The name of the Iskonawa people come from the term Isko, which means 'bird' and Nawa, referring to the 'other' or 'foreigner'.
Despite the territorial movements throughout their history, the Iskonawa recognise the area around the Roebiri 'Cerro El Cono' (Parque Nacional Sierra del Divisor) as part of their ancestral territory. Today, most of the members of this community live in Ucayali, between the city of Pucallpa and Shipibo-Konibo native communities, such as Chachibai and Callería.
According to the results of the 2017 national census, 25 people have identified themselves as part of the Iskonawa people at a national level because of their customs and ancestry; and 22 people have stated that they speak the Iskonawa language.
From 2020, Xapiri is the only organization working with the Iskonawa people, with the aim of maintaining a long-term fair trade relationship so that the craftswomen continue to develop their traditional art and pass it on to future generations.
We work with the Asociación de Artesanas Iskonawa Pari Awin, an on-the-ground group of artisans to rescue and continue producing their traditional art. The artisans that compose this association are Neyra Pérez, Luz Maritha Rodriguez, Edelvina Cumapa, Besti Campos, Dalia Guimaraes y Florinda Castro.
Carving is a technique that the men use to shape certain woods (e.g. wanin ' pijuayo', paka ' bamboo') drawing upon certain objects from daily life. These include arrows, which the Iskonawa would make for hunting; one of their most emblematic activities. Stones, shells or animal teeth could be used for carving; however, nowadays, the machete or knife is used as a more effective tool.
The making of these artifacts was an activity in which male and female roles converged. On the one hand, the men were in charge of making the arrows, using mainly wood from trees and palms obtained in the inter-river areas where they lived. On the other hand, the women spun the cotton which were tied to the different artifacts, as well as painting of the decorative designs with annatto or ‘achiote’; a seed that yields a natural reddish pigment.
Ako is a percussion instrument used by the Iskonawa people to announce a feast to the members of other indigenous villages who were part of their family. Its shape is very similar to a canoe, although its size is much smaller. The convex side is placed upwards and two sticks are used to play it, the one who played it used a stick in each hand and struck them against the surface of the instrument vertically. The designs on the ako were painted by the women with red achiote dye on the outer sides and also on the contours of the ends.
The Iskonawa designs are characterized by zigzag strokes, which in their language are called "kere kere". According to the elders, the designs do not have specific meanings; however, they show a relationship with nature, such as the skin of the snake or the cone hill.
The designs found on their textiles and some of their artifacts are called kene, a term also used by other indigenous peoples who speak Pano languages to refer to 'their own'. The Iskonawa drawings in particular are characterized by zigzag strokes, which in their language are called kere kere.
In the past, the designs bore their distinctive placement on bodies and objects, which is why their names are associated with these aspects and not with the specific form of the strokes. The designs we find on the textiles today are representations of these iconographies.
According to the Iskonawa elders, the designs do not have a meaning; however, they show a relationship with nature, for example, some are inspired by the skin of the heamitsa 'snake' or the shapes of the roebiri 'The Cone Hill'.