Identification. "Matsigenka" means "people." It refers to a closely related group of people with minor local differences in dialect and material culture. They are sometimes considered a subgroup of the neighboring Campa, although both groups regard each other as distinct.
Location. The Matsigenka inhabit the tropical rain forest of the upper Amazon of southeastern Peru, primarily the eastern foothills of the Andes Mountains, along the Río Urubamba and its tributaries, and in the headwaters of the Río Madre de Dios. These Amazon headwaters originate near the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco and flow past abandoned Inca roads and terraces to the high forest ( selva alta ) of the Matsigenka. Here there is profuse rainfall (250 to 500 centimeters per year), spread evenly through a wet season from October through March and a less wet, but still rainy season from April through September. Temperatures range from 14° C on the coolest nights to 32° C during the hottest days, with an annual average around 24° C. The high-forest habitat is mountainous tropical rain forest with steep inclines, rushing mountain rivers, and hazardous trails, making interregional travel difficult.
Demography. The Matsigenka population is estimated at between 7,000 and 12,000. The population is steadily growing in size after suffering staggering losses from European diseases and social atrocities during the rubber boom of the early 1900s. Historically, they were pressed from the Andes by farmers who established farms in the upper reaches of their territory to grow coca and other tropical crops and from the north and east by neighboring groups competing for hunting and fishing territories. Today they are again being pressed by highlanders moving into their lands, driven by overpopulation and poverty in the highlands.
Linguistic Affiliation. Matsigenka is an Arawakan language of the Pre-Andean Subgroup, which also includes Campa, Piro, and Amuesha. Current opinion favors the view that these societies are descendants of the ancient inhabitants of this region, who migrated to it at least several thousand years ago. Despite evidence of historical contact with Andean culture, there is very little language borrowing from Quechua.