The Machiguenga

The Machigenga are an Arawak speaking people living in the Upper and Lower Urubamba and in Madre de Dios with an estimated population of over 10000. The Machiguenga of the Lower Urubamba have been settled in communities since the 1970s; a change to their traditional settlement patterns. Access to the Lower Urubamba is possible by river from Sepahua (the nearest town downstream) or from Ivochote (the nearest town upstream, and for many years where the road from Cusco y Quillabamba ended). The Machiguenga communities of the Upper and Lower Urubamba have two representative federations: COMARU (Consejo Machiguenga del Río Urubamba) with an office in Quillabamba and CECONAMA (Central de Comunidades Nativas Machiguengas) with its main office in the community of Nuevo Mundo.

Almost the whole area, including the majority of the Machiguenga communities and the Machiguenga Communal Reserve, has been overlapped by petrol lots (Lots 56, 57, 58 and 88). Lot 88 (the only lot to have begun production) is home to the Camisea Gas Project, the biggest natural gas project in Peru, operated by a consortium led by Pluspetrol, which started transporting gas in August 2004. The project includes four projected platforms (two already in operation), a major processing plant in the middle of Machiguenga territory, and a gas pipeline that cuts through many Machiguenga communities of the Upper and Lower Urubamba.

The Machiguenga have been affected by the Camisea Project since its initiation in 2000 (and previously in the 1980s and 1990s when Shell carried out exploratory work in the area). The project has been criticised nationally and internationally due to the poor social and environmental standards of the companies involved, the lack of effective consultation of the communities, the lack of transparency and indigenous rights abuses. Most recently the Machiguenga have suffered the impacts of a series of spills from the poorly constructed pipeline, polluting rivers, killing fish which are traditionally a mainstay of the Machiguenga diet and causing illnesses in the communities.

Photo 1: Machiguenga children with pet achuni, Shinai

Photo 2: A helicopter of the Camisea Gas Project; a constant presence in the lives of the Machiguenga, Shinai