• Amazonas


  • Amazonas


  • Nieva River


  • Awajún


  • Kampankis Project

    Cultural Documentary

Amazonas Conservation Initiative
~ Mission ~

Amazonas Conservation Initiative

is dedicated to science-based conservation of threatened wildlife and their habitats, and to sustaining positive human–environment interactions with indigenous people who call the rain forest Home.

We believe conservation success is defined by helping nature thrive so the people who depend on it live productive and sustainable lives.

It means a protected forest with old-growth trees, clean river water, and honoring the traditions of indigenous people so they may live in harmony with nature.
And to strengthen the rain forest ecosystem of the Kampankis area by facilitating sound conservation principles and supporting protection of the community land.

In the face of climate change and other threats to the ecosystems that sustain our planet, we continue to work urgently to save more intact landscapes and the diverse species within. We are dedicated to our mission: to conserve biologically diverse landscapes in Amazonas, in concert with local cultures, for the well-being of the planet.

Pamau Nain Conservation Concession
South of our research area is the northern boundary of the Pamau Nain Conservation Concession.

Following extensive work with 11 indigenous Awajún communities and the regional government of Amazonas, Peru, the Pamau Nain Conservation Concession was declared, protecting nearly 115,000 acres of pristine Amazon rain forest.

The indigenous Awajún people have been stewards of the rain forest for thousands of years.

Now, with the support of Awajún leader Eduardo Weepiu Daekat and renowned anthropologist Peter Lerche, they have obtained the legal right to manage a large swath of their ancestral territory.

Not only will the Pamau Nain Conservation Concession preserve the pristine Amazon rain forest in which they live – it will help to preserve their traditional way of life.

Amazonas Peru
~ Kampankis Mountains ~

Amazonas Peru

Amazonas ~ 38,850 sq km (15,000 sq mi) consisting of regions covered by rain forests and mountain ranges. The rain forest zone predominates (72.93%) and it extends to the north over its oriental slope, up to the border with Ecuador in the summits of the Cordillera del Cóndor.

Our area of research: The Kampankis Mountains that has been inhabited for centuries by Awajún people. Measuring ~180 km long but just 10 km wide, the Kampankis form a knife-thin ridge separated from the Cordillera del Cóndor to the west by a thin strip of lowland forest 40–60km wide.

The northern end of the mountains, with a maximum elevation of 1,435m, extends from Santa Maria de Nieva into the Zona Reservada Santiago Comaina.
The southern ridge extends south from Santa Maria de Nieva with elevations reaching 1600m into the Zona Reservada Rio Nieva.
This southern section of Kampankis with Nieva River following its western slope is called by some as Shamak Nain (mountains of “Shamak” bird).


Awajún Territory, Amazonas Peru

peru map



The Andes Mountains cut through the Amazonas wilderness leading to the
lowland jungle of Nieva River and Awajún Indigenous Communities.

Awajún ~ Communities

Awajún Communities: The Awajún belong to the Jívaro ethnolinguistic family. The region has a total population of ~30,000. Strong cultural ties connect indigenous residents with the Kampankis Mountains. Up until the 1940s and 1950s many people lived in the mountains themselves, in scattered settlements along streams and rivers, as was the Awajún custom. Later, often with the encouragement of missionaries, residents migrated to denser nuclear settlements along the larger rivers, which were officially recognized by a 1974 Peruvian law as “indigenous communities”.

Headhunting: Into the 20th century the Awajún were considered the fiercest of warriors including the practice of “headhunting”; the practice of collecting the severed head of an adversary and shrinking it, known locally as Tzan-Tzas. The people believed that the head housed the soul of the person killed.
For the Awajún living in more accessible areas, usually near large rivers, economic and political power replaced the tradition of Tzan-Tzas to control the destiny of their ancestral lands. However, it is believed that splinter groups in remote communities continue with these practices when there is malediction or as revenge.

