ETHNONYMS: Balsapuertino, Cahuapa, Chawí, Chayabita, Chayavita, Chayawita, Chayhuita, Paranapura, Shayabit, Tshaahui
The Chayahuita Indians once lived in the upper reaches of the Río Sillay in Peru, but seventeenth-century slave raids cut their population drastically and were probably responsible for pushing most of them to their present location in the region of the headwaters of the Río Paranapura as well as to the region of the Cahuapanas and Shanusi rivers in Peru; some still remain in the Río Sillay area. Their population stands at approximately 6,000. Their language, which is intelligible to Jebero speakers (and vice versa), belongs to the Cahuapanan Family. Some Chayahuita lived with Munichi and Jebero Indians at a Jesuit mission for a few years after it was established in 1654 but eventually returned to the forest after the missionary there left; some 400 or so lived at another mission in the eighteenth century. Traditionally subsistence horticulturists, many of the Chayahuita are now in close contact with Whites and are entering the cash economy by raising and selling rice, beans, and chickens. Despite their close contact with Whites, however, most Chayahuita remain monolingual speakers of the Chayahuita language.
The Chayahuita traditionally raised sweet manioc and maize. They hunted with blowguns, bows and arrows, blinds, and traps. Fishing was done with spears and drag nets. The traditional house was probably gabled and had walls. Inside, people slept on platform beds and rested on hammocks. They had three types of baskets: sieves, containers, and carrying baskets. Their pottery was distinctive—it was incised with fingernails and colored white on the top and red on the bottom. Fire was ignited using a fire drill. The Chayahuita went naked most of the time but expended great effort in decorating their bodies. They wore feather headgear, arm and leg bands, body paints, and ornaments in their ears; they also blackened their teeth and tattooed their bodies with palm needles and rubber-soot pigment. Spanish clothing was adopted in the eighteenth century.
Chayahuita girls were confined for eight days at puberty. After marriage, residence is matrilocal for a period, and then permanently patrilocal. Parents are confined for several days after their baby is delivered.
Christianity has largely replaced native beliefs concerning the supernatural.
Dradi, Maria Pia (1987). La mujer chayahuita — un destino de marginación?: Análisis de la condición femenina en una sociedad indígena de la Amazonia. Lima: Instituto Nacional de Planificación: Fundación Friedrich Ebert.
Fuentes, Aldo (1988). Porque las piedras no mueren: Historia, sociedad, y ritos de los chayahuita del alto Amazonas. Lima: Centro Amazónico de Antropología y Aplicación Práctica.
Ribeiro, Darcy, and Mary Ruth Wise (1978). Los grupos étnicos de la Amazonia peruana. Comunidades y Culturas Peruanas, 13. Lima: Ministerio de Educación; Instituto Lingüístico de Verano.
Varese, Stefano (1972). The Forest Indians in the Present Political Situation in Peru. Document 8. Copenhagen: International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGA).