People of the Rainforest - The Yahuas
By Mike Collis

There are about 6,000 indigenous Yaguas living in southern Colombia and northeastern Peru. They live in about 30 villages on the banks of rivers like the Amazon, Putumayo, Napo and the Yavari and their tributaries. Over these last few years about 2,500 yaguas moved to Colombia close to the frontier town of Leticia. Their territory covers about 70,000 square miles. Only about 25% of Yaguas speak spanish the others speak the dialect known as Peba-Yaguan.

Hundreds of years ago before the spanish came to South America the Yaguas had good contact with the Incas and even now the Yagua speak more quechua words than spanish. In fact it could be the name yagua is how the spanish would have called them “yagua” which is close to the quechua word yawar runa or the blood red people. The spanish called them this because the Yaguas daubed their face and bodies with red paint.

The first contact the Yaguas had with the outside world was probably round about 1542 when the Spanish explorers Fransisco de Orellana came across a village called Aparia.

Orellana captured 2 chiefs called Aparia and Dirimara along with other captives. The chiefs names could have come from the Yagua word apiirya or red macaw clan and rimyura which means shaman.

Regular contact with Europeans began in 1686 with the building of a Jesuit mission at San Joaquin de los Amagua which was on an island in the Amazon River near the confluence with the Ampiyacu River. This mission served the Cambeba as well as the Yagua tribes in that area. Contact was maintained with these tribes through these missions and those of Fransiscan missions also in the area. Later in the 17 hundreds the Portuguese sent raiding parties into the area causing severe casualties and dispersing the tribes.

At the end of the 19th century and into the first part of the 20th the Yagua were further dispersed as they fled from the rubber barons. Many yaguas were taken as rubber slaves, many were killed and thousands died of deseases brought in by the Europeans. Since that time the Yagua have never been able to recover their unity and their culture declined. Their economy is based on contact with non yagua people and this has meant many yaguas having to learn Spanish and their own language fell into decline.

To a lesser extent the Yagua language and culture continues to be viable and some children are taught the Yagua language and the arts and crafts of the Yagua tribe.

The Yaguas are considered to be the masters of the blow gun and John Waymire wrote an interesting article on this subject. It can be accessed by clicking onto: Waymire Yahuas Article


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