Kampankis Mountains: Residents’ relationships with the Kampankis Mountains are based on a view of the world in which humans, animals, plants, and other elements of the landscape form groups that are linked to each other by shared networks of social relationships (kinship, alliances, competition, etc.). The mountains also represent a link with residents’ ancestors, as sites of visionary experiences in search of ajutap/arutam (spirit beings), and a source of spiritual inspiration and knowledge with which to face the future. In this way, the Kampankis Mountains are not only a biodiversity-rich cordillera but also a rich cultural landscape saturated with symbolic meaning for local residents.

Through a complex system local communities manage and protect the region’s natural resources with ancestral agreements, current cultural practices including small-scale agriculture and subsistence hunting and fishing, and a deep understanding of local biology and ecology.

Awajún team

Awajún Field Guides and wildlife trackers.
From left:
• Romero Anag, Head of the Native Community of Awananch.
• Fermin, a community member of the Iwanch Ukagmamu Community.
• Silas Shimpukat, Head of the Iwanch Ujagmamu Community
• Jose Bachuk, Head of the Ugkum Community.
• Center: Demostenes Jima Chamiquit.

Special thanks to our Field Manager, Demostenes, and the Awajún Asociación de Mancomunidad Pamau Nain.


Geology: The Kampankis Mountains are well described in the geologic literature. They are composed of continental and marine deposits that range in age from the Jurassic (160 million years old) to the Neogene (5 million years old) and include eight geologic formations in which varieties of sandstone, limestone, and siltstone predominate.

Vegetation: The vegetation of the Kampankis Mountains varies with geology and elevation. Five primary vegetation types have been defined in the Kampankis areas: 1) riparian vegetation along streams and rivers; 2) lower hill forests between 300 and 700m elevation, on sandy to clayey soils; 3) mid-elevation forests at 700–1,000m, on sandy to clayey soils; 4) forests on limestone outcrops and associated soils, between 700 and 1,100m; and 5) low forests on sandstone outcrops and associated soils on the highest slopes and ridges of the range, at 1,000–1,435m elevation.

During a 2012 Chicago Field Museum RAPID study in the Kampankis a species inventory found: Plants 1,100, Fishes 60, Amphibians 60, Reptiles 48, Birds 350, Mammals 73.

Birds: The Kampankis avifauna is a diverse mix of lowland Amazonian and Andean foothill bird communities. Through field observations and recordings, the ornithological team registered 350 bird species, of which 56 are typically montane.
Several rare and little-known species recorded during the inventory—like Leucopternis princeps, Wetmorethraupis sterrhopteron, and Entomodestes leucotis — are known from very few sites in Peru.

Mammals: 57 of the 79 species of medium-sized and large mammals believed to occur in the area include: White-bellied spider monkey Ateles belzebuth (Endangered), Common woolly monkey Lagothrix lagotricha, Juruá red howler monkey Alouatta juara, White-tailed Titi monkey Callicebus discolor, Saddleback tamarin Saguinus fuscicollis, Saki monkey Pithecia aequatorialis, Owl monkey Aotus vociferans, Tayra Eira barbara, Jaguar Panthera onca (near threatened), Puma Puma concolor, Short-eared dog Atelocynus microtis (near threatened), Tapir Tapirus terrestris (Vulnerable), Giant armadillo Priodontes maximus (Vulnerable), Giant anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla (Vulnerable), River otter Lontra longicaudis, Tamandua Tamandua tetradactyla, Chestnut sac-winged bat (Wagner's sac-winged bat) Cormura brevirostris (Rare), and Lesser Long-tongued Bat Choeroniscus minor which prefers undisturbed forests.

UPDATE: An establish tribe of the Peruvian Red Uakari Monkey, Cacajao calvus ucayalii (Vulnerable), has been confirmed in an area ~34mi/55km SSE of Sawi Entsa near the settlement of Candamo (05°31′S 077°39W′; altitude 1,421 m a.s.l.). The Peuvian Red Uakari is an Amazonian primate with peculiar features; it has a bright red, bald face, a short tail, and ruddy fur. This monkey is highly specialized and is found mainly in palm tree habitats. This population is isolated from the other known uakari populations in the eastern lowlands, which raises questions concerning their taxonomic status and biogeographical history.

