The Matsigenka Indians live in the basins of the Urubamba and Madre de Dios rivers in Peru. Individualism, which finds expression in their living in small family hamlets scattered all over the forest, is the characteristic feature of their ethos. In the course of the 20th c. the majority of Matsigenka Indians began to live in larger settlements, which in 1974 were officially recognised as 'comunidades natives' (native communities) with elected authorities, title to land, etc. The Paquirianos Indians are the Matsigenka Indians, who continue to live in the forest hamlets, outside the system of native communities. They subsist on slash-and-burn cultivation, supplemented with hunting, fishing and collecting. The political independence of each hamlet derives from the possession of fields, which provide for food. If one wants to have a plot, a patch of forest must be cleared. The plants, which have been cut, are then dried and burnt. Then seeds are sown and plants are planted. In the following years the system of shifting cultivation is applied. Eventually, the plot is abandoned and it gradually changes into a secondary forest. The basic crops of the Matsigenka include cassava (manioc), corn and bananas but the Matsigenka also grow other edible plants. The Matsigenka from the 'comunidades' also base their existence on slash-and-burn cultivation. However, unlike the Paquirianos, they grow some plants for sale. Consequently, and in relation to the fact that men are often hired for many months to do paid work, their plots are neglected and the range of plants grown is much poorer than that of the Paquirianos, despite the fact that they adopted many different new cultivated plants from the Peruvians. Many plants grown by the Matsigenka are important in their cosmology and shamanism.
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