This section reproduces a fragment of a conversation between
linguist Pilar Valenzuela Bismarck (Metsá Rama) and pottery
maker Agustina Valera Rojas (Ranin Ama) published in the
book Koshi Shinanya Ainbo. el testimonio de una mujer Shipiba
(Koshi Shinanya Ainbo: the Testimony of a Shipiba Woman)
[Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 2005].
This dialogue, originally published in Shipibo and Spanish,
compiles stories associated with Shipibo traditions, daily life,
language, and forms of social organization. Here we first
reproduce the Spanish version and its English translation.
The Shipibo text appears at the end of the section.
Advice from My Grandmother
I was conceived by my mother and father in Bajo Ucayali. I was born
in front of the community of Alfonso Ugarte. Later I grew up. When I was a little girl, my grandmother would give me advice, saying: “A
woman should never sit still, she should never be idle.” A woman must
know how to make cotton fabric, to make balls of thread, embroider,
know how to make pottery; we must also teach those things to our
daughters. I practice that advice. My grandmother advised me to
observe the things that my mother would do.
The Things My Mother Taught Me
My mother taught me to do the things that correspond to women.
First, she taught me to make blouses, to weave bracelets and anklets,
to spin cloth, to make pampanillas [traditional embroidered skirts]. She
taught me everything. I never thought I would be considered an expert
in making the pampanilla. It is really hard to make. Some of my fellow
women do not do it very well; there are also some women who simply
do it for the sake of doing it. Later, my mother taught me to make
pottery: “Daughter, learn to make pottery. You can’t let other women
make fun of you, laugh at you, when, despite being older, you do your
things badly.” Then, my mother would sit me by her side. She also
taught me to use the huingo instrument to polish the ceramics and not just the clay. So, right now I am planning on teaching that to my young ladies.
My mother raised me giving me advice. I have
advice to offer because I listened to what my mother
told me. Since my mother knew how to do everything,
she taught me. We Shipibo women are not like the
mestiza women who only do things for money. We do
not do things for money. My mother taught me to go to
the mountains, to cut firewood, to bring back plantains
and yuca, to prepare masato [ceremonial fermented
beverage], and to prepare special chapo [sweet plantain
beverage]. By teaching us those things, she raised us so
that we would be like her. My mother died and we still
have the things that she taught us. Thus, we remember
our mother and the things she shared with us. Over
time, we also become mothers; we have children and we
practice those things that our mother did. We also give
that advice to our daughters, doing the same thing that
our mother did.
Making ceramics is one of our traditional customs. Before, we did not
buy things in stores, our grandmothers made mocahuas [flaring bowl
used for ceremonial beverages], callanas [flat pan used to cook maize
and other things], pots, and jars. There are different types of callanas:
those with designs inside and those that don’t have designs on the
inside, that are only black. There are also jars with three faces, with one
face, with different levels, in the shape of a dove.
I learned how to make pottery as a girl. It is quite a lot of work
to make pottery. First, you have to look for the apacharama [tree whose
bark is used in ceramics making]. Then, you get the clay and dissolve it
in water. After dissolving the clay, you burn and grind the apacharama.
After grinding the burnt apacharama, you mix it with ground pieces of cooked clay jars. Afterward, you knead together the entire mixture.
After kneading the mixture, you think about what you are going to
make: there are mocahuas, callanas with a flat base, large jars, jars with
human faces, clay pots, everything. Since it requires this whole process,
making pottery is hard work. Then you decide: “Now I am going to
make a jar, a jar with fins, a mocahua, or a jar ‘with women’s pubic
hair.’” Then, you make balls with the mixture and assemble the coils.
After assembling the coils, you mold them, and polish the piece. But,
this process is not described in any book. The way we are going to
work the clay only exists in our minds.