Kampankis Project

Kampankis Project: The next phase of our documentary series begins with “Kampankis Expedition” to document the lifestyle, language, music and traditions of five Awajún communities; a rare opportunity with special permission from Community Chiefs to live among their people on an 18-day journey.

From Lima (1A) a flight takes us the city of Jaén (2A); the capital of the Jaén Province in the Cajamarca Region in Peru, located in the high jungle of northern Peru at 785m elevation. -5.7416655 -78.7418803

A mountain road trip leads us to Chiriaco (3A) located on the majestic Marañón River and gateway to the lowland Amazonas jungle.

With the high jungle behind the road continues to Santa Maria de Nieva (4A), the capital of the province of Condorcanqui in the department of Amazonas Region. Here, at the confluence of the Marañón and Nieva rivers, the city of ~3,000 is home to Awajún, Huambisa and mestizo residents.
And the beginning of our river exploration to the Awajún communities on the Nieva River.

  • Over 18-days our travels will take us to the city of Santa Maria de Nieva and five Awajún Communities (map02):
  • 01: Santa Maria de Nieva
    -4.5909801 -77.8518711
  • Puente Nieva
    -4.7293372 -77.82481
  • Ipakuma
    -4.9340007 -77.9569952
  • Kayamas
    -5.0893648 -77.9624872
  • Sawientsa
    -5.1647214 -77.9118977
  • Ugkum
    -5.201705 -77.9137397
Santa Maria de Nieva → Puente Nieva

Santa Maria de Nieva; a 21km road trip brings us to Puente Nieva, our operations base for Kampankis Mountains exploration (Map04).

Puente Nieva → Ipakuma

River passage from Puente Nieva to Ipakuma begins with 12kms on the Japaime River to the confluence with Nieva River aboard long narrow canoes powered by “peke-peke” motors(Map05).


Nieva River flows north-to-south 150km parallel to and west of the Kampankis Mountains. Our route up the Nieva is 63km to Ipakuma.


Ipakuma → Kayamas

Continuing up the Nieva River 24km brings us to Kayamas (Map5A).


The next leg of our trip up the Nieva River is 14km to the Sawientsa Community (Map06). Here, the lower slope of the Kampankis ridge is but 4km from the river rising to elevations of 1600m 8km from the Nieva River.


Our furthest destination, the community of Ugkum, Takes us 7km up the Nieva River and then 5km up a small tributary. A 1.5km hike to then be at UgKum.



Kampankis Project Awajún Communities

Santa Maria de Nieva → Puente Nieva
puente nieva

Puente Nieva → Ipakuma

Ipakuma → Kayamas

Kayamas → Sawientsa

Sawientsa → Ugkum

Awajún Village bordering Pamau Nain
Awajún Community

With our return down the Nieva River to Santa Maria de Nieva
our journey ends with a road trip to the Jaén airport.

Awajún Photos

Awajún in ceremonial dress

Santa Maria de Nieva
Santa Maria de Nieva

Peter Lerche
Peter Lerche

Peter with Cacao plants
Peter Lerche with cacao plants

Nieva River tributary
Nieva River

Drying cacao in Bakants
Drying cacao in Bakants

Loading Cacao
Loading Cacao

River Crossing
river crossing

Awajún Village
Awajun Village

Kuas, the former head/chief of the community of Ugkum.
He died in 2017, victim of black magic.
Kuas, the former head/chief of the community of Ugkum. He died in 2017, victim of black magic.

