The Chambira River is a major tributary river of the Marañón River, and has been the traditional territory of the Urarina peoples for at least the past 350 years, if not much longer. Located in the Amazon jungle of Peru, otherwise known as the Selva, this river is a tropical waterway with many purposes. There is a diversity of plants and animals in this region which creates a unique ecosystem around the Chambira River. Made up of "palm-swamps," the region takes its name from the Chambira palm. Until relatively recently, the Chambira Basin has not been the focus of mapping by the Spanish empire or the Peruvian nation. No major geographical surveys of the Chambira Basin were mounted during the nineteenth century heyday of exploration. It was not until the 1970s discovery of hydrocarbons in the region and subsequent indigenous peoples' mobilization and government-backed neo-liberal legislation that the Chambira River's lands have been mapped.
The name "Chambira" refers to the dense growth of Chambira palms that cover the region. Otherwise known as Astrocaryum chambira, this native plant has many uses. The plant produces edible fruit consumed by humans and animals alike, and the leaves can be used as fiber for tying rope. Medicinal value is also a benefit of the Chambira palm. The Selva is a tropical climate so it is home to a variety of plants and other life forms. Tropical fruits such as bananas grow there. In the river itself is a plethora of different freshwater species, not limited to but including turtles, fish, caimans, stingrays, and electric eels. All of these species make up an aquatic food chain that indirectly feeds the land as well. Land animals eat the aquatic fish which is returned to the earth in the form of fertilizer. This feeds plant which is the starting block of the land food chain. It is in this manner that the Chambira River plays a role in the environment around it.
The Urarina, or an indigenous population living along the Chambira River, receive many benefits from the water system. Because they have access to a fresh water source, these people have developed different farming methods which make use of the river. The first of these is slash and burn farming, which involves exploiting a farm plot for three to five years before moving on to a new area. The other kind of farming implemented is an open plot along the riverbank. During the dry season, the river recedes, leaving behind highly arable silt that is usually monocropped for a short season. The river also provides a crucial system of interconnected waterways to the Urarina. The men from the tribe make dugout canoes which provide the primary mode of transportation for the Urarina. The river can be used to transport agricultural and other goods downstream to a market or to another tribe. Within the Chambira Basin, all of the rivers are connected in some way with tributaries, thus creating a water highway in the Peruvian jungle. Not only do primitive populations make use of the river system, but large-scale corporations transport goods along the rivers. The most notable example of this is the flotation of oil down the river from the many oil fields in the Selvaoil. The Chambira River not only supports a complex ecosystem, but it also aids humans in their endeavors along the waterway.
Effects of pollution
The Chambira River is a life source for many things near its waters, but pollution in the river is starting to raise questions whether this will be a viable water source in the future. Dating back to the 1970s, Occidental Petroleum, and later Pluspetrol started extracting oil out of the Peruvian rainforest and transporting it back to the coast using the river system. In addition to 18 other previous spills, the most recent spill on January 16, 2011, was of over 400 barrels of crude oil. Although there are methods of cleaning oil out of a water system, the buildup of heavy metals and other toxins in the Chambira are of concern given the vast number of spills. The most recent spill occurred near a humedal, or a part of the wetland rainforest that remains partially flooded, which poses risks for the fish-spawning grounds located there. Hunting and fishing are far more crucial than farming to the indigenous population's survival. The food source provided by the river maintains the Urarina's lifestyle. With so much depending on the stable balance of the Chambira River's ecosystem, manmade disasters such as oil spills are of concern for Pluspetrol, the indigenous populations, as well as the Peruvian government.
- Dean, Bartholomew. "Chanting Rivers, Fiery Tongues: Exchange, Value and Desire among the Urarina of Peruvian Amazonia". ProQuest Dissertations & Theses. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
- Hudson, Rex. "A Country Study: Peru". Library of Congress Federal Research Division. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
- "Another Major Oil Spill From Pluspetrol in Northern Peru". States News Service. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
- Dean, Bartholomew (1995). "Chanting Rivers, Fiery Tongues: Exchange, Value and Desire among the Urarina of Peruvian Amazonia". Harvard University. Retrieved 1 April 2012.