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.