South America: Indian cultures from the Amazon and the Andes
Disappearing Cultures Foundation made six expeditions to five different countries in South America, visiting traditional Indian settlements in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela in the years of 2003-2005. In the Amazon we met with the following tribes: Enawene Nawe, Huaorani, Kamaiurá, Machiguenga, Matuxi, Panare, Tsachila and Yanomami. In the Andes we visited Quechua and Aymara cultures in Arque, Huaraz, Cusco/La Raya, Mollo, Oyacasi, Paukartambo, Potosí, Queros, Tapacarí, Tarabuco, and Titicaca/Uros. The outcome of these expeditions is released in different exhibitions, lectures, magazines and in a 312 pages book, published by National Geographic: Indiánok az Amazonas mentén és az Andokban, Author and photographer Attila Lóránt.
When speaking about the Amazon we do not only refer to the 6.275 km long river but also to its entire ecological system. The total area is about 6.000 000 km2. 99 % of which was covered by virgin forest even in the late 19th century. More then 70% of the species of the flora and fauna of the world live in the rain forest. There are areas with more then 30 different species of trees, 50 different species of orchids, 40 species of birds, 20 species of mammals, in addition to 50.000 species of insects and 300 species of butterflies. The Amazon supplies the oceans of the world with 25% of its water. More then 1.000 various tribes used to live in the Amazon. Today it is possible to find remnants of cultures which have not survived and also cultures which still exist and prove how beautiful our earth is as long as it remains diverse. About 1.500 AD some 6 million Indians lived in these forests. Today only 400.000 live this vast area, approximately the size of Europe. According to some estimates about 90% of the native Indian population died in various diseases during the first 150 years after the first Europeans set foot on the continent. In the 16th century more then 1.300 languages were spoken here. By now, just 160 of them have survived. One third of them are spoken by less then 200 people. Every year about 13.7 million hectares of forest are cut or burned down where these tribes live. (The size of a football pitch in every second)
A 7.000 km long chain of highland along the western coast line of South America is the longest mountain range on the planet. The average height is 4.000 m, and in Bolivia at its widest it measures over 500 km. The Indian cultures living in the Andes today were formed under special conditions: The tribes which lived there before the days of the Inca Empire were forced into a cast system based on ethnic origins. The different responsibilities, work, social status and even the hairstyle and types of earrings were all determined by the cast one belonged to. Quechua became the language of the Empire and the Inca administrative structure was introduced, some traces of which still remain.
The Spanish conquest basically strengthened the cast system by adding a new element – Catholicism. The characteristics that these days we recognize as traditional are basically the order of the Spanish viceroy Francisco de Toledo. The most important elements of native identity concerning rights and clothing where banned. Toledo also ordered that Indians should were clothes that did not remind the people of the times of the Inca Empire and helped distinguish regions. This is how the ponchos, eared caps, hats and large skirts came to be worn. Traces of the ancient traditions – some of them surviving from the times before the Incas – are still possible to recognize in the catholic rituals and celebrations in the Andes, constituting a peculiar mix at the borderline between two different worlds and religions.