well as the Tambopata, Sonene and Beni rivers, on the frontier between Peru and Bolivia.
  • The Harakbut, composed of seven groups (the Arakbut, Arasaeri, Pikirieri, Sapiteri, Toyeri, Huachiperi and Kusamberi), who occupy the Colorado, Upper Madre de Dios, Pukiri and Inambari river basins.
  • The Matsigenka, who belong to the Arawak linguistic family, and who live in the forests of the far west of the Madre de Dios region, in Peru’s Manu National Park.

In addition to these peoples, other groups came to the Madre de Dios region at the height of the rubber boom, during the early 20th century. These include:

  • The Yine, from the Arawak linguistic family, who occupy the forests of the Las Piedras or Tacuatimanu River, a tributary of the Upper Madre de Dios.
  • The Amahuaca, from the Pano linguistic group, who inhabit the basin of the Las Piedras River.
  • The Shipibo, who occupy the province of Tambopata, on the Madre de Dios River.
  • The Kichwa Runa, who are found in the basin of the Madre de Dios River itself.

In the face of increased encroachment as the Peruvian economy sought to develop, in the early 1970s indigenous peoples began to form native communities officially recognized by the government of Juan Velasco Alvarado, and under Velasco’s government they were allocated specific geographic areas. Today, the Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River and its Tributaries (FENAMAD) is the organization representing all the indigenous peoples of this part of southeastern Peru. FENAMAD was founded in 1982 in order to defend indigenous rights and to analyze or support plans, projects and actions conceived with the aim of ensuring the wellbeing of the indigenous peoples of the Madre de Dios forests.


According to Peru’s Ministry of Culture, “FENAMAD is an example of what other countries are trying to organize […], the struggle to defend the collective rights of indigenous peoples in isolation [or] initial contact [and] to defend [human] life in harmony with nature”.





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