The women who makes pottery must know how to grind, mix with apacharama, assemble, paint the body of the ceramic white,
and design. She also has to know how much wood to use to bake the
pottery, for how much time, how to make it shine, or how to cover the
hot pottery with sealing wax so that it comes out pretty. If you do not
know those things, the pottery can crack, which happens when you
don’t know how to make the mixture with pieces of ceramics. If you
don’t know how to make the designs, it makes the pottery ugly, and the
women who know laugh at us. In order for that not to happen, we have
to teach our daughters, so that later on that doesn’t happen to them.
Children should not make any noise while we are making the
pots. Sometimes children call us or interrupt our concentration; then,
we get up because they have bothered us. Boys cannot touch the clay,
lest their penises become soft and flabby, like the clay.
A Shipibo woman spends a month making a ceramic. It is not
the type of thing that can be done in two days. If you practice every
day, you can learn. The mother acts as a guide: “Daughter, assemble
the coils of clay, watch, I will help you polish.” We watch while the girl assembles the coils of clay. Thus, the girl is going to learn—she will end
up being better at it than we are. I have a daughter who knows more
than I do, she has a good sense of design; that is how it should be.
I also started teaching pottery making to older women like
myself. There are women my age who do not know how to make
pottery. There are women my age who do not know how to assemble
the clay, who do not know how to polish. They learn more or less how
to do it in a month when we teach them. Learning pottery must start
at a young age. When the girl is twelve years old, she already knows
how to do a little; when she is fifteen or eighteen years old she already
knows it well. When we don’t teach her, the young woman doesn’t
Making ceramics, that is our custom. But today,
young women do not know how to do it; nor do they know
the diverse traditional designs. But, as mothers, we can
teach these things to our daughters. We cannot allow them
to go through life without knowing how to do anything. If
the young women do not know, it is because their mothers
did not teach them. Once my mother treated my hands with
the nest of the mapó chekere wasp. That treatment is so that
we can make light pottery.
Currently we make ceramics to sell, to obtain money
and thus feed our children. Why can’t our women do their
work well? Because mestizos cannot tell if the work is done
well or not. I think that we should do our work very well,
much better than our grandmothers did.
Some women ask us: “Why do we have to make pottery if there
is premade stuff to buy?” We have to make pottery. Instead of making
pottery, sometimes we want to be like mestizos; we buy pots, we buy plates. That’s not how it should be. When we see that our dishes
become spoiled, then we can make pottery. Making pots with a very
black interior allows us to eat well. These things are made with our
The large clay jar represents us women, it wears the pampanilla of
the Shipibo woman. Thus, we decorate the jar like we embroider
our pampanilla. To make the designs, first we have to imagine them.
Our designs are not found in books, they are only in our minds.
Our minds are like books in which we imagine the designs to later
reproduce them. The design is what hypnotizes us with its beauty— later it becomes yacumama [mother of water]. That very yacumama is
We have to learn to design from a very young age. If you don’t
know how to design, you’re nobody. If you know how to design, you
should never say, “I know how to design,” lest those who know more
than us challenge us. That happened to me when I was among experts.
There are those who challenge you and if, despite them challenging
you, you don’t do it well, they make fun of you.
There are different types of designs in pottery. There are curvy designs, the herringbone design, the metinko design. Curvy
designs are always accompanied by a cross. That is the cross that our
grandparents raised in the ground when they celebrated Ani Xheati
[ritual celebrations of female puberty]. They would tie a spider monkey
or other animal to that cross and shoot it with arrows.
The curvy design is made because young single men and
women go around and around looking for everything. That is the
meaning of the curvy design. Similarly, our river does not flow
straight, but is serpentine; some curves are big and others smaller.
That is why those who perform the mashá sing: “The river goes
around and around.” We design those curves. The small designs
represent the large number of people who were invited to Ani Xheati.
The adornments shaped like eyes represent our communities.
In the past, our grandmothers transmitted those designs to
us. That is why the white mestizos do not know the meaning of our
designs. We ourselves, our river, and all of our adornments are the design. Whites and any other powerful people will never be able
to take them from us.