Awajún children
Awajun children

Peter (left front) with 2-friends
Peter Lerche

Awajún Woman with baby
Awajun woman with baby

Nieva River
Nieva River

Eduardo Weepiu river crossing with Martín Mayak
Nieva River

Marañón river at Imaza
Marañón river at Imaza

Carrying cacao through the jungle to the market
Carrying cacao through the jungle to the market

Don Eduardo Weepiu Daekat
Don Eduardo Weepiu Daekat

Awajún Village
Awajun Village

Photos © Peter Lerche

Wildlife Photos

  • White-bellied spider monkey

    White-bellied spider monkey Ateles belzebuth (Endangered)
  • Common woolly monkey

    Common woolly monkey Lagothrix lagotricha
  • Juruá red howler monkey

    Juruá red howler monkey Alouatta juara
  • Saddleback tamarins

    Saddleback tamarin Saguinus fuscicollis
  • Jaguar

    Jaguar Panthera onca
  • Short-eared dog

    Short-eared dog Atelocynus microtis

Myths, Legends & Music

Nieva River


Awajún Music

Nieva River is a tributary of the Marañón River in Peru. It flows south-to-north 150km through the provinces Bongara and Condorcanqui of the Amazonas Region on the west side of the Kampankis Mountains.

At the confluence with the Marañón lies the town of Santa Maria de Nieva, the capital of the province of Condorcanqui with a population of ~3000 residents. The majority of people who live in Santa María de Nieva are Awajún, but there are as well Huambisa and mestizo residents.

The traditional Awajún name for the Nieva River was Numpatkaim ‘blood colored’, referring to the appearance of the water.

Awajún settlers came to the Nieva River from the province of Barranca in the department of Loreto first settling in the upper Nieva in the 1940’s. Prior to that time, the Awajún avoided the Nieva River since they considered it to be swampy land, full of caimans, anacondas and thick vegetation.

East of Sawi Entsa the Cachiaco River flows to a large mesa-like mountain called Iwanch Ujagmamu ‘Devil Song Mountain.’ According to legend, the mountain is the site where the Iwanch, a malevolent spirit, sang an ujagmámu, a special song that was traditionally sung after taking head trophies (tsántsa).

Awajún myth: According to an Awajún myth, originally all the animals and plants used to be human beings. These plants, animals, mountains, objects, have “WAKAN” - “soul”; it is a living world, all, not only humans, have spirit/soul. Having vision, the souls meet and it is possible to communicate with them.
The Awajún belief system is based on different spirits, for example spirits of the forest, lakes, rivers, ground, plants and animals. These spirits can, for example, protect nature and help cure sick people.
Traditionally, the Awajún believe that there is a creator, Ajútap, but that this creator does not take part in the life of the people. In the underworld lives Tsugki, which takes the form of a boa and is the shamans’ source of power. Between these two worlds is the world of human beings, animals, plants and some supernatural beings.

In Awajún culture, only men are allowed to play musical instruments. Traditional Awajún instruments consist of three flutes: pinkui, peém and pijun; two string instruments: tumag and kitag; and two percussion instruments: tampug and tuntui.

Pinkui is a transverse flute made of a reed called kugki. The structure of pinkui is very simple, with one embouchure hole on one end, and two finger holes on the other. The holes are burnt to the reed with a hot nail. Pinkui is used in every-day situations, for example at home for personal pleasure or in celebrations to accompany traditional dancing.
The second flute, Peém, is not mentioned in the literature about Awajún instruments, but some people in Supayaku are familiar with it. Peem is used at home. By playing peem, a man can communicate with his wife. Pijun is usually not played in public events, but a man can play it with his family or close friends.

Tumag is a plucked instrument with one string tightened between two ends of a flexible wooden stick. The string is traditionally made from palm tree fibre/fiber. When playing, the player puts one end of the instrument into his mouth, with the mouth only touching the wooden part. The string is plucked with the index finger. Tumag is used to send messages or communicate emotions to people who are far away, mostly to a wife or to one’s enemies. A man gives a message to an animal, for example to a bird or a monkey, in the form of a song. When the person receiving the message hears that particular type of bird singing or monkey howling, he or she will feel the thoughts sent by the man. Tumag is a sacred instrument that cannot be played in celebrations or other public events.

Kitag is an instrument remotely similar to the violin. Kitag has two strings, and it is played with a bow.

Tampug is a small drum, made of wood and animal skin, used at celebrations to accompany singing and dancing. The other percussion instrument, tundui, is a big drum made of a tree trunk used to send messages to faraway places such as neighboring villages.

