The Machiguenga (also Matsigenka, Matsigenga[A 1]) are an indigenous people who live in the high jungle, or montaña, area on the eastern slopes of the Andes and in the Amazon Basin jungle regions of southeastern Peru. Their population in 2020 amounted to about 18,000. Formerly they were hunter-gatherer but today the majority are sedentary swidden cultivators. The main crops grown are manioc, maiz, and bananas, but today commercial crops such as coffee and cacao are increasingly important. Their main source of protein used to be peccary and monkeys but today fish has become more important as game animals have become increasingly scarce as a consequence of the encroachment from highland immigrants to the area and the exploitation of the Camisea gas finds.[1] The Machiguenga people have a preference for self-sufficiency when it comes to cultivating essential crops, made possible by their generous land allocation per capita, and the lack of conflict in their area.[2]

This image is of a Machiguenga woman who is dressed in traditional garb. Photo taken in the Pangoa province of Peru.


Most Machiguenga do not have personal names. Members of the same band are identified by kin terminology, while members of a different band or tribe are referred to by their Spanish names.[3][4]

Most Matsigenka are today Christian (mainly Catholic) but commonly they still entertain animists notions. Spirits and demons influence everyday life whereas the creator gods have withdrawn and are indifferent to humans. Shamans used to play a prominent role in local society, today though they are less visible and certain of their functions have been taken over by healers.

While quite accomplished in using plants and herbs as medicine, the Matsiguenka are susceptible to new infectious diseases brought in from the outside world. In many communities they have, however, been spared from COVID-19. The Matsigenka used to wear a handwoven and homemade cotton tunic made by women, in local Spanish called a cushmas, designed with a V neck for men, and straight neck for women.[5] They fashion huts using palm tree poles as a frame, with palm leaves thatched for the roof.[5] Literacy rates for settled groups range from 30% to 60%.[6] Each extended family group is governed by a self-appointed "headman".[5]

Family lifeEdit

Formerly women married around the age of 16 while today they commonly enter into family relations some years later. Women have an average of eight to ten pregnancies. As with many indigenous tribes, the mortality rate for infants is high. During the first year(s) of marriage the relation is often unstable and separation is common. The Matsigenka are uxorilocal, which means that the man moves to his wife who usually still live with her parents. During the early time of their relation they prepare their own garden and they build their own house not far from the woman's parents. This means that the relation between mothers and daughters are strong while the position of inmarrying men, who come from other family constellations, may be experienced as vulnerable. [7] Formerly prominent men had multiple wives.


The Machiguenga language belongs to the Campa group of Machi puceran Maipurean (Arawakan) language family, which is spoken by approximately 12,000 people in Peru.[6][8] There are several dialects of Matsigenka: the Matsigenka of the Upper Urubamba, that of the Lower Urubamba, that of the Manu area Machiguenga proper and what some refer to as Nanti and consider as a proper language but that Matsigenka people see as a variety of Matsigenka.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The incorrect spelling form "Machigenga" was created as a neologism by the BBC show Living with the Machigenga aired in 2009 and 2010 which is strongly criticized in Anthropology News, May 2011, see also TV series about Amazonian tribe accused of faking scenes.


  1. ^ Rosengren, D. 'Los Matsigenka', in Guía Etnográfica de la Alta Amazonía, ed. by Santos-Granero, F. and F. Barclay (2004)
  2. ^ Johnson, Allen (1983), "Machiguenga Gardens", Adaptive Responses of Native Amazonians, Elsevier, pp. 29–63, retrieved 2023-03-31
  3. ^ Snell, Wayne W. (1964). Kinship Relations in Machiguenga, pp. 17-25.
  4. ^ Johnson, Allen W. Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon. University of California Press, 2003. pp. 9-10. Retrieved from Google Books on April 1, 2012. ISBN 978-0-520-23242-6.
  5. ^ a b c CERT (2008). "Machiguenga Indians". Christian Emergency Relief Team. Archived from the original on November 19, 2008. Retrieved January 14, 2009.
  6. ^ a b Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.). "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition". SIL International. Retrieved January 14, 2009.
  7. ^ Rosengren, Dan (2017). "Marriage Matsigenka Style: SOme Critical Reflections of Marriage Practices", pp. 15-35, in Valentine, P., S. Beckerman, and C. Alès "The Anthropology of Marriage in Lowland South America. [University Press of Florida].
  8. ^ Native Languages of the Americas (2007). "Machiguenga Indian Language". Retrieved January 14, 2009.

Rosegren, D. 2004. 'Los Matsigenka', in Guía Etnográfica de la Alta Amazonía, in Guía Etnográfica de la Alta Amazonía pp. 1-157, ed. by Santos-Granero, F. and F. Barclay. Balboa: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Lima: Instituto Frances de Estudios Andinos.

