The Matsés live in the Javari Valley Indigenous Reserve on the Peruvian/Brazilian frontier. This preserve protects the largest number of non-contacted groups on earth. On the Peruvian side, they have an approximate population of 2,200 people, in Brazil, they number 1,300. Rejecting the notion that their facial ornaments are meant to imitate the jaguar as referred to in popular literature, the Matsés assert that these ornaments and facial tattoos are only markers that identify them as belonging to the Matsés ethnic group. The Matsés practice slash-and-burn agriculture, normally an area located outside of the village. Their diet consists of plantain, corn, and manioc supplemented with forest fruits, fishing and hunting. The main Matsés drinks are Chapo and Chicha.
We have been developing sustainable fair-trade with the Matsés since 2016. All of our projects with the Matsés are directly coordinated with the Matsés leadership, and with the help and facilitation from Acaté Amazon Conservation. Acaté is an on-the-ground conservation organization founded in 2012 that works directly through projects developed and led by the Matsés to help maintain their self-sufficiency and cultural survival as they adapt to the outside world. For the projects, all of the Matsés are paid in advance at a fair price determined by and agreed upon by the communities and leaders. Acaté offers their expertise and advice to help the Matsés facilitate the trade but does not receive any percentage or monetary gain.
We have been on multiple expeditions to the Matsés territory since 2017. Our mission is to visit and develop relationships with the many Matsés artisans we are working with while also documenting the processes behind the art. The long-term aim of our work is to ensure that the ancestral artistic practices are maintained and transmitted to the younger Matsés generations throughout their territory while introducing sustainable economy.
Art is of central importance in Matsés culture and identity. They have an incredibly fine and detailed artistic process and these items are used in their everyday lives. If this ancestral wisdom continues to thrive, so can the cultural identity of the Matsés.
Ceramics in the Matsés is a purely female practice and a vital piece of ancestral memory. Our vision is to ensure this ancient technique is not lost by transmitting the ceramic process to younger Matsés.
The Uitsun bracelet is a product specific to the Matsés. They are woven from either natural home spun cotton or chambira palm fibre on a rustic loom and and can include painted designs derived from natural pigments. In Matsés culture, these are tied on the wrist or ankle as adornment and/or as a gesture of friendship. A sister puts on her little brother’s ankle ornament by slipping the knotted ends through little loops. As she grows, a girl will weave for her brother, her husband and then for her children, just as the boy will grow to ask for ornaments from his mother, his sister, and eventually his wife.
In 2017, we developed a sustainable and economically viable handicraft project with Acate Amazon Conservation that aims to involve as many villages and craftspersons as possible across the wide Matsés territory, allowing us to work with over 100+ Matsés women in 10+ villages.
Coming from the most remote Matsés communities, the lances and arrows are made by the elder men; mostly remaining shamans, using a fine and detailed artistic process. The lances are commonly used by the Matsés for hunting and ceremony. The lances are made of peach palm (Bactris gasipaes) while the arrows are made from bamboo, both adorned with homespun cotton string dyed with ‘Achiote’. The feathers used at the tip of the arrows are from Curassow or Harpy Eagle.
Ancestral hunting practices throughout the Amazon are quickly disappearing as knowledge is forgotten and shotguns replace traditional hunting tools. The Matsés unlike many other ethnic groups in the Amazon still use traditional hunting tools, most noticeably the bow and arrow.
Made from rustica tobacco, mocambo, and cacahuillo, nënë is a snuff (rapé) that is used in ceremonies and to prepare Matsés men for successful hunting, enhancing visions and sharpening senses. Bringing calmness, clarity, and focus, the hunting recipient has visions of the location of the game in the surrounding forest. To prepare the snuff, the powdered roasted leaves of mapacho (rustic tobacco) are mixed with alkaline ashes of the inner bark of the mocambo tree (wild cacao) or cacahuillo tree. The prepared snuff is blown up the nostrels through an applicator, individually or shared between friends. A Matsés man may receive as many as four doses of Nënë in each nostril.
Handwoven chambira palm fibre. Natural Pigment.