Next to its energetic biodiversity, Manu and its surroundings is also home to different indigenous people. These groups, who speak their own language, and have their own cultures, include the Machiguenga, the Maschko-Piro, the Yaminahua and the Amahuaca. Their understanding of the rainforest is different to ours, because to them the rainforest is livelihood and home that they share with plants, animals, mountains and rivers, which in Amazonian cosmology have spirits, just like all humans.
Traditionally, indigenous people used to live a nomadic lifestyle as hunters and gatherers, but many have now settled and make their livelihood producing crops like yucca (manioc), plantains and fishing. Increasing contact with non-indigenous people has influenced social and cultural changes, but that has not made them less indigenous. Among those living in isolation, there are groups who have opted for a life in so-called ‘voluntary isolation’, but their lifestyles are being threatened, not from one side, but from many. The advancing exploitation of natural resources, drug producers and traffickers, as well as new settlers occupying the edges of the park scare the animals away and pollute their waters. Roads and paths built to serve oil and gas exploration open up previously secluded parts of the rainforest to non-native people and illegal loggers.
However, the most recent phenomena threatening the park are illegal tourists. People entering the park without permissions and paying money to illegal tourism companies to get glance at the natives – imagined as the noble savage, untouched by consumerism and neoliberal dependencies – have exposed them to diseases they have not developed immunity to.
Protecting the rainforest means to protect indigenous people’s rights. The Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River and Tributaries, FENAMAD, is the official organisation representing the different indigenous peoples of the region. Indigenous communities themselves founded the organisation in 1982 with the aim of defending their rights and to promote plans, projects and activities for and of the indigenous peoples of Madre de Dios.
“Indigenous people in isolation or initial contact are the living expression of the rejection of the destruction that has only meant the development of the mineral and colonising sector in Amazonia.” (FENAMAD 2014)
Read more on their website (in Spanish).