Huni Kuin means “true people” and is the autodenomination of this Pano speaking indigenous group. Outsiders have also called them Kaxinawa [Cashinawa] but it is a derogatory term, that means, ‘people of the bat’ or cannibals. They speak Hãtxa Kuin the “real language” and their population is just under 11,000 (2014 census). The Huni Kuin are spread in the rainforest between Peru and Brazil with the bigger part of the population living on the Brazilian side, in the state of Acre, close to the Peruvian border. The Huni Kuin have had a traumatic recent past that was marked by the beginning contact with the white man. In the time of the rubber explorations, which began around 1890, they were subjected to brutal invasion from rubber tappers who “cleared” the forest for rubber extraction and plantation. They hunted and slaughtered many indigenous people who were living in the forest and severely decimated the the Huni Kuin population. This era is remembered in Huni Kuin history as the “Time of the Runaways” (Tempo das Correrias). After the rubber prices dropped in 1910 began the “Time of Captivity” (Tempo do Cativeiro), when the rubber lords began making the indigenous work for them, they had to open trails, work on the plantations and provide food. Since the indigenous were not trained in mathematics and spoke the Portuguese language poorly, they were easily tricked by the rubber lords and kept in debt and dependency. They were ridiculed, subordinated and forbidden to speak their language and live their culture. This period ended only in the mid 1970s in which began the “Time of the Rights” (Tempo dos Direitos) and in a conflict ridden time, with many claims to the land from various sides, the Huni Kuin achieved a big conquest with the demarcation of their lands, ensuring their survival and the preservation of the forest at the same time. Now the Huni Kuin are in a moment of strengthening their culture, training their own agroflorestal agents, teachers, health agents and leaders and finding ways for their political and financial independency. It has helped them to rediscover and reclaim their cultural identity. And to take it further, some Huni Kuin shamans have made contact with the wider world where they have been received with open arms by people interested in shamanism, natural healing and medicinal plants such as Ayahuasca, which is an integral part of Huni Kuin culture.
Interview with Ninawa, Pai da Mata (Father of the Forest), Portuguese name: Francisco de Assis Mateus de Lima, is a spiritual leader of the Huni Kuin people in Novo Futuro village, Humaitá river, Acre, Brazil. He speaks about the situation of his community, deep in the Amazon rainforest, close to the border of Peru. The village is a four days boat ride away from the next town, Tarauacá. Filmed during the II edition of the Festival Eskawatã Kayawai, November 2015.