While you’re visiting the Amazon Basin near Iquitos, you have the chance to encounter one the Amazon’s native tribes, the Yagua. With only 4,000 to 6,000 members left, meeting the Yagua is a rare opportunity and the best way to get an idea of what the original face of the Amazon looks like.
Some Yagua communities are willing to have tourists come to the villages and observe the traditions that they have carried into the 21st century. Outsiders are fascinated by the Yagua’s use of blow darts. The Yagua still use blow darts to hunt for their meals in the Amazon jungle. The darts are made from carved wood, dipped in poison extracted from a vine. The Yagua sometimes entertain visitors with blow dart demonstrations. They sell blow darts and other wood carvings to tourists, as well as jewelry, dolls, and colorful masks.
In preparation for festivals, the Yagua make masato, an alcohol made from fermented yucca root. To make the yucca the right consistency, they chew the pulp prior to the fermenting process. When you visit, you may have the opportunity to see atunas, traditional dances performed to a drum beat that has reverberated throughout the Amazon for many generations.
Many members of the tribe still wear traditional clothing made of palm fiber. Yagua men traditionally wear grass skirts, a garment that made the Spanish arrivals mistake them for women, specifically the legendary Amazon women. To this day, we refer to it as the Amazon because of this initial confusion. Other traditional garb includes a red dye made from berries that is painted on the skin.
Around the turn of the century, Amazon people began to get involved in the export of rubber plants from the jungle. This is often cited as the time the Yagua and other native Amazonians developed a connection with the modern world. Since then, assimilation into the surrounding Peruvian culture has become increasingly common. Yagua is one of the few native Amazonian languages that has made it to the 21st century. Although smaller in size, the Yagua tribe persists – some of the Yagua still only speak their native tongue, and there are still children who grow up speaking only Yagua.