The Amerindians

Most archaeologists date the arrival of the Amerindians in the Amazon Basin to around 12,000 years ago. However, it was not until 1,000 years later that the populations were well established. Much of their history since then has been lost to the acidic soils and veils of time, only alive in tribal traditions and legends. When the conquistadors arrived, indigenous populations numbered between 1.5 and 7 million and 2,000 tribal groups. Today under a million individuals divided up into 400 tribal groups remain.

Amerindians often have a complex traditional codes and practice animistic religions. Everything possesses a spirit and lays within some sort of spiritual hierarchy. Dreams play an important life in the culture. In the tribal world there is no difference between perceived “reality” and the world of dreams. While most westerners believe that the visible world is reality and therefore most important, the Indian thinks differently. The visible world is governed by the need to survive and nothing in this world is intrinsically meaningful. It is the spirit world to which it must conform and where it gains any meaning and form. One must look to the spiritual world to find guidance in life. The ultimate goal is to view these two worlds as one. This is often done by following traditional rites and using hallucinogens.

A careful balance must be maintained to avoid upsetting the spirits or else tribal life will be turned up side down. This belief has led to the highly ordered and complex rituals of the tribes. Usually men hunt, fish, and build homes while women tend to the garden, children, and food. Additionally, there are strict taboos to be observed. Breaking one demands some sort of revenge to maintain the balance.

For 12,000 years the indigenous peoples have been an essential part of Amazonian life. These tribes are often discriminated by settlers, tourists, conservationists, and even their own government. They have been doing their best to fight against this discrimination by means of non-violent protests, media publicity, and court action, all with some success. Sadly, though, change is inevitable when faced with the inexorable and inevitable pressure of population and economic growth.