Photography by Tui Anandi

Located along the Ucayali River in the Peruvian Amazon, the Shipibo (monkeymen) and the Konibo (fishmen) became one distinct tribe known as the Shipibo-Konibo through intermarriage and communal ritual. With an estimated population of over 30,000, they represent 8% of the registered indigenous population in Peru. Traditionally practicing slash-and-burn agriculture, the Shipibo-Konibo subsist primarily on plantains and bananas with some sweet manioc, potatoes, and maize that can be supplemented with foods collected from the forest like fish and game.


Like other indigenous populations throughout the Amazon basin, they are threatened by severe pressure from outside influences such as oil exploration and production, logging, palm oil cultivation, deforestation, commercial overfishing and narco-trafficking. Global weather changes have caused drought followed by flooding which also threatens the Shipibo-Konibo means of sustenance.

We have been working with the Shipibo-Konibo ethnic since 2017, alongside the NGO, Alianza Arkana. In 2019, we developed the multimedia report, Lines of Life, which is an in-depth report of how one Shipibo-Konibo artist, Pekon Rabi, makes ‘chitonti’ - traditional textiles made from homespun cotton woven on a backstrap loom., Our goal is to support the revitalization of these traditional textiles so this craft can continue for generations to come.


The Shipibo-Konibo have a rich and complex cosmology which have inspired their artistic traditions, notably in their ceramics and textiles. They are animists, and to them animals, vegetation, and non-biological beings have spirits, just as humans have two modes: material and spiritual.


The Shipibo-Konibo produce some of the finest pottery in the world. Made by women, the ceramics are adorned with hand-painted designs that are interpretations of their cosmic beliefs. By transforming the clay paste into a strong and solid material, the women can create large, thin, coil-built ceramics. The Panduro family, one of the few Shipibo-Konibo families that maintain the ancestral techniques of working with ceramic, continue their knowledge and the transmission of this art form. Creating their pieces in a traditional way, using natural materials and dyes and setting them on the open fire. Video of the process here.


The Shipibo-Konibo are distinguished by their extensive knowledge of medicinal plants. Their textiles are a central pillar of their culture and have been recognized by the Peruvian State as ‘Patrimonio Cultural de la Nación’. Kené is a type of artistic expression performed mostly by the women from the community. The art of Kené expresses both the symmetry and asymmetry of the cosmic order, passing from the invisible to the visible world. Practitioners acquire visions of Kené through the ritual use of powerful plants like ayahuasca, waste, and rao. Behavioral and dietary restrictions are also practiced. Women artists learn to see designs in their ‘xinan’, their thoughts. Men may also see designs, but this usually takes place during shamanic sessions. These designs not only serve the purpose of ornamentation, they represent an entire communication system with plant spirits. In addition, they come from the imagination of the individual, each piece based on the collective consciousness of the whole Shipibo-Konibo ethnic.


The Shipibo-Konibo have utilised plant and earth based materials to produce natural pigments for generations. While the use of black and brown pigments is still relatively common, other pigments are used less frequently and have in many cases been replaced by acrylic paints. Supporting the maintenance and use of these practices provides an ongoing connection to traditional plant knowledge.

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