Jivaroan peoples

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"Jibaros" redirects here. For the Puerto Rican people, see Jíbaro.
Pwanchir Pitu, Achuar shaman

Jivaroan peoples refers to groups of indigenous peoples in the headwaters of the Marañon River and its tributaries, in northern Peru and eastern Ecuador. These groups identify speakers of distinct languages of the language family of the same name.[1]

The Jivaro people are famous for their head-hunting raids and shrinking the heads from these raids. These head-hunting raids usually occur once a year in one particular Jivaro neighborhood. These raiding parties usually only attack one homestead per raid, killing the men, spearing the older women to death, and taking younger women as their brides. Once the heads have been collected they are shrunk by cutting the skull vertically and removing the skull and jaw bone. Then, the head is boiled and later mixed with hot gravel and sand, shrinking the head to the size of a large orange. The head is sewn along the lips, which are blackened with charcoal.

Percentage of male deaths due to warfare amongst the Jivaro, as compared to other indigenous ethnic groups in New Guinea and South America and to some industrialized nations.

Jivaro religion usually involves a god and goddess. The Jivaro god, Tsungi, is the god of shamanism, and the Jivaro goddess, Nungüi, refers to mother earth. Nungüi is described as being a short and large woman, dressed in a black dress. According to Jivaro belief; if Nungüi dances in a woman's garden, this will produce a productive garden during the harvest seasons.

Jivaro also engage in hunting activities. These activities usually involve both a man and his wife hunting with a blow gun and poisoned dart, dabbed with the poisonous plant curare, which stops the heart beat of the animal. Jivaro usually hunt for monkeys and birds, but they do not rely on hunting as their primary food source.


The principal groups are:

Some have also named the following:

Moreover, the Shiwiar are a group of Achuar speakers living along the Corrientes River, next to Quechua speakers; many Shiwiar also speak this other, unrelated, language.

Confounding factors[edit]

Anthropologists have recognized these languages as distinct peoples, but have called attention to two confounding factors. The first has to do with nomenclature: Jivaroan language speakers typically identify themselves either by their language's word for person (shuar) or by the name of the river on which they live. Consequently, historical sources record either one name for all, or a plethora names of many small Jivaroan tribes, each the name of a different river.[1][3]

The second reason has to do with social organization. Prior to Ecuadorian or Peruvian colonization and Christian missionization in the 20th century, the principal unit of Jivaroan social organization was the polygynous matrilocal household or cluster of matrilocally-organized households. Notably, although Jivaroans shared the same language and culture, each household or cluster of matrilocally organized households were politically and economically autonomous.[1][2] Thus, in 1938 Matthew Stirling commented that:[1]

the Jivaros scattered over this vast territory of approximately 22,000 square miles (57,000 km2) are of similar appearance physically; they speak a single language and their customs, beliefs and material culture are closely interrelated. With this, however, their unity ends. The scores of small independent groups, living for the most part on the headwaters of the tributary streams, are constantly at war, one group with another.

He also said that:

...they live in widely separated household groups with very little consciousness of any sort of political unity. Such groupings as exist are continually shifting location, separating, amalgamating, or being exterminated.[1]

Prior to colonization and the presence of Christian missionaries, Jivaroan speakers were not organized into any stable and clearly bounded polities or ethnic groups.

In response to European colonization and missionization, Jivaroan speakers have formed nucleated settlements that are organized into political federations: the Federación Interprovincial de Centros Shuar and the Nacionalidad Achuar de Ecuador in Ecuador, and the Organización Central de Comunidades Aguarunas del Alto Marañon and the Consejo Aguaruna y Huambisa in Peru.[citation needed]


The word "Jivaro" is likely a corruption of the indigenous word, Shuar.[4] During the Spanish colonial period, "Jivaros" were viewed as the antithesis of civilized. The word Jíbaro thus entered the Spanish language; in Ecuador it is highly pejorative and signifies "savage";[citation needed] outside of Ecuador, especially in Mexico and Puerto Rico, it has come to mean "rustic."[1][2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Stirling, Matthew. 1938 Historical and Ethnographic Materials of the Jivaro Indians Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 117, 2
  2. ^ a b Harner, Michael. 1972 Jivaro: People of the Sacred Waterfalls. ISBN 0385071183.
  3. ^ Karsten, Rafael. 1935 The Headhunters of Western Amazonas. The Life and Culture of the Jibaro Indians of Eastern Ecuador and Peru, Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica, Commentationes Humanarum Littararum VII(l). 2-3
  4. ^ Gnerre, Maurizio 1973 “Sources of Spanish Jívaro,” in Romance Philology 27(2): 203-204. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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