People of the Rainforest - The Matses
By Mike Collis

A Matses native

One hundred miles due south of Iquitos lies the Yavari River and its tributtaries. In this vast area live the indigenous tribe called the Matses or Mayoruna. The matses are so remote that they only made contact with the outside world in 1968. The Matses have a reserve of approximately 1 million acres some parts of which lie in Brazil, the rest in Peru. This reserve was titled to the matses in 1998. The Matses swear allegiance to neither Peru or Brazil and regard themselves independent of any state. There are about 3,200 matses of which approximately 2,000 live on their tribal lands. The matses are very territorial and defend their land vigorously, fighting off other indigenous tribes, colonialists, loggers and have often had conflicts with Peru and Brazil. They are a very proud people. The matses are sometimes known as the cat people because they pierce fine sticks into their noses like cats whiskers and most have tattooed faces.

The matses are closely related to the matis and karubo tribes and many speak matses, spanish as well as portuguese. The main religion of the matses is christian but some are animists. They have always been hunters and gatherers but over the last 30 years or so have settled down in riverside villages. Some still hunt, fish and gather fruits and jungle vegetables but their main source of income is from the selling of jungle pig skins and meat.

The bow and arrow is their main weapon to hunt animals. The matses have a great amount of knowledge about the rainforest, its flora and fauna and the jungle provides most of their needs so they import little. The animist religion of the mates tells them there is no difference between the spiritual and the physical world and they try not to offend the animal spirits because this can reduce their ability to hunt animals. The matses have a complex and important interest in plants especially trees. Animal spirits are very close to plants. When someone is sick the shaman will usually use a plant extract as a medicine which is usually applied on the skin of the patient while the shaman speaks with the animal spirit of the plant.

Before going on a hunting expedition which can last for days the matses hunters take sapo. Sapo is the toxic poison excreted from the backs of poison dart frogs. They usually catch a suitable frog which is then splayed out between 4 sticks, arms and legs fashion. This aggravates the frog which releases its venom, foam like on its back. The matses then scrape off the poison with a dry stick. A burning ember is taken from the fire and applied to the hunterís body, usually on the upper arm causing a blister. The skin is removed from the blister and the frog poison is applied to the wound. Within a few minutes the hunter gets delirious, sometimes vomits and collapses. After about 2 hours the effects of the poison disappear but the hunter feels much stronger and is ready to go on the hunt. It is claimed that after sapo the hunters have much more energy, donít need sleep for sometime, and have extraordinary vision which enables them to see and then kill animals which would be difficult or impossible to kill normally.

Extracting frog poison

The matses regard their tribal land as sacred and it is not advisable for outsiders to enter their reserve without permission from the elders of the tribe. It is always advisable to go with a matses guide.
The 3 ways to get to the matses reserve.
* River ferry to the Colombian, Brazilian, Peruvian Border at Leticia (38 hours) then a further river ferry up the Yavari for about 8 or 9 days .
* There is a regular military flight to Angamus on the Yavari from Iquitos.
* River ferry up the Amazon and Yucayali Rivers to Requena (36 hours) and then 4 day hike through the jungle to the Yavari River.
* If you need advice on visiting the matses contact Mike Collis at Mad Mickís Trading Post located at Putumayo 163 (upstairs)
* E-mail: michaelcollis@hotmail.com
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