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Award-winning investigative journalist (and dad) Peter Gorman has spent more than 20 years tracking down stories from the streets of Manhattan to the slums of Bombay. Specializing in Drug War issues, he is credited as a primary journalist in the medical marijuana and hemp movements, as well as in property forfeiture reform. His work has appeared in over 100 national and international magazines and newspapers.

Peter Gorman's love affair with the Amazon jungle is well-known to people in the field. Since 1984 Mr. Gorman has spent a minimum of three months annually there generally using Iquitos
Peru as his base. During that time he has studied ayahuasca the visionary healing vine of the jungle with his friend the curandero Julio Jerena. He has collected artifacts for the American Museum of Natural History botanical specimens for Shaman Pharmaceuticals and herpetological specimens for the FIDIA Research Institute of the University of Rome. His description of the indiginous Matses Indians’ use of the secretions of the phyllomedusa bicolor frog has opened an entire field devoted to the use of amphibian peptides as potential medicines in Western medicine.



The Vision Seekers: Matses Indians of Peru

The Matses grow easily tired of guests and have many ways to tell them that it is time to leave. They may stop inviting a visitor to their homes or fail to acknowledge his presence in the puebla. Or they may show an inordinate interest in, or even steal, a guest's possessions. They may simply point arrows and spears at the unwelcome visitor, or they may point down river and suggest a trip together. The Matses pile into their canoes while the guest climbs into his. Then, when the visitor leaves, they simply remain behind.

by Peter Gorman

The Matses grow easily tired of guests and have many ways to tell them that it is time to leave. They may stop inviting a visitor to their homes or fail to acknowledge his presence in the puebla. Or they may show an inordinate interest in, or even steal, a guest's possessions. They may simply point arrows and spears at the unwelcome visitor, or they may point down river and suggest a trip together. The Matses pile into their canoes while the guest climbs into his. Then, when the visitor leaves, they simply remain behind.

The Matses want to be left alone.

They live in the Amazon jungle deep in the lowland rain forest of northeastern Peru. They are a nomadic society of hunters and gatherers, a primitive people whose ability to survive is dependent on their physical knowledge of the jungle and their system of beliefs, which is based on communication with plants and animals and on relations with a spirit world.

A branch of the Mayoruna tribe, the Matses Indians revere the jaguar's strength and hunting prowess. Their faces reflect this: Many adults are branded with a blue hash-mark tattoo that starts near their ears, cuts across the face like a cat's grin, and circles the mouth. Long palm splinters are embedded in their lips or noses to represent the jaguar's whiskers; the women, the bearers of the tribe, wear long reeds from their lips to represent prey hanging from the jaguar's mouth. The Matses believe that to look like the jaguar is to act like the jaguar.

The first known contact between the Matses and non-Indian groups occurred during the rubber boom of the late nineteenth century, when rubber tappers and skin traders arrived in Matses territories in such numbers that the tribe was nearly exterminated through a combination of diseases for which they had no immunities, warfare at the hands of the new arrivals, and enslavement to larger tribes.

In response to this encroachment, the Matses embarked (in the early 1920s) on what became a fifty-year campaign against other river communities, raiding them and stealing their women, guns, and metal tools. This was often accompanied by cannibal acts; the Matses are one of the few tribes to have actually practiced cannibalism in recent years.

The government of Peru attempted to halt the riding by building a road through Matses territory, but in 1973 war broke out after a scout patrol for the road builders was attacked. The government retaliated by bringing in vintage World War II Lambrettas to bomb the Matses camps. In the aftermath, more than two hundred Indian bodies were recovered. Following the war, most Matses acquiesced to the government's offer to place missionaries among them in exchange for a halt in the road building. Since regular contact with missionaries was established, some clothing, basic schooling, and a sedentary new life-style have been provided for the nomadic people. But some Matses, clinging to their former customs, left the larger communities to start scattered pueblos deep in the jungle, where missionaries and outsiders remain unwelcome.

Life in Tumi's puebla

High on a bluff overlooking a small tributary of the Lubo River is a horseshoe-shaped puebla, nine houses set around a common ground. Its perimeter is marked by posts--spaced at irregular intervals--upon which animal skulls are hung. This is the puebla of Tumi, a Matses Indian, reknown among his people for his fierceness. I first met him in 1984, while collecting artifacts for the Museum of Natural History in New York. He is small and strong, with deep almond eyes and an immense personal power. Tumi is among those survivors of the war who have chosen to flee deep into the jungle to live in accordance with the way of their ancestors, hunting and communing with the spirit world. At the time of my first visit, he had four wives and seventeen children and shared the puebla with his brother Chipiuch. Since then, two of his other brothers from a nearby puebla have joined him, he has taken a new wife, and has had two more babies. They are a small group, fierce and proud, their lives intimately connected with the primal jungle.

As the sun sets in front of the puebla, four men of the village squat on their haunches and watch the sky meld in red and blue washes. The dense banks of the Lubo glimmer a hundred shades of green and the jungle comes alive. The falling night is filled with the hoots and cries of monkeys and birds, the sway of grass and trees, the grunting of peccaries, the thunderous and stupid tramping of tapir en route to the river, and there is the perpetual undercurrent of the chirping of crickets and the insistent sounds of mosquitos and ten thousand other species of insects.

Everyone keeps one eye open at night in the jungle. Even in a puebla the presence of a group is no assurance of safety. From the river come ominous sounds: an awful scream as a huge black caiman grabs a wading animal and drags it to the river bottom, the rush of thousands of piranha boiling the water in a feeding frenzy, the growl of a cat announcing a successful kill