Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Sipibo Indians

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106636Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) — Sipibo IndiansJames Mooney

A numerous tribe of Panoan linguistic stock, formerly centring about the Pisqui and Aguaitia tributaries of the upper Ucayali River, Province of Loreto, north-eastern Peru, and now found as boatmen or labourers along the whole course of that stream. They speak the same language as the Conibo, Pano, and Setebo, whom they resemble in habit and ceremonial.

The Sipibo became known about the same time as their cognate tribes early in the seventeenth century, but opposed a determined resistance to the entrance of both gold-hunters and missionaries (1657), for a long time frustrating all Christianizing efforts in the Ucayali region by their constant raids upon the mission settlements, particularly of the Setebo. In 1670, in common with other tribes of that region, they were greatly wasted by smallpox. In 1736 they broke the power of the Setebo in a bloody battle, but in 1764 the Franciscan Father Juan de Frezneda entered their country and so far won their good will that he succeeded in making peace between the two tribes and in the next year (1765) established the first mission among the Sipibo under the title of Santo Domingo de Pisqui. This was shortly followed by the founding of Santa Barbara de Archani and Santa Cruz de Aguaitia in the same tribe, together with a resumption of work among the Conibo, first undertaken in 1685. Among other labourers in the Sipibo field at this period was Father José Amich, author of a history of the Ucayali missions. Suddenly and without warning in the summer of 1766 all the river tribes attacked the missions simultaneously, slaughtered nine of the missionaries together with their neophytes, and completely destroyed all that had been accomplished by years of presevering sacrifice. Rungato, a Setebo chief, who had professed the greatest friendship for the missionaries, appears to have been the leader. The reason of the outbreak was never known. It may have been jealousy of authority, impatience of restraint, covetousness of the mission property, some unrecorded outrage by the Spaniards on the frontier, some dream, or superstitious panic such as are of so frequent occurrence among savages. A small relief expedition sent out in charge of three Franciscans the next year learned the details of the massacre, and was forced to turn back, but was permitted to retire without molestation.

This last rising of the wild tribes of the middle Ucayali was in some measure an echo of a similar rising of the wild Campa tribes on the upper branches of the same stream in 1742, led by Juan Santos, an apostate Quichua Indian, who assumed the title of the Inca Atahualpa (see QUICHUA), and resulting in the destruction of all the missions of that region and the slaughter of nearly eighty Franciscan missionaries. Of this rising of the Campa, Herndon says: "It is quite evident that no distaste for the Catholic religion induced this rebellion; for in the year 1750, eight years afterward, the Marquis of Mina-hermosa, marching into this country for the punishment of the rebels, found the church at Quimisi in perfect order, with candles burning before the images. He burned the town and church, and six years after this, when another entrance into this country was made by General Bustamente, he found the town rebuilt and a large cross erected in the middle of the plaza. I have had occasion myself to notice the respect and reverence of these Indians for their pastors, and their delight in participating in the ceremonial and sense-striking worship of the Roman Church." A similar instance is recorded of the revolted Pueblos (q.v.), as also of the unconverted Setebo. Following close upon the massacre of 1766 came the expulsion of the Jesuits by royal decree in the following year, and the Ucayali region was given over to barbarism until 1791, when by direction of the superior of the Franciscan college of Ocopa, Father Narciso Girbal with two companions once more braved the wilderness dangers and made successful foundation at Sarayacu (q.v.) into which mission and its branches most of the wandering river Indians were finally gathered.

A description of the Sipibo will answer in most of its details for all the tribes of the Ucayali and Huallaga region, within the former sphere of influence of the Franciscan missionaries, with the addition that certain tribes, particularly the Cashibo, were noted for their cannibalism. There was very little tribal solidarity, each so-called tribe being broken up into petty bands ruled by local chiefs, and seldom acting together even against a common enemy. They subsisted chiefly on fish, game, turtle eggs, bananas, yuccas, and a little corn, agriculture, however, being but feebly developed. The root of the yucca was roasted as bread, ground between stones for flour, boiled or fried, while from the juice, fermented with saliva, was prepared the intoxicating masato or chicha, which was in requisition at all family or tribal festivals. Salt was seldom used, but clay-eating was common and sometimes of fatal consequence. Their houses, scattered simply at intervals along the streams, were of open framework thatched with palm leaves. The arrow poison, usually known as curari, was prepared from the juice of certain lianas or tree vines and was an article of intertribal trade over a great extent of territory. They either went entirely naked or wore a short skirt or sleeveless shirt woven of cotton or bark fibre. Head flattening and the wearing of nose and ear pendants and labrets were common. They blackened their teeth with a vegetable dye. The modern civilized Indians dress in light peon fashion.

Although most of the tribes could count no higher than five, their general mentality was high, and they progressed rapidly in civilized arts. Their religion was animism, dominated by the yutumi or priests, but with few great ceremonies. As among all savages, disease and death were commonly ascribed to evil spirits or witchcraft. Polygamy was universal, the women being frequently obtained by raids upon other tribes. Among their barbarous customs were the eating of prisoners of war, and sometimes of deceased parents, the killing of the helpless and of deformed children and twins, and a sort of circumcision of young girls at about the age of twelve years. A part of the Sipibo still roam the forests, but the majority are now civilized and employed as boatmen, rubber-gatherers, or labourers along the river. In common with all the tribes of the region their numbers are steadily decreasing. See also SETEBO INDIANS.

Consult particularly: RAIMONDI, El Perú, II and III, Hist. de la Geografía del Perú, bks. i and ii (Lima, 1876-79), Raimondi derives much of his information from a MS. history of the Franciscan missions, by Fernando Rodriguez, 1774, preserved in the convent at Lima; IDEM, Provincia Litoral de Loreto (Lima, 1862), condensed tr. by BOLLÆRT in Anthropological Review (London, May, 1863); BRINTON, American Race (New York, 1891); CASTELNAU, Expédition dans les parties centrales de l' Amérique du Sud. IV (Paris, 1891); EBERHARDT, Indians of