ETHNONYMS: Cacataibo, Cachibo, Cacibo, Cahivo, Capapacho, Casibo, Caxibo, Hagueti, Kashibo, Managua, Uni
The Cashibo Indians live in eastern Peru along the Aguaytía river and its tributaries, the San Alejandro and the Shambuyacu, and on the Sungaryacu, a tributary of the Pachitea. Estimates of their population vary from 1,000 to 2,500. The Cashibo language belongs to the Panoan Family. There are three subgroups, the Kakataibo, the Cashiñon, and the Ruño, who speak slightly different dialects.
Historically, the Cashibo have been hostile to their neighbors and to the missionaries who attempted to work among them. When first contacted by Spanish missionaries in 1757, the Cashibo killed one of them and forced the rest to flee. By 1820 the Cashibo had retreated to the headwaters of the Pachitea and Aguaytía rivers. When they returned downriver, they were victims of raids by the Shetebo and Conibo in 1870.
It has only been in the twentieth century that the Cashibo have been in more or less constant contact with Peruvian national society. In the past, whenever settlers approached the Cashibo, the Indians simply moved further into the forest to avoid them. In 1930 the Cashibo population stood at 4,000, but since then epidemic diseases have reduced their numbers. Between 1930 and 1940 the Cashibo were dominated by Simón Bolívar Odicio, a Cashibo who was captured as a child and raised by the Shipibo. This man organized raids into the upper Aguaytía, captured many Cashibo, and took them to live with the Shipibo, where they came into contact with mestizo culture. Under his direction, they helped to open a road from the Aguaytía river to Pucallpa, which led to the infiltration of many Whites into Cashibo territory. Because acculturation was rapid and violent, many Cashibo died as a result of culture shock (in addition to those who succumbed to epidemics). In 1940 they were offered title to a reservation, but they preferred to stay in their own territory.
In the 1990s a few Cashibo families are isolated, but the majority live in five communities, each of which has a bilingual school directed by the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a Protestant missionary group. Most men speak some Spanish, but women and children still speak very little. Some women have married mestizos, which has resulted in a scarcity of potential spouses for Cashibo men. In turn, some Cashibo men have married into Shipibo communities. Externally, the Cashibo appear to be acculturated, but in their ways of thinking and other nonexternal aspects of culture, they have changed very little.
Traditional Cashibo subsistence was based on hunting, fishing, and crops raised in swidden gardens. They continue to depend on horticulture, and some who live along the Aguaytía sell such foods as bananas, salted meat and fish, and chickens to truck drivers, but those on the nonnavigable Pachitea, who lack transportation, have fewer opportunities to sell their produce. Some Cashibo have left farming to work for cash as lumberers, and others both farm and work as wage laborers.
In their gardens the Cashibo raised maize and sweet manioc as staples, as well as pumpkins, peanuts, cyclanthera (gourds), papayas, red peppers, and sweet potatoes; they never grew bitter manioc. Among the introduced crops they adopted were bananas and plantains—which became staples—as well as rice, coffee, onions, sugarcane, yams, custard apples, taro, and pineapples. Nonfood crops include cotton, genipapo, annatto ( Bixa orellana ), reeds for arrows, two kinds of fish-poison plants, and tobacco. Men clear new fields every two or three years. The Cashibo depend a great deal on fish, which they catch with bows and arrows, harpoons, and poison. Since contact, they have also been salting and selling fish. The most important game animals are deer, capybaras, and monkeys, but pacas, agoutis, squirrels, tapir, peccaries, and waterfowl are also eaten. The Cashibo keep domesticated pigs, parrots, monkeys, and agoutis.
Panoan peoples in general are known for the beauty of their pottery, which has rectilinear red and black designs. The Cashibo weave baskets and mats, and also cotton nets. Men do all of the woodworking. The Cashibo used bows and arrows and spears as weapons; unlike their neighbors, they do not use the blowgun.
Traditionally, a Cashibo community consisted of one or several families living under one roof. This community was economically self-sufficient and politically independent; there was very little trade with other groups. The community was most often, in fact, an extended matrilocal family, led by a family elder. Individual nuclear families owned garden plots, which they passed on to their offspring.
In addition to the house, a community would have potters' huts, storehouses, chicken houses, and other types of shelters. Inside the house were mats for sleeping.
The Cashibo went naked until the missionaries convinced them to wear clothes. The Cashibo also deformed the heads of infants by use of a pad on the front of the head tied to a board on the back of the head; the four-day process was begun immediately after birth. There were minimal puberty rites, although pubescent girls were subincised by old women. Sororal polygyny was common, and divorce was easy. Aged and infirm people were killed and eaten by their children. Sometimes this form of endocannibalism took place in conjunction with cremation: the body was burned, and the ashes were mixed with manioc beer and drunk during a wake.
NANCY M. FLOWERS
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