Asháninka people

Asháninka people
Total population
between 25,000 and 45,000
Regions with significant populations
Peru, Brazil


For the languages known as Ashaninka, see Asháninka language or Ajyíninka Apurucayali (also sometimes called Ashaninka).

The Asháninka or Asháninca (also known by the exonym "Campa" or "Kampa", which is considered derogatory[citation needed]) are an indigenous people living in the rainforests of Peru and in the State of Acre Brazil.

Their ancestral lands are in the forests of Junín, Pasco, Huánuco and part of Ucayali.



The Asháninka (their name means: our kinsmen) are estimated between 25,000 and 45,000. Only a few hundred of these live on the Brazilian side of the border. That means that among the 300,000 native people from 65 different ethnic groups in the Peruvian Amazon, the Asháninka are the largest indigenous group.

The nation is made up of seven different groups who live scattered in more than 200 communities along the jungle valleys: the Cutivireni, the Perené Asheninga, the Atsiri, the Nomatsiguenga, and the Caquinteo.


See: Asháninka language.


The Asháninka are mostly dependent on subsistence agriculture. They use the slash-and-burn method to clear lands and to plant yucca roots, sweet potato, corn, bananas, rice, coffee, cacao and sugar cane in biodiversity-friendly techniques. They live from hunting and fishing, primarily using bows and arrows or spears, as well as from collecting fruit and vegetables in the jungle.


The Asháninka were known by the Incas as Anti or Campa. The Antis, who gave their name to the Inca province of Antisuyu, were notorious for their fierce independence, and their warlike skills in successfully protecting their land and culture against intrusion from outsiders.

Traditional dress

The Asháninka traditional dress, commonly known as a kushma (a word from Quechua), is a robe made from cotton that is collected, spun, dyed and woven by women on looms. Typically the robes are dyed either brown or a bright royal blue. The shoulders of the garments are ornamented with seeds. A full length robe can take up to three months to complete.

Traditionally, women wear their hair long, and over the shoulder, While typically men wear their hair short or in "bowl" cuts below the ear. Around their necks they wear a large variety of necklaces and bracelets made with seeds, the teeth of tapir, peccary and monkeys, and brightly colored feathers. Traditionally the Asháninka men, women and children paint their faces in a variety of designs using the bright red crushed seeds of Achiote (Bixa orellana) (annatto) fruits. For ceremonial purposes, the men also wear woven circles of palm leaves decorated with feathers on their heads, and the women wear a woven cotton head dress.

It is increasingly common to see Asháninka – men more than women – wearing castoff western clothes, particularly in areas where western Christian missionaries have been able to exert influence.


The Asháninka are known historically to be fiercely independent, and were noted for their "bravery and independence" by the Spanish conquistadors. During the rubber boom (1839–1913), the Asháninka were enslaved by rubber tappers and an estimated 80% of the Asháninka population was killed.

For over a century, there has been encroachment onto Asháninka land from rubber tappers, loggers, Maoist guerrillas, drug traffickers, colonisers, and oil companies. For much of their history, they resisted acculturation and outside influence. Since the 1950s, Asháninka territories have been reduced and their settlements have been systematically destroyed, resulting in a retreat by Asháninka people into the jungle. Some Asháninka fled to Brazil, and now a small community of 600 or so have land rights in the state of Acre.

During the 1980s and 1990s, internal conflict in Peru caused massive displacement, disappearance, and death among the Asháninka communities located in the Ene, Tambo and Perene valleys in the Vilcabamba Mountain range. In this period Ashaninka chacres (garden plots) were burned, Asháninka legal papers were destroyed, some Asháninka were forced on pain of death to join the Shining Path, and others were enslaved. Many fled into the interior and others gathered in the thousands in small areas for protection. Because Asháninka communities are usually very small, this caused great disturbance. They could neither hunt nor fish effectively due to the danger posed by armed groups in the forest, thus malnutrition became increasingly threatening. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 10,000 Asháninka were displaced, 6,000 Asháninka died, and 5,000 Asháninka were taken captive by the Shining Path during this time, and thirty to forty Asháninka communities disappeared.

Malaria is on the rise in Asháninka communities due to logging and the illegal clearing of tracts of lands by loggers and colonists, as are other diseases bought in by "outsiders".

In the mid-2000s, the Asháninka gained legal title to a portion of their lands which they had mapped using GPS technology; these lands are now a National Park and a Reserved Zone, Otishi National Park. To date most Asháninka have returned to their ancestral lands, some from as far afield as the Urubamba river. The Asháninka are involved in new capacity building projects and projects that seek to support the Asháninka in their quest to record, maintain and strengthen their culture for future generations and address the problems and threats from the "outside".

Current threats (either directly or indirectly) are from oil companies, drug traffickers, colonists, illegal lumberers, illegal roads, conservation groups, missionary groups, and diseases bought by outsiders. Roads are being built into the forest to extract mahogany and cedar trees for export to markets in the United States and Europe despite an international embargo.

Religious missionary groups are intent on changing Asháninka culture and belief systems, and some other groups who are exploiting problems within the communities became worse as a direct result of the violent upheavals of the communities over a decade ago. Some Conservation programs in the area have also been less than fair to the Asháninka in their move to create Conservation zones in this "important ecologically diverse area", choosing plants and animals over the Indigenous rights, and it remains to be seen if this will pose a threat to their lives and land in the future.

Other Asháninka have moved further into the interior, choosing voluntary isolation rather than have any more contact with the world beyond their lands. See article

For a list of Indigenous Organisations and NGOs that work with the Asháninka in tte Cordillera Vilcabamba, see


  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Gagnon, O.F.M., Friar Mariano, with Hoffer, William and Marilyn. (1993). "Warriors in Eden." New York: William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0-688-11796-1.
  • Solís Fonseca, Gustavo. (2003). Lenguas en la amazonía peruana. Lima: edición por demanda.

External links

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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