ETHNONYMS: Aents, Aguahun, Aguajun, Ahuahun, Awaruna

The 25,000 to 30,000 Aguaruna Indians live in dispersed settlements along the Marañón, Nieve, Potro, Mayo, Cahuapanas, Cenepa, and Santiago rivers and their tributaries, at an elevations of 200 to 1,000 meters, in Peru. Early in the twentieth century, they were found on the right bank of the Río Marañón between the Nieve and Apaga rivers (5° S, 78° W). They speak a language belonging to the Jivaroan Family and may be considered a subgroup of the Jivaro. At the time of Spanish contact, the Aguaruna had been fighting the Inca for some time, and had been able to avoid subjugation. They were first contacted in 1549 by Juan de Salinas; although contact with Whites caused their population to plummet, they had defeated the Spanish settlers in their region by 1600. Catholic attempts at proselytizing the Aguaruna failed, and they continued to attack nearby White communities into the 1930s. In the 1970s many of the Aguaruna groups, taking advantage of a change in Peruvian law, petitioned for and received title of ownership to the lands that they occupied.

Since then, the Aguaruna have been learning to communicate in Quechua and Spanish. They make their living primarily by swidden horticulture, although they also hunt and fish. They raise sweet manioc, plantains, maize, peanuts, rice, squashes, beans, wild potatoes, cotton, tobacco, and other crops. Some also raise livestock, tap rubber, and sell animal skins.

Their villages are semipermanent and have up to 150 inhabitants. Villages have become more centralized and permanent as a result of the needs to be near a school and to defend their land against encroachment by non-Indians (which was in the past done by dressing up in fierce-looking costumes in order to present a frightening appearance), and of the government's efforts to settle them permanently. These trends have made swidden gardening and avoiding witchcraft more difficult. The old-style oval house has been largely replaced by much smaller rectangular houses.

The village is led by a headman ( apu or kakájam ), whose power depends greatly on the number and qualities of his kin. Political differences in the community often result in fission of the village, although old conflicts are sometimes overlooked to allow the formation of political alliances.

Kinship is reckoned bilaterally, and kindreds form an important basis of social organization. Agnatic kin groups form the nucleus of many village groups. A desire to remain with one's kin has meant that the village tends toward endogamy.

Magic is important. Charms and special songs are used toward practical ends. These songs are used to aid in seduction, hunting, gardening, and many other activities. They can be very specialized; for example, there are gardening songs that are used to select gardening sites. Shamans are of two types, iwishin or tajímat tunchi (curing shamans) and wawek tunchi (sorcerers), although the same person may be both at different times. Sorcerers inflict illness by using spirit darts, and curing shamans cure by using their darts to eliminate the sorcerer's darts.


Berlin, Brent, and Elois Ann Berlin (1977). Ethnobiology, Subsistence, and Nutrition in a Tropical Forest Society: The Aguaruna Jívaro. Studies in Aguaruna Jívaro Ethnobiology, Report no. 1. Berkeley: University of California, Language Behavior Research Laboratory.

Brown, Michael F. (1986). Tsewa's Gift: Magic and Meaning in an Amazonian Society. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Guallart Martinez, José María (1990). Entre pongo y cordillera: Historia de la etnia aguaruna-huambisa. Lima: Centro Amazónico de Antropología y Aplicación Práctica.

Siverts, Henning (1972). Tribal Survival in the Alto Marañon: The Aguaruna Case. Document no. 10. Copenhagen: International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.

Tessman, Günter (1930). Die Indianer Nordost-Perus. Hamburg: Cram, de Gruyter & Co.

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