Piri piri for Design
Stories tell that in ancient times they would burn the
boas, the offspring of the yacumama [the water mother].
Only their ashes would remain. From the ashes, from
what was burned of the yacumama, sprouted piri piri,
that is where the piri piri originated. That is what our
grandmothers call piri piri for design. That is where
piri piri for design emerged from.
Our grandmothers used to say: “Here is the piri
piri for design. Put the piri piri juice in your newborn’s
navel.” Now, when little boys are born, we treat them
with mitayero piri piri in their navels, with tibe piri piri. Similarly, we women have the piri piri to learn how to make designs. When they treat you with piri piri in your navel, it has an effect on you; as you spread out the cloth, different
designs come to mind for you to reproduce. That does not happen on
its own; it is the piri piri that makes you imagine.
There are also women who are born with that ability even though they have not applied the piri piri juice to their navel; the designs come to their minds without having been treated. Those women know a lot about design—they make small, laborious, and very pretty adornments. So, we have to do things perfectly. It is my opinion that if we do not learn, we are not going to reach our goal. While some women design very beautifully without the need for piri piri, others cannot match them without being cured.
There is also a piri piri that is applied to the eyes. It is found in floodplains, and its leaves have similar designs to the ones we make, with little dots that form figures and lines. In learning to design, the piri piri is boiled and the eyes are treated with its steam.
When we treat our eyes with piri piri, we have dreams. We dream that we are in the middle of elegant and resplendent designs. Sometimes we work with the piri piri spirit; at night we design in our dreams. Other times, we see the yacumamas. That does not just occur on its own, it happens because the piri piri has cured us. What we learn with the piri piri is not something new, we have had the piri piri since ancient times.
The merayas [shaman] in their vision sessions also put an imaginary crown on us so that we have visions of designs. But evilmerayas can take away women’s ability for design.
The piri piri for design is not the only one; there is also the piri piri to be mitayero, the piri piri to be fast when working with your hands, the piri piri to be a worker or to cure those who are lazy, the piri piri to get pregnant, the contraceptive piri piri, the piri piri for a healthy birth, etc. All the piri piris are true.
Ja Inka iki manamameama, iamaxh jaskarabirakan. Inka akin akana iki ikátiai kikin menin ainbo, shinanya ainbo. Jaskarares yoikatikanai. Ikaxhbi «Koskomeabo riki ja Inka» akin ea ayamakatikanai. Nokon yoxhanbaon yoikatitai: «Inkara japaonike, baké», akin ea akátikanai, «jabaon riki noa jawéki ati onanma». Ikaxhbi jainoabira iti atipanke. Icha akin non ninkatai Koskon Inkabo, jainoaribi iti atipanke, Paro rebon kaaxh jao mayata.
Nokon titashokon ea esekatitai jawékibo
Ea riki nokon tita betan nokon papan bakea, chiponkixhon. Kanaria jema bekeibakeaxh ea pikota iki. Jainoaxh ea ania iki. Baketian, nokon yoxhaman ea esekatitai neská akin: «Ainbo ikaxhra jawetianbi iirestimaa iki; chikish ainbora itima iki», akin akátiai. Westíora ainboki iti jake yoman timai, waxhmen toro akai, kewé akai, mapó ati onan, jaribi non bakebo onanmati kopí. Jatian ja esé en boai. Jainxhon nokon yoxhaman ea esekatitai nokon titan jawéki akaitian ointi.
