Shipibo lady embroils the textile

The Shipibo story

The Shipibos are a group of South American Indians in Peru. The name "Shipibo" is derived from the Shipibo word shipi, which is their name for the marmot (Cebuella pygmaea).

Location and population

Shipibo, language, population

Shipibo occupy the Central Río Ucayali region in eastern Peru and its main western tributaries from Bologne to Contamanani in the geographic center of Pucallpa. The most important of these rivers are the Sheshea, Pachitea, Tamayo, Aguaytía, Pisqui and Cushabatay.
Reports of the Shipibo population vary, with estimates ranging from 20,000 to 30,000. A census carried out in 1974 reported the existence of 9,000 Shipibo and 6,000 Conibo.
The Shipibo language belongs to the Panoan family. There are dialectical differences between the people of the Río Ucayali and its tributaries, such as the Pisqui.


Shipibo culture, Shipibo tradition, Pucallpa

Archaeological evidence indicates that the origin of the Shipibo culture dates back to the 9th century AD. In the Cumancaya tradition, which means that the Shipibo culture or something similar has been in the area for more than 1000 years. There are indications (head bindings, pan pipes, raised beds, and fire fans) that some Shipibo may have come into contact with the Incas. Contact with Westerners began in the 17th century, when Franciscan missionaries arrived in the area. During this period, the Shipibo- and Tupí-speaking Cocama/Cocamilla tribes were resettled in neighbouring villages established by the missionaries. Thanks to their contacts with Spanish settlers and their strategic location on the Río Ucayali, the Shipibo had access to weapons, and in the 19th century they attacked other Panoa and Arawak tribes living in the nearby "forests." The Shipibo worked as wage labourers during the rubber boom of the 19th century, and as peons (laborers) for mestizo patrons (bosses) in agriculture and logging in that century. Other contacts with whites came from doctors and nurses, Protestant missionaries, and representatives of the Peruvian government. Today, Shipibo types range from the highly cultured, such as those living near the border town of Pucallpa, to the moderately cultured groups living in peripheral areas downstream.


Shipibo households, family life

In the past, the Shipibo lived apart in large family farms along rivers. Today, they live in villages whose houses are across the street, opposite the cakes (kitchens) and approximately parallel to the water. Villages are usually located on the banks of a river or a large cul-de-sac (i.e. crescent-shaped) lake. Some small households have their own hens, while larger extended or multi-family households may share hens, with each married woman maintaining her own clay fire. Today there are approximately 120 Shipibo settlements ranging in size from 100 to 500. Houses and cabins are built entirely from materials mined from the surrounding forest. The houses raised floors of split palm trees and palm thatch; some of them are surrounded by bamboo walls. Kitchens are made of the same materials, but without raised floors and walls.

Division of work 

Housework, hunting, Shipibo textiles, pottery, beads

Traditionally, all farm work was done by both men and women, except for men's labor-intensive felling of trees. Both men and women hunt and gather wild foods, although the latter is more often done by women. Hunting with a shotgun or bow and arrow is definitely human work. Women also cook, look after children, do most of the housework and make pottery, textiles and beads. Men build houses, make canoes, make weapons, and carve wooden objects, but they usually work as wage labourers and can be away from their families for weeks at a time.

Marriage and family

Marriage, family, education

The rules state that one cannot marry descendants of grandparents who are recognised as kikín rárëbo (true family) and ochó rárëbo (distant family). In the past, Shipibo marriages were performed by both parents. The bride had to deliver drinks to her future husband's family every day, give her family fish and game, and sleep with him every night. This trial period usually lasted from six to twelve months, after which the couple married. Although young men and women seem to enjoy greater freedom in choosing their spouses, marriage has never involved an elaborate ceremony; the man or his mother simply moves his mosquito to his wife's mother's house and lives there. Marriages break up without the same ceremony, men simply leave their wives and return to their families. Traditionally, men tended to marry between the ages of 19 and 25, while women typically married between the ages of 1 and 16 after undergoing a female initiation rite. Girls are no longer married and men marry at a younger age (15-20); so they marry women who are closer to their age. Polygynous marriages are not as common as they used to be, perhaps due to the influence of missionaries and government officials living in the country. Marriage is most common between people who live in villages along the same river.

Children are socialised at home and in a bilingual school. Babies are always with their mothers or relatives, while fathers have less contact with children. By Western standards, parents usually raise their children permissively. The rules of social behaviour, especially among certain kinship classes, are well known among the Sailors - a child learns them early. Corporal punishment is rarely used; if there is, it is usually for those who have spent more time with mestizos and whites. Most Shipibos value formal education and children start school at about 5 years of age.


Shipibo women, equality

Traditionally, Shipibo society was egalitarian, with the male heads of the largest families holding the most power. Men of the highest status had the most wives or those who were valued for their eloquence, knowledge of herbal medicine or hunting and fishing skills. Although men are more active in political affairs, women often exert their will in private, influencing the opinions of their fathers and husbands. The Peruvian government has established a political structure for the Shipibo, but these elected positions have little power. These tend to be younger Spanish-speaking men, and this has begun to erode the traditional status and influence of older people.

Beliefs and religion

religion, Ayahuasca ceremony, sacred plants

Among the Shipibos it is difficult to separate traditional beliefs from Christian influences; it has a mixture of animism and Christianity. Furthermore, descriptions of religious concepts are often vague and vary from village to village. Spirits and "gods" generally reside in heaven, and there is a staircase connecting heaven and earth along which the spirits move. Under the influence of ayahuasca, a vegetarian (herbivore) can climb this ladder and enter the spiritual world. Shipibo call supernatural beings yoshinbo. These are the spirits that live in animals and plants and against which one must constantly guard. Those who received religious instruction in nearby missions embraced Christianity and its supernaturalism.
Herbalists traditionally had the most esoteric knowledge of the spirit world and the use of medicinal herbs. To become a botanist, the man went through an apprenticeship and followed strict dietary restrictions. Some men who worked for Protestant missionaries established churches in their communities and served as self-appointed priests.

In the past, ani shrëat (big drinking) was the most important ceremony when young women were invited into society and men settled disputes. This ceremony often lasted three or four days and involved much drinking, fighting, dancing and singing. It is gone and replaced by national holidays.

Art, music and ceremonies

Shipibo artwork, music, ceremonies

Shipibo is known for his intricate rectilinear designs for ceramics, clothing, oars, and the human body. Old men and women continue to tell vivid stories about the discovery of fire and crops and the legendary "great" floods. Traditional line and circle dances are gradually being replaced by more modern forms. Many old men and women are known for their songs, and the power of the vegetalist is determined in part by the "power" of his songs. Flutes and drums are still played at parties, but these too are gradually being replaced by modern recordings.
According to Shipibo, two categories of diseases are distinguished - "flesh" and other diseases caused by yoshinbo. While Western medicine is recognized as effective in the treatment of the former, the healing power of vegetalista is sought for the treatment of the latter. To be cured, the vegetarian must travel to the spirit world, where he can divine the cause of his patient's illness. Vegetalist techniques include chanting, blowing tobacco smoke and massage. It is believed that a person becomes ill when a foreign body has entered the body; using the above treatments, the object can be transferred to the appendix, where it can be "sucked up" by the vegetarian and discarded.


When someone dies, their soul goes to the spirit world, but that spirit can live in the family home after a while. If the spirit is believed to be malevolent, one can seek the help of a vegetarian to avert it.

You can visit our Etsy page where you can see and securely purchase various Shipibo artisan and handmade products directly from the Amazon rainforest:

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