Visiting an indigenous family from the Ese Eja tribe in the Peruvian Amazon
The Amazon rainforest is not only one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, but it is also home to many indigenous communities that have lived in harmony with the nature for thousands of years. The native community of Ese Eja is one of the world’s last remaining foraging Amazonian tribes, whose ancestral land is located along the Tambopata River, in Madre de Dios region. The community is used to welcoming tourists and happy to share their traditions and culture. Visiting a local family is a unique experience that allows you to learn about their way of life and the challenges they face in preserving their traditions in the modern world.
Tips&Tricks: Getting to the Ese Eja community involves a journey deep into the jungle, far away from the city. Depending on where the family is located, you will need to travel by boat up to several hours.
Where to stay in Tambopata National Park (our favorite choices)
A couple of minutes away from the Amazon Planet Ecolodge, Taricaya Reserve is home to Enrique and Teresa and their two animal companions: a baby monkey and a macaw named Washi. When you meet them, you will be greeted with warmth and hospitality. Enrique is 85 years old and although he has five wives, he now lives with only one. They do not speak Spanish at all, yet understand a few words that they learned since childhood, from colonists who at that time began to explore the Amazon. From them, they also received the names, Enrique and Theresa, because their real names were too difficult to pronounce by anyone outside their tribe.
Enrique’s stories are absolutely fascinating, and his passion for the Amazon is shown from the way he speaks about Ese Eja in his native language mixed with a few words in Spanish. The couple has many children that are living in Puerto Maldonado because their grandchildren need to go to school, but every Sunday they come to visit at lunch when it is a special occasion for Enrique to open the bottle with his favorite drink. He prefers to make his own alcohol from the fruits he gathers from the jungle because he thinks that whiskey is too weak and terrible. Helped by one of their daughters, Teresa is making jewelry, a very important economic activity for many women in the tribe. She collects seeds from the jungle, then she dyes them with natural pigments from different plants and transforms them into highly appreciated chains and bracelets.
Tips&Tricks: Spending time with an Ese Eja family is an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the indigenous way of life in the Amazon rainforest. They will introduce you to their home, which is typically a small hut made from materials found in the forest. The family’s daily activities revolve around gathering food, fishing, hunting with bows and arrows, and creating handicrafts. We even had the opportunity to participate in some of these activities and learn about their techniques and the plants and animals they rely on.
Top Guided Tours and Activities (our favorite choices)
Enrique was eager to tell us about his family’s customs, to show us how he hunts with a bow and arrows, starts a fire, dance, or what beautiful jewelry his wife makes. He had everything prepared to teach us how to shoot at an improvised target made from raw papaya, with a bow and arrows that he would later give us as a goodbye gift. He even let us try our luck with several models from his collection.
Although they respect the modern life of their children, the two of them live according to the traditions inherited within the tribe. They wear clothes made from fibers of dried tree bark accessorized with macaw feathers, that they replace once in a while when they become damaged. They feed on freshly caught fish from Madre de Dios River or with animals whose meat is only fired, never boiled, and to light a fire they use bamboo and cotton that they gather in the dry season. Enrique is no longer young, but he still hunts monkeys, tapirs or macaws, and raise a couple of chickens in his backyard. He goes barefoot into the jungle because he says he doesn’t need shoes and stops a fire with his feet without feeling any pain.
From his own experience, Enrique tried to show us the differences between the traditions respected in his tribe and our modern life. He shared with us their struggles as one of the most significant challenges facing the Ese Eja tribe is the destruction of their traditional lands and resources by illegal logging, mining, and agriculture.
He and his wife are very content with their life in the jungle and say they don’t need money because everything around them comes without a price tag. With what the couple earns from guests, they help their grandchildren in Puerto Maldonado to buy clothes or books for school.
After half a day spent in his house, you will be able to appreciate the unique knowledge and wisdom he possess and see firsthand the importance of preserving their culture and traditions. And of course, it is also a chance to support the community’s efforts to protect their land and way of life.
Tips&Tricks: Visiting an Ese Eja family in the Peruvian Amazon is a rewarding and educational experience that allows you to learn about a fascinating culture and the challenges they face in preserving their traditions. It is an opportunity to gain a new perspective on life and appreciate the incredible biodiversity and cultural richness of the Amazon rainforest.