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Matis Indians - Explorers Club Flag 99


he Explorers Club in cooperation with Amazon-Indians.org provided medical care to indigenous people in Peru, Brazil, and Colombia during the first two weeks of April, 2005. The flag expedition visited Matis, Ticuna, Mayoruna, Marubo, and Yagua communities in the Tres Fronteras (Three Frontiers) area.

Mayoruna-MatsesThe editor of Amazon-Indians, Dr. Dan James Pantone, served as the expedition leader and made local contacts with various indigenous communities near the Amazon River in Colombia and the Yavarí River in Brazil and Peru. The medical team consisted of an ophthalmologist and an ophthalmic technician who made eye-examinations and fitted eyeglasses. The objectives of the expedition were to document the culture of the Matis Indians and other indigenous tribes in the area and to provide eye care to the people.

Matis TribeThe Explorers Club is a prestigious organization with Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to scale Mount Everest, as its honorary chairman. This was a flag expedition and the historic flag used in this expedition (Flag Number 99)  was also used in the American Expedition to Antarctica in the 1930s.

Equipped with eye examination equipment and over 200 pairs of glasses the expedition began on the River Yavarí in Brazil and Peru where members of the Matis, Marubo, and Mayoruna Tribes were examined and fitted for eyewear. Later the expedition visited Ticuna and Yagua communities in Colombia near the Amazon River. The fact that the eyeglasses were dispensed to the natives at no charge made for great relations, especially with natives who were familiar with western medicine and eyeglasses. Although eyeglasses were foreign to some elder individuals, they accepted wearing glasses after they realized they will only have to wear them for near vision tasks such as craftwork, stringing beads, and making hunting equipment.

Native ShamanSome of the indigenous tribes paid complements to the expedition members by demonstrating various medicinal remedies and various ceremonies. This was particularly true of the Matis Indians who demonstrated a plant extract that they use to improve their vision, which is critical for a hunter-gather tribe. Moreover, they demonstrated three ceremonies - the Ceremony of Mariwin, the Ritual of Capybara, and the Dance of Queixada. Mariwin is very colorful as the participants paint their bodies black, wearing only green ferns and red masks. They carry sticks which they use to strike children, thereby transferring "energy." While less colorful than Mariwin, the Ritual of Capybara is more musical. During this ceremony, the participants are also naked, but do not paint their bodies. Instead they apply wet clay to their bodies and make sounds like capybaras (
Hydrochoeris hydrochaeris), the world’s largest rodent, creating an atmosphere that is not only visually stimulating but auditory as well. During the Dance of Queixada, the participants paint themselves red with urucum (annatto) and dance in a line while imitating sounds of the Queixada (Tayassu pecari, a wild pig that is native to the Amazon).

Ticuna IndiansThe Ticuna Indians after being examined and fitted for eyeglasses graciously demonstrated the Ceremony of Pelazon, a rite of passage for Ticuna girls. One feature that characterizes the ceremony is the use of the black dye obtained from fruit of the huito tree (Genipa americana). The entire body of the girl was painted black with huito and the symbol of her clan, the guacamayo (macaw), was painted on her face, and interestingly girls are not permitted to intermarry within their own clan. All her hair was removed. Formerly, they would actually pull out the hair out by hand, but currently the process is often less painful and scissors are commonly used. During the ceremony, the Ticuna girl was dressed with feathers and wore a crown.  In addition, downy feathers were initially used to cover her eyes preventing her from seeing. Snail shells (which represent fertility) were hung from her belt as this ceremony is not only a rite of passage but a ceremony of fertility. Purification by fire is also part of the ceremony. The purification consisted of having the girl continuously jump over a fire. Some participants wear huge masks which represent mythological beings and danger. The girl dances with the masked beings which symbolizes her metamorphosis into adulthood and her ability to successfully deal with the dangers of being an adult.

Matis Tribe ShamanAt one point the expedition participants found themselves stranded, paddling down the Amazon River after the boat motor seized and was unrepairable. Although the conditions were difficult with the frequent torrential rains and despite boat motor problems, the expedition was a success in that they were able to successfully dispense glasses to all the indigenous peoples that requested eye care.

For more information and to see more photos of the expedition, please visit the Explorers Club Photo Gallery located at  http://www.amazon-indians.org/explorers/index.htm.



Matis - Blowguns - CurareExtraordinary videos of this and other expedi- tions to the Matis Indians are available.  If you would like to learn how you can meet the Matis, Mayoruna-Mat-sés, and Ticuna Indians and find out how you can help them preserve their cultures, please contact djpantone@amazon- indians.org.

The author, Dr. Dan James Pantone, is the editor of Amazon- Indians and the founder of the Movement in the Amazon for Tribal Subsistence and Eco- nomic Sustainability (MATSES), a nonprofit association that is helping native Amazonians so that they themselves can preserve their culture and lands in a sustainable and independent way.

Matis Indians


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