People of the Rainforest - The Shipibos
By Mike Collis
    


Of all the indigenous tribes of the Amazon the Shipibos are well known for their artwork, especially their painting, pottery and decorated fabrics. The area occupied by the Shipibos stretches from the Southwestern edge of the vast Amazon Basin to the border with Colombia and Brazil in the Northeast. The Shipibos always live along the banks and tributaries of the Amazon and use it to communicate and sell their wares all over Northern Loreto. These people are mainly artisians, fishermen, and hunters although some have turned to agriculture. Using only basic tools such as machetes and spears they seem to etch out a living. Virtually none of the villages have electricity. A small number of Shipibo women commute to Iquitos where they are regularly seen selling their arts and crafts. They are well known for their intricate designs, especially on their pottery. When in Iquitos most of the women live together in a community house where they take turns to go out selling their merchandise or staying in the house painting fabric. Shipibo men are not noticeable here in Iquitos.
    


Some Shipibos speak Spanish but mostly they speak their own dialect especially amongst themselves, this language is of the Panoan family of dialects. It is estimated that about 35,000 Shipibos live in about 360 villages throughout the amazon. Since the colonization of Peru some 450 years ago most Shipibos converted to Christianity but they still retain most of their customs some dating back thousands of years.
            


The patterns on the fabrics and pottery reflect their culture and the designs are copied from Anaconda skins or from the stars and planets. Older designs date back to the Inca times. The paintings on fabric are all hand painted using traditional patterns but in reality each piece is unique. Some Shipibos claim they see the patterns they paint when in an ayahuasca induced trance. Some of these fabrics can take up to two months to completely decorate and it is said that these long term projects are completed by more than one woman who finish the piece without using any pre determined plan. Some of the fabrics are used by the women as a wrap around skirt held up by a string type belt, above the skirt the women wear beautiful and very brightly coloured blouses.

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