Nokon titan ea axheani jawékibo
Nokon titan ea axheaa iki non jawéki atibobiribi. Rekenpari nokon titan
ea axheaa iki koton ati, jonxhe ati, yoman timati, chitonti ati, jatíbishoko ea axheaa iki. En shinanyama iki eakichitontiationanikikaiixhon. Chitontiatirikikikinatikonma jawéki. Kaibobaon akai mecho, jake ponté aresbireskin akaibo. Jainxhon ea nokon titan onanma iki mapó ati: «Baké, mapó ati onanwe. Mibé ainbobora miki shironake, mibé ainbobaonra mia osannake, yoxhan ixhonbi min jawéki akin jakonmaitian». Jatian nokon titan ea yasankatitai ja pataxh. Xhaparibi en yatanai mapóbichoma. Jatian en ramashokobi nokon xhontakobo jaskáribi ati shinanai.
Eara nokon titan esekin ania iki. Eara eséya iki nokon titan yoiyai ninkáxhonkatiti. Nokon titan jatíbi jawéki ati onanxon ea axheaa iki. Noa ainbobo iki joxho nawabo keskáma koríkininbicho jawéki akaibo. Noara koríkinin jawéki ayosma iki. Non titan noa onanma iki kachio kati, karo xhateti, paranta biti, atsa mexhati, atsa xheati ati, paranta korá ati; jashokobo non titan noa axheaa iki. Jatian jashokobo onanmakin noa ania iki, non tita keskáribi noa inon ixhon. Titara keyotai, jatian noa baneti kai jan noa axheaa jawékiboya. Jatian non tita non kikin akin shinanai jan noa amani jawékibo. Jatian noabiribi tita banetai, non bakeai, jainxhon non titan akátiai jawékiribi non chibanai. Ja eséboribi non bakebo meniai, non titan akátiai keskáribi akin.
Ja mapó ati iki non moatian axhé. Moatian nawabaona biamakin non yoxhanbaon apaonike kenpo, kenchá, kentí, chomobo. Jake meskó keská kenchá, oa nakenéya, jake nakonya ponté wisobichobo. Jaríbake chomo kimisha bemanaya, westíora bemanaya, tekenya, oa xhotóya.
Enra onana iki mapó ati baketianbi. Mapó atira kikin tee iki. Rekenpari iki min mei benai. Ja pekáo min biai mapó. Bixon min onpaxhen pachiai. Onpaxhen pachixhon min mei menoai. Ja pekáo min reneai. Ja renexhon jaki min chomo toe kenkexh rené min meskoai. Meskoxhon min meinai. Meinxhon, moa min shinanai jaweki min ati iki ixhon; jake kenpo, sapa kenchá, ani chomo, joni chomo, kentí, meskóbo. Jaskarabo ati kopí riki mapó ati tee. Jatian min shinanai: «Ramara en akai chomo, ispi chomo, kenpo, iamaxh xhanin chomo». Jainxhon min tsamanai; ja pekáo min taranai. Taranxhon min ketsanai, wexhai. Ikaxhbi yamake westíora kirikainbi jaskara jisá ati, jaská akin ati; non shinan meranbicho jake jawe keská jisáki en akí kai nato mapó.
Jatian ja xhontako mapó akaitonin onanti jake jaskaaxhon reneti, jaskaaxhon meinti, tsamanti, raskiti, kené ati. Jainoaxh jaweti icha karon oiti, jaweti basi, jawe keská akáki jakonshaman pené ikai iamaxh jawe keská akin shee akáki jakonshaman pikotai. Jatian onanyamaxhon aká mapó xhatetai, jaskara pikotai min meinti onanyama axhon aká. Kené ati onanma ixhon aká jakonmabires banetai, onanbaon noa osannanai. Jaskaanaketian non bake onanmati jake, oribo jaskara pikónaketian.
Non chomo akaitian bakebaon noa koráxhonti yamake. Wetsatian bakebaon noa kenaitian noa kikini shinan ramitai; jatian moa noa wenitai, tsokas akana. Jatian benbo bakebaon mapó meeti atipanyamake, bakeranon ikaxhbi boshí wachonaketian, mapó keská.
