A visit to the Urarina in the Chambira basin, by Luis Andueza

Photos: the new settlement of Nueva Union (top) and Nueva Pandora (below).

During the last weeks of February and the first weeks of March a team of 7 people from different institutions—including the University of St Andrews, IIAP, the Universidad Católica de Lima, and the Ministry of Culture—made a 10 day visit to the Chambira river basin. For the St Andrews team, the aim was that of presenting the ‘Valuing Tropical Peatlands’ project proposal to the communities we would potentially be working with, asking whether they were interested in participating, and of getting a better sense of the changing situation in the area. We were specially concerned about the community of Nueva Unión, with whom some in the team had worked before, and whom we had heard had resettled from its original location on one of the small tributaries of the Chambira, to the now flooded banks of the Chambira river itself. The trip was very enlightening as it gave us a clearer sense of the sort of transformations and pressures Urarina communities and their territories are currently facing, and allowed us to continue to develop the project’s initial approach and research questions—related to the cultural values and meanings of peatlands—through an ongoing dialogue with local experiences and concerns. Of particular relevance were those issues related to the operation of oil companies in the area, and how these articulate both with rapid changes in indigenous economies, and with long-standing Urarina strategies in relating to national society, extractive capital, and the Peruvian state. The process of resettlement had been part of this situation, as, according to local accounts, it responded to local negotiations with PlusPetrol, the company operating the area.

We also got to visit communities along the Tigrillo river, a tributary of the Chambira. Among these, was the community of Nuevo Pandora, to whom we presented our project, and manifested their interest in participating.

In general, what became clear, is that the changing local relations to the landscape, and to peatlands in particular, must be understood in the fraught context of racialised strategies of extraction, and indigenous strategies of adaptation and resistance. In this context, this project can contribute to make local relations, values, and meanings attached the landscape more visible in novel ways—something which can hopefully aid local efforts to defend of indigenous territories and ways of life in a context of rapid and uneven social and ecological transformations.

Luis Andueza, March 2019

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