Who are the Shipibo-Conibo ?
The Shipibo-Conibo are an indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon who live scattered in 150 communities along the Ucayali river. Some of them have relocated to the Peruvian city of Pucallpa, but the majority still lives over a large area of jungle forest extending all the way from Brazil to Ecuador.
The Shipibo-Conibo live mostly on agriculture, fishing and arts and crafts. The Shipibo women are reknowned for the beauty and detail of their pottery and textiles that are decorated with distinct geometric patterns : the Kené. Kené is a writing that describes both the material and spiritual worlds. The art of the Shipibo is heavily influenced by their rich and complex cosmology. They have a very strong connection with Nature and the forest and consider that everything is connected : humans, trees, water and animals live in symbiosis. Which is why seeing cut trees will elicit in them the same sadness one would feel upon losing a loved one.
Like other tribes living in the Amazon rainforest, the Shipibos are currently facing many dangers. Extreme poverty, deforestation, oil drilling, gold mining, illegal logging and fishing are threatening their land, resources, and way of life. The communities are very isolated and lack any kind of communication infrastructure, which complicates the work of local NGOs.
Who are the Koman Kenia ?
The Koman Kenia are a community of Shipibo-Conibo who live deep into the rainforest in a small village that the official records refer to as ”Puerto Grau”. They take their name after the sacred lake which they have been protecting for generations.
The village is located on the banks of the Ucayali and it’s a six-hour boat ride from the city of Pucallpa. It’s a very remote and dangerous part of the jungle where crocodiles, snakes and jaguars thrive. The Koman Kenia live there in communion with Nature and co-exist peacefully with the animals.
The community is divided into 15 families who mostly live on fishing, hunting and local fruits. They do not use any form of currency.
The lake of Koman Kenia is located two to three hours from the village proper and can be reached either by foot or on boat.
What is so special about the lake of Koman Kenia ?
Read “The Legend of “Koman Kenia”“.
For many years, the Shipibos from «Koman Kenia» have been the guardians of a particular lake. Legend has it the land rose from the Earth and flew towards the sky with its inhabitants on its back. In its place a lake appeared. A lake with mighty waters at the bottom of which a giant snake resides : «Ronin». He is the one who keeps the water in balance.
This sanctuary is their place of origin. It is an essential part of their history, culture and identity. Protecting it from outside threats is their mission : should they fail to do so, the whole tribe would lose its purpose.
It’s also a historical site with regards to the Spanish invasion and subsequent colonization of Peru during the 16th Century. A group of Incas passed through the lake while fleeing from the Spaniards. The shores of the lake are covered with broken pieces from Shipibo and Inca pottery that haven’t been touched in centuries. The lake itself is like a fragment of the past.
Because of deforestation and oil drilling, there are very few non-polluted lakes left in the Amazon. Koman Kenia is one of the last.
Who is Ronin ?
The Koman Kenia are the human guardians of the lake. But it also has a spiritual guardian : the giant serpent Ronin, who lives at the bottom.
Ronin is not a deity. It’s important not to think of the Catholic concept of a God. There is no hierarchy in Shipibo cosmology. There is only symbiosis between all beings : humans, spirits, animals, trees, wind, rocks… To the Shipibos, Ronin is a person. They don’t worship him. They live with him in harmony. It’s a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.
It’s also important to know that there is not just one Ronin. There are many Ronins protecting many lakes in the Amazon, such as the lake of Bethel.
What dangers are the Koman Kenia currently facing ?
Why is the lake under threat ?
The Koman Kenia are facing the same dangers as other tribes of the Amazon : illegal logging by ”madereros”, illegal fishing, oil drilling, gold mining, global climate change and extreme poverty. Many tribes have also been forcefully displaced from their homes to establish oil wells.
Because of deforestation, the path to the lake is currently blocked in five places by chunks of wood coming from cut trees. The cut trees have trapped the fish, the crocodiles and the pink dolphins and a large portion of the underwater life is dying. They also allow the jaguars to freely pass from one side of the river to another. The balance has been disturbed.
The Koman Kenia are deeply affected by this on a moral and spiritual level. They have a very strong connection with Nature : it’s an essential part of who they are. Nature dying around them is akin to a loved one dying.
If nothing is done, the lake of Koman Kenia is at risk of suffering the same fate as the lake of Bethel. Bethel is the first place visited by KAPÉ’s founders in 2012. The Shipibo-Conibo living there also had a lake. In the span of five years it was invaded by pollution, illegal loggers and fishermen who destroyed the underwater life. The great serpent Ronin has left this lake forever.
This is the fate that KAPÉ wants to prevent for Koman Kenia.
How will KAPÉ help the Koman Kenia ?
KAPÉ’s first goal is to make the lake of Koman Kenia a protected area under state law. The association will work together with the chief of the Koman Kenia to secure land rights. The first step in effectively protecting the lake is obtaining official documents stating clearly the boundaries of Koman Kenia territory.
The next step is to provide the necessary equipment for the Koman Kenia to safeguard their territory, notably a motor boat.
Third, KAPÉ will assist in the building of an outpost at the lake.
Fourth, KAPÉ will provide the community with basic medicine.
For more information, see OUR MISSION.
What is the photo book about ?
The photo book is KAPÉ’s first project. It tells the original story of the Shipibo-Conibo people and the Koman Kenia through a series of portraits made by photographer and co-founder of KAPÉ Florence Goupil during several trips to the Peruvian Amazon from 2012 to 2016.
Funds raised through the book’s sale will be used for various projects that will help the Koman Kenia protect their lake.
For more information on the photo book and KAPÉ’s strategy, see OUR MISSION.
Where can I get the book ?
The DONATE section and Ulule page will be up very soon.
See OUR FIRST PROJECT.
Where can I donate ?
We are grateful for any donation. Even small amounts can make a difference. We need all the help we can get.
The DONATE section and Ulule page will be up in March.
See OUR MISSION.
How was KAPÉ founded ?
Why ”KAPÉ” ?
Kapé means ”crocodile” in the Shipibo language. Crocodiles are everywhere in the Amazon and will tend to eat the good people who fancy a swim without a second thought. They are however used to the Shipibos and accept their presence in the water, provided their behavior is non-threatening. Humans and crocodiles live side by side.
As such, Kapé represents the Shipibos’ spiritual connection with the water, trees, animals and their symbiotic relationship with Nature itself.
It’s also the first word KAPÉ’s founders have learnt. Because it’s a pretty easy word.
(As it happens, Shipibo language is hard.)