Shipibo ainbonin westíora oxhe mapó akai. Rabé neteshokobo ataanan ati jawékima iki. Netetibi chibanxhon min onanti atipanke. «¡Baké, mapó tsamanwe, en mia wexhaxhonbanon oinwe!» Jainoa baken tsamanaitian non oinboai. Jaskaaxhonra ja baken onanai, noa bebon pikoti kai ja bake. Jake nokon bake ebebon onan, meskó keská jawen shinanbo pikopatanbainai; jaskarakaya iti jake.
Eara iríba iki ebé yoxhanbo mapó amai. Jaríbake ebé yoxhanbo mapó ati onanma. Jaráke ebé yoxhanbo tsamantibi onanma, wexhatibi onanma. Jatian westíora oxhe kaman non amaa, shoko shokores axhekanai mapó ati. Mapó akin peoti riki bakeshokoxhonbi. Jatian chonka rabé baritiaya ikaxh moa onancha ikai; chonka pichika iamaxh chonka posaka ikaxh moa onan onainsibo ikai. Non amayama ikaxh jawe onanma banetai.
Mapó ati, ja iki non axhé. Ikaxhbi ramatian xhontakobaon onanyamake mapó ati, jaskáshamanxhon meskó moatian kenébo ati. Ikaxhbi tita ixhon non axheati atipanke non bake xhontakobo jaskákin ati, oribo jawebi onanma iki bokánaketian. Ja xhontakobo onanyamake jawen titan axheayama kopí. Eara westíora akin nokon titan mepoa iki mapó chekere naakan. Ja riki mapó xhapo ati onan iti.
Ramatian non maroti akai koríki binoxhon, jan non bakebo jawéki amanoxhon. Jatian, ¿jawe kopíki non titabo jaton tee jakon akin atipanyama?
Jawe kopíma ja nawabaonra onanyamake jakonrin ixhon. Jatian en jisábiribi nonkayara kikin jakon akin ati jake, non moatian yoxhanbaon akátiai xhewinbain jakon.
Wetsabaon noa yoiyai: «¿Jawe kopíki non mapó ati iki moa akana maroti jakenbi?» Mapó ati iki noa ikai. Mapó ati ikenbi wetsatianbo noa nawan itinres ikasai; kentíbores non biai, ratobores non maroai, jaskarama ikenbi. Non rato tsositai oinxhon non mapó ati atipanke. Kenchá wiso wisoshaman axhon non piti atipanke noe. Ja jawéki iki non mekemanbi aká.
Ja ani chomo iki noabi, Shipibo ainbonin chitonti kewé sawéya. Ja non chitonti kewéai keskáribi akin, chomonko non rao akai. Kené anoxhon non shinanai. Nato non kenébora kirikainbo wisha wishakana yamake, non maponkobicho. Non mapo riki westíora kirika jainoa oinxhon ati keskáribi; non maponko jake non shinana. Ja kené iki jawen Metsákanbi noa bekopíai, jainoaxh roninai. Roninbi iki non kené.
Non kené onanti jake bakeshokotianbi. Kené onanyamaxh mia jawemabi iki. Jatian kené onan ikaxh «enra kené onanke» itima iki, nobebon onanbaon tananaketian. Eara jaskara winota iki, ea kaa iki onanbo xharan. Jaráke mia tanaibobiribi, jatian mia tanaabi min ayamaketian miki shirokanai.
Chomo atinkora meskó keská kenébo jake. Jake mayá kené, jake oa xhao kené, jake metinko kené akana. Mayá kené ikí iká riki oa kené ikaina korosya. Ja koros riki moatian Ani Xheati axhon chankanpaoni koros; jaki nexhaxhon oa iso, oa jawebobira, non yosibaon tsakapaokani.
