National Geographic : 2016 Jun
44 national geographic • june 2016 the Piro—who are now often called Yine, after their language—moved down the Manú River, eventually establishing villages such as Boca Manú and Diamante on the Alto Madre de Dios River. Into the void stepped the Matsigenka. They moved in from the west and south, first to the remote headwaters, then eventually to the vacated Manú riverfront, after missionary schools were established there in the 1960s. In communities such as Tayakome and Yomi- bato the Matsigenka now have not only schools but also medical clinics and communal satellite phones. The charity Rainforest Flow recent- ly installed sanitation and water-treatment systems that deliver clean water to nearly every household. People in these sprawling settlements—from one house you generally can’t see the next—hunt, gather, and grow their own food. But they also play Peruvian pop on boom boxes and wear knockoff Crocs and T-shirts that say things like “Palm Beach,” along with their traditional clothes. The Matsigenka who live near the headwaters still wear hand-spun cloth and get by without money or metal tools. Over time they’ve been trickling into the riverfront villages, looking for axes and medical care. The Mashco-Piro are more isolated still. Since the rubber days they’ve kept to them- selves, hunting and gathering deep in the forest. But they ’ve likely been well aware of the outside world, and in the past five years members of one group have begun appearing on the beaches of the Alto Madre de Dios, just outside the park, beckoning to boats and gesturing for food. They may have been driven out by the intrusions of mining, natural gas, and logging industries or by a recent decline of the peccaries, which are a major food source. Tourists and local people have given things to them, sometimes with tragic results. In R ich as it is, Manú isn’t an untouched Eden. There’s plenty of history here. Many tribes speaking multiple languag- es lived along the Manú River’s banks, so highly populated that one tribe called it the River of Houses. Inca and then Spanish conquistado- res, facing the impenetrable forest and skilled warriors, failed to subjugate the settled tribes. But trading with the Inca connected them to the wider region. And Spanish diseases, which killed untold numbers, began connecting the region to the wider world. In the 1890s this world was again turned upside down. Rubber for tires was selling at get-rich-quick prices. Rubber barons hired Amazonian natives to tap trees and also to raid other tribes for slave labor. One ambitious bar- on, Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald, got more than a thousand people, mostly members of the Piro tribe—relatives of the Mashco-Piro who lived along the Manú—to carry a riverboat piece by piece over the isthmus separating that river from the upper Mishahua. His arrival opened up the Manú Basin to rubber tapping. With Piro as his troops, Fitzcarrald tried to enslave the tribes along the Manú. Hundreds died resisting him; the river is said to have flowed red. Another tribe, the Toyeri, was almost wiped out. Some Mashco-Piro died, and others are thought to have fled into the forest. It’s their descendants who’ve made news lately by coming out of the forest and seeking contact. In short, the political geography of Manú is neither primeval nor isolated. It has been buf- feted for more than a century by the forces of a globalized economy, in which technological innovation and consumer demand in one part of the world shape—and often damage—the lives of those who live near valuable natural resources. After the rubber boom collapsed, most of It’s easy to imagine we’re watching people untainted by civilization, living in primeval bliss. I have to remind myself that they’re more like refugees from genocide.