Shipibo-Konibo: an indigenous community resists with medicinal plants against the COVID-19 virus - PhMuseum

Shipibo-Konibo: an indigenous community resists with medicinal plants against the COVID-19 virus

Florence Goupil

2020 - Ongoing

Ucayali, Peru; Lima, Peru

Addressing the use of traditional plant-based medicine is a gateway to the diverse flora that the Shipibo-Konibo indigenous people have long used and protected. But today, this consciousness linked to plants is in danger of disappearing.

The epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic has moved to the Peruvian Amazon, endangering the lives of the indigenous Shipibo-Konibo people. Faced with government negligence over the lack of medical care and the only Amazonian hospital collapsed, the Shipibo-Konibo, for the first time, decided to organize themselves. In May 2020, they created groups of traditional nurses in order to care for the different communities settled along the Ucayali River. They use their essences of flora along with western medicine to make evaporations. These are used for respiratory problems and are essential in the indigenous cosmology.

However, in July, more than 2,000 deaths were reported, including elders and indigenous leaders with the symptoms of COVID-19. This very complex situation has left this community in total desolation as without sufficient resources, they cannot recover and the number of deaths in the Amazon continues to grow.

"Plants don’t leave us and we don’t leave plants", states Gabriel Senencina. He recently lost his uncle along with seven other relatives due to Covid-19. He states that the disappearance of the Shipibo-Konibo elders is extremely serious because with them goes the library of knowledge linked to the use of plants and the biodiversity of the Peruvian Amazon. Like Gabriel, many Shipibo-Konibo consider this situation as a genocide by abandonment.

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  • August 2020, Yarina lake, Rainforest, Peru.
    Celinda Cahuaza (41) standing on the shores of Lake Yarina with leaves on her back. Celinda has great knowledge on plant based medicines and her confidence relies in this specific plant named Yuna Rao. It is a well-known and important medicinal herb in Shipibo-Konibo cosmology. Its name translates as the "healing herb" and is used for fever and Covid-19 virus symptoms.

  • April 2020, Cantagallo Community, Lima, Peru.
    Emerson Mejia Cruz (43), a Shipibo-Conibo man has his head blew with tobacco smoke as a preventive measure against the arrival of diseases such as COVID-19. According to Shipibo-Conibo cosmology, tobacco smoke is of great importance because it cleans the environment.

  • May 2020, Cantagallo Community, Lima, Peru.
    Pablo Faustino Díaz, is a nurse as well as a traditional Shipibo-Konibo medicine expert. In the community, he has managed to bring the two worlds together, using plants such as eucalyptus leaves and western medicines to protect his people from the symptoms of COVID-19. The Shipibo-Konibo found refuge at their origin.

  • July 2020, Matico Command Center, Rainforest, Peru.
    "The people help the People."
    Demetrio Mera (65) is an elder of the Cacataibo ethnic people also from the Rainforest. He has the Covid-19 symptoms and can barely breath. Demetrio is being treated at the Matico Command Center by the Shipibo-Konibo people.

  • April 2020, Cantagallo Community, Lima, Peru.The Peruvian government does not have a contingency plan to protect the Shipibo-Conibo indigenous communities against the COVID-19 virus in places where there is no medical attention. The indigenous people only have access to outposts where they can get pills for flu and fever. Their confidence lies in their traditional remedies and medicinal plants.

  • August 2020, Cashibo Community, Pucallpa.
    Sunset on the shores of Lake Cashibo. On the other side of the lake, lives the Cashibo community. There is no medical care in the community. To acces the nearest hospital, they have to cross the lake and travel by car to the center of the city of Pucallpa.

  • April 2020, Cantagallo Community, Lima, Peru.
    Jheymi Mejia Mori (15) has his grandparents in a native community in the Peruvian rainforest. In Lima, every day they receive news of family members infected by the COVID-19 virus. It has reached isolated communities and the Peruvian government has not presented any contingency plan to protect them. Isolated in the Amazon, the communities have no health care located nearby. In addition, to reach the nearest city, Pucallpa, they must navigate the Ucayali River but there is no transportation during the state of emergency.