Ja mayá kené iki bake xhontako betan benbo bake, rabetama ikaxh, mayá mayákaini kai meskó keskábo benai. Jaskara yoi iká riki ja mayá kené. Jaskáribi non paro pontéshaman kayamake, mayá mayákaini kaa, tsitsonabo jake. Jaskara kopí mashá ikíboribi bewakanai: «Oa paro tsitsonkaina». Ja tsitsonboribi non kenéai. Ja beshekan aká iki ja icha joni Ani Xheati kenakana bekátiaibo yoi iká. Ja bero akábo iki non jemabo.
Ja kené iki non moatian yoxhanbaon noa yoi yoibeirankana. Ja kopí joxho nawabaon onanyamake jawe yoi ikábori non kenébo ixhon. Kené riki noabi, non parobi, jatíbi non raoti. Ja jawetianbi joxho nawabaon iamaxh oa ani jonibaonbi noa bichinti atipanyamake.
Moatianronki akátikanai ronon ewa, ronin bakebo menokatikanai. Menoa ja chimapo baneta iki. Jatian ja chimapo ikainoaxh xhoxhoa iki, ronin menotainoaxh pikota iki ja waste. Ja akanai non yoxhanbaon kené waste akin. Jatian kené waste jainoaxh pikota iki.
Moatian non yoxhanbaon apaonike: «Kené wastera jain yakáke. Min bakera pikówanke waste jene nochexhwe», noa akátikanai. Ramatian bake benbo pikóketian non nochexhai oa mecha wasten, oa taki wasten; jaskáribi nona jake ja kené ati onantibiribi. Jatian nochexha mia tsaiai, meskó min shinan pikoti joai chopa peanxhon oina, jaskáati jisáshaman. Ja iki yankama, jake waste jan shinanmai. Jaríbake ainbo jaskábiribi pikota wasten nochexhama ikaxhbi, jawen shinan ikai pikoti raonkana ikaxhmabi. Nato ainbobora iki kikin kené onan, kikin metsáshoko beshekan akaibo. Jatian ja soabainai keská jaská akinkaya non jawéki ati jake. Jatian en oina iki jawe onanma ikaxh noa jain kaman nokóyamai. Wetsabaon metsá ayorai ikaxhbi non nokoti atipanyamake jawen akáma ikaxh.
Jaríbake bechexhetiribi. Jara non merati atipanke oa jenen mapoai mainko, kené jisáshoko peiya, tsatsáya iamaxh wisháya jisáshoko. Jan riki bepoati kené ati onan inoxh.
Wasten bechexhexhon non namatai. Namáketian kikin netebires kené sanken meranshaman noa ikai. Wetsatiankan ja waste yoshin betan noa teetai, yamé non kené akai naman meran. Wetsatian naman meran non roninbo oinai. Ja iki yankama, ja iki waste noa jan imaa. Ja iki ramanma noa wasten onanmai, moatianbi iki noa wasteya.
Meráyabaonribi, nishi pae meran, maiti amakanai non kené ointi. Ikaxhbi ja meráya jakonmabaon bichinribiti atipanke ja ainbobaon kené ati shinanbo.
Jara itinke kené wastebichoma; jaríbake mecha waste, meyá waste, rayá waste oa chikish chikishbires iketian amatibo, tooti waste, tootima waste, jakon bakenti waste, wetsaboribi. Ikon riki jatíbi wastebo.
Noi waste betan pechi waste
Jake noi waste; ja riki non keenyamakanaitian noimati. Jaríbake pechi waste; nato wastenra noa akanti atipanke non keenyamakin iamaxh noki jakonmaakin. Ja wastebo non xhakiai wame janan. Ja iki paketabirestima, mechabaonpari chachiai wame. Jatian ja wame jana non biai. Joni bikaskin iamaxh potakaskin non inintishoko biai. Bixhon non wastebo napotai, noi waste iamaxh pechi waste. Ja ininshoko non xhetemai. Jatian jonin noa noiai, noa shinani kai, ja iki non noi wasten ixhona. Jatian pechi wasten ixhona non keenyamai, shinanbenoti kai.