Awajún Musical Instuments

Awajún music
  • katig

  • Peem

  • pinkui

  • tampug

  • tuntui


Our Kampankis Project is the first of a documentary series exploring Awajún life;
their customs, language, traditions and, importantly,
their commitment to protecting the wildlife and the future of their ancestral lands.

Our Project is a collaboration between anthropologist Peter Lerche, authority on the indigenous people of Amazonas,
and Davarian Hall, founder of the Amazonas Conservation Initiative.

For information on how you can contribute to the success of the Kampankis Project
and enrich the lives of the Awajún, contact


About Us

Dr. Peter Lerche

peter lerche

“I came to Peru for the first time in 1971, I had just finished high school. At that time to get from Chachapoyas, capital of Amazonas, to the Awajún, you had to travel to Bagua and then walk for several days to the north to a place where you could take a canoe downriver the Marañón. I spent three months in Amazonas. Returning to Germany I did my military service, then entered the University of Berlin, where I chose to specialize in anthropology, ethnohistory and archaeology. When I was about to finish, I had to present a thesis and I remembered the trip I made to Peru.

I returned to Chachapoyas in 1980, to do my field research on the Chachapoyas culture. This area is a place where you can work a lot, it is healthy, there is no industry and the vegetation is almost intact. Here... life is more intense.”

In 1985, Peter received his doctorate from the Free University of Berlin.

His past government positions include: Tourism Development Consultant of the Reginal Government and Director of the Department of Conservation Archaeological Monuments of the National Cultural Institute/Amazonas. During this time Peter was intimately involved with the discoveries of natural cave mausoleums containing mummies and artifacts dated from 900 a.c. in an area called Laguna de los Cóndores (Lagoon of the Condors).
Between 2007 and 2010 he was mayor of the city of Chachapoyas. Later Peter served as the Director of the Regional Branch Office of the Peruvian Ministry of Culture for Amazonas.

Anthropologist, historian, author, explorer, and authority on the religious world of pre-Inca Chachapoya, Peter has given hundreds of lectures over the years on Chachapoyan history.

Notable magazine credits include his cover story “Quest for the Lost Tombs”, National Geographic September 2000 by Peter Lerche, photography by Gordon Wiltsie.

In recent years Peter’s work with 11 indigenous Awajún communities and the regional government of Amazonas, resulted in the establishment of the Pamau Nain Conservation Concession, protecting nearly 115,000 acres of pristine Amazon rain forest.

Peter’s conservation efforts continue today with Amazonas Conservation Initiative’s work with the Awajún Communities of the Kampankis Mountains.

Davarian Hall


Following davarian’s first visit to Peru in 1982 davarian provided stock photography of the Peruvian Andes and rain forest to international publications.

With the advent of the WWW his computer and photography skills lead to website architecture for an international conservation organization. This included working with the Machiguenga Communities of South Eastern Peru to establish five research/tourist lodges.

In 2008, in collaboration with a Kukama Community and with partners, davarian built the Amazon Refuge Wildlife Conservation Center on the Yanayacu tributary of the Amazon River near Iquitos.

During this time davarian took on roles as Location Manager of Discovery Channel’s Naked & Afraid series – several survival episodes then taking place in the Amazon Refuge area.

In 2018 davarian's conservation work continued in the far remote area of the Amazonas Department of Peru working with the Awajún people and the founding of the Amazonas Conservation Initiative.

“Peruvian legends and myths are my life’s blood of adventure – my favorite trips being ‘In Search of the Black Lagoon’, ‘Pongo de Mainique’, and Expedition to Shubet Mountain.

With our current work with the Awajún people our documentary ‘Where the Devil Sings’ opens a door to a mystical Lost World of the Amazonas jungle:"

Through the Lens, with the Pen, within the Spirit;
the chance, fortune, danger, luck, and power of Adventure beckons.
The passage is Vision, Imagination, and Perseverance.
The map is drawn within the sunset,
etched amongst the stars.
Your guides are those like yourself...on a Journey
extreme adventure

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