The Matsés tribe has always lived on the shores of the Yaquerana River, which marks the international border between Brazil and Peru. The estimated 2,200 who live on the border depend on the river and local animals for food but also grow crops such as plantain and manioc in their gardens.
The Matsés healers have a deep understanding of how forest plants can be used in their day to day lives. Matsés believe that plants and animals have spirits just like they do, and can help (or hurt) the human body and mind. Howler monkey meat can be used to treat sore throats and the green tree frog “acate” secretes a fluid that increases hunting ability by providing a sense of clarity and strength.
Now they are threatened by loggers and oil companies who want to build roads and seismic lines to search for oil in areas that would affect the headwaters of three major rivers the Matsés live near.
The Matsés have had legal title to their own lands since 1998. Their titled land comprises of 452,735 hectares along the Yavarí, Yaquerana, and Gálvez Rivers. There are no outside loggers or hunters exploiting their land at the moment, which allows the tribe to conserve their resources and makes a sustainable existence possible. However, two years ago the Canadian oil company Pacific Rubiales began to explore areas of land for oil – the same land occupied by the Matsés and other uncontacted Indians.
The Matsés people and their advocates are concerned about the safety of uncontacted tribes who are living in ‘block 135’, which is where the company has started their work.