• Awajún


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.

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) having lunch with 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

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


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