  • April 2020, Cantagallo Community, Lima, Peru.
    The Shipibo-Konibo community of migrants in Lima has a different landscape. It is very arid and there are very few trees in the community. Indigenous count on only 4 eucalyptus trees that they have adopted and adapted to their herbalist traditions in order to keep them safe against the COVID-19 virus symptoms.

  • July 2020, Yines ethnic group indigenous territory, Rainforest, Peru.
    Carlos Guimaraes (64) a Shipibo-Konibo elder lies inside the mosquito net with strong symptoms of Covid-19. He is cared for by his family, his daughter and wife as the Shipibo indigenous health protocol dictates to guard his health.

  • August 2020, Yarinacocha, Rainforest, Peru.
    Milena Canayo (35) a Shipibo-Konibo indigenous woman died from Covid-19 virus, leaving a husband and daughter. Against the protocol imposed by the Peruvian government, the Shipibo-Konibo have organized themselves to carry out illegal funerals in order to accompany their dead as their tradition dictates.

  • April 2020, Cantagallo Community, Lima , Peru.
    Gabriel Senencina (50), is being treat by Jeremías Cervantes, the Shipibo-Konibo healer in the community. When Gabriel was a young man, he got sick with tuberculosis. Because of the poor care given by the hospitals to the indigenous people, Gabriel chose to cure himself with plants. Today, with the growing concern of the COVID-19 virus, and with little access to medicines, many Shipibo-Konibo rely on their traditional medical treatments to cure their respiratory problems.

  • April 2020, Cantagallo Community, Lima, Peru.
    Celinda Cahuaza holds a ginger. This root is known as « Isin Tapon" in their native language. They know this plant for its healing properties against colds and respiratory problems and are using it as a preventive measure for the COVID-19 virus.

  • April 2020, Cantagallo Community, Lima, Peru.
    Juan Alcides Clemente (12), is being treated with plants to control his body temperature and prevent fever. This plant is named " Boains " in their native language, or petiveria in English. It is also used for respiratory problems and is essential in the Shipibo-Konibo indigenous cosmology. They take refuge in their recipes of medicinal plants to prevent the symptoms of COVID-19.

  • May 2020, Cantagallo Community, Lima, Peru.
    Robinson Malca Ramírez (30) a nurse from the Peruvian Health Ministry arrived to the Shipibo-Conibo indigenous community of Cantagallo Island. He helped on caring for the sick and in providing medical follow-up to the more than 2,000 indigenous people.

  • April 2020, Cantagallo Community, Lima, Peru.
    Juan Agustin (43) is also known in his native language as Rishin Bea. Last Monday 11 of May, Juan Agustin lost his nephew, who died with the symptoms of COVID-19. Juan was sad not to be able to carry out a funeral ritual for the deceased as is the tradition in the Shipibo-Konibo culture. He considers that the sanitary protocol imposed by the Peruvian government does not take into account the indigenous peoples' cosmovision.

  • April 2020, Cantagallo Community, Lima, Peru.
    Rue, a herb the Shipibo-Conibo healers use to bath their patients as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 virus. The Peruvian government does not have a contingency plan to protect the indigenous communities where there is no medical attention. They only have access to outposts where they can get pills for flu and fever. Their confidence lies in their traditional remedies and medicinal plants.

  • August 2020, Covid-19 Cementery, Pucallpa.
    The Covid-19 common cementery was built on April 2020 in response to the large number of deceased from the virus in the Ucayali region.

  • July 2020, Yarina forest, Pucallpa.
    Matico, also known as "Rocaroca Noi Rao" in native language, is the most important medicinal plant to heal respiratory problems. According to their cosmology, the plants of the Amazon are like doctors protecting humanity. The Matico Command took his name after this plant. They treat their patients with matico leaves against respiratory problems and Covid-19 virus symptoms.


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