Rosengren, D. 2017. 'Marriage Matsigenka Style: Some Critical Reflections of Marriage Practices', pp. 15-35, in Valentine, P., S. Beckerman, and C. Alès "The Anthropology of Marriage in Lowland South America. [University Press of Florida]

Further readingEdit

  • The Storyteller (1987), novel by Mario Vargas Llosa that includes recounting of Machiguenga cosmology.
  • Baksh, M. (1990) Time Allocation among the Machiguenga of Camana (Peru). New Haven, CT: HRAF Press.
  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian Languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Deyermenjian, G. (1988) Land Rights, Cultural Survival and Innovation among Indigenous Peoples of the Western Amazon Basin: The Case of the Machiguenga. Master's Thesis, Clark University, International Development Dept.
  • Henrich J et al. (2005) " 'Economic man' in cross-cultural perspective: Behavioral experiments in 15 small-scale societies", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28:795-+
  • Ohl, J. 2004. The economy of the Matsigenka – ecotourism as a chance for sustainable development?, Ph.D. thesis, University of Greifswald, Greifswald.
  • Ohl, J. 2004, El eco-turismo como opportunidad para un desarrollo sostenible? Eschborn, Germany, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH.
  • Ohl, J., A. Wezel, G. H. Shepard Jr., and D. W. Yu. 2007. "Swidden agriculture in a human-inhabited protected area: The Matsigenka native communities of Manu National Park, Peru," in Environment, Development, and Sustainability
  • Ohl-Schacherer, J., G. H. Shepard Jr., H. Kaplan, C. A. Peres, T. Levi, and D. W. Yu. 2007. "The sustainability of subsistence hunting by Matsigenka native communities in Manu National Park, Peru", Conservation Biology 21:1174–1185.
  • Ohl-Schacherer, J., E. Mannigel, C. Kirkby, G. H. Shepard Jr, and D. W. Yu. 2008. "Indigenous ecotourism in the Amazon: A case study of “Casa Matsiguenka” in Manu National Park, Peru", Environmental Conservation.
  • Solís Fonseca, Gustavo. (2003). Lenguas en la amazonía peruana, Lima: edición por demanda.
  • Pancorbo, Luis: Río de América, Laertes. Barcelona, 2003.
  • Shepard GH (1997) "Noun classification and ethnozoological classification in Machiguenga, an Arawakan language of the Peruvian Amazon", The Journal of Amazonian Languages 1:20–57
  • Shepard G (1997) "Monkey hunting with the Machiguenga: medicine, magic, ecology and mythology", paper presented at the American Anthropological Association Meetings
  • Shepard GH (1998) "Psychoactive plants and ethnopsychiatric medicines of the Matsigenka", Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 30:321-332
  • Shepard GH (1999) "Resource use and ecology of the Matsigenka of the eastern slopes of the Cordillera Vilcabamba", In: Schulenberg TS (ed) A Rapid Biological Assessment of the Northern Cordillera Vilcabamba, Peru, vol RAP Working Papers No. 11. Conservation International, Washington, DC
  • Shepard GH (1999) Pharmacognosy and the Senses in two Amazonian Societies. In: Department of Anthropology. University of California, Berkeley
  • Shepard GH (1999) "Shamanism and diversity: A Matsigenka perspective", In: Posey DA (ed) Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, vol U.N.E.P. Global Biodiversity Assessment, Vol 2. United Nations Environmental Programme and Intermediate Technology Publications, London, pp 93–95
  • Shepard GH, Rummenhoeller K (2000) "Paraiso para quem? Populções indígenas e o Parque Nacional do Manu (Peru)". In: XXII Reunião Brasileira de Antropologia. Fórum de Pesquisa 3: “Conflitos Socioambientais e Unidades de Conservação”, Brasília, Brasil
  • Shepard GH, Yu DW, Lizarralde M, Italiano M (2001) "Rain forest habitat classification among the Matsigenka of the Peruvian Amazon", Journal of Ethnobiology 21:1–38
  • Shepard GH, Yu DW (2001) "Verificación etnobotánica de imágenes de satélite: La intersección de conocimientos tradicionales y cientifícos", Debate Agrario 33:19–24
  • Shepard GH, Chicchón A (2001) "Resource use and ecology of the Matsigenka of the eastern slopes of the Cordillera Vilcabamba", In: Alonso LEea (ed) Social and Biological Assessments of the Cordillera de Vilcabamba, Peru. Conservation International, Washington, DC, pp 164–174
  • Shepard GH (2002) Primates in Matsigenka subsistence and worldview. In: Fuentes A, Wolfe L (eds) Primates face to face. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 101–136
  • Shepard GH, Yu DW (2002) "Vanishing Cultures" (Comment). New York Review of Books 50:92
  • Shepard GH, Yu DW, Nelson B, Lizarralde M, Italiano M (2004) "Ethnobotanical Ground-Truthing and Forest Diversity in the Western Amazon", In: Maffi L, Carlson T, López-Zent E (eds) Ethnobotany and conservation of biocultural diversity, New York Botanical Gardens (Advances in Economic Botany), New York
  • Shepard GH (August 1998.) "Uncontacted native groups and petrochemical exploration in the Peruvian Amazon", In: International Society for Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (ICAES) Conference, Williamsburg, VA
  • Shepard GH, Rummenhoeller K, Ohl J, Yu DW (in press) "Trouble in paradise: indigenous populations, anthropological policies, and biodiversity conservation in Manu National Park, Peru", Journal of Sustainable Forestry
  • Yu DW, Shepard GH (1998) "Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?", Nature 396:321-322
  • Yu DW, Shepard GH (1999) "The mystery of female beauty", Nature 399:216
  • Yu DW, Proulx SM, Shepard GH (2008) "Masculinity, marriage, and the paradox of the lek", In: Swami V, Furnham A (eds) The Body Beautiful, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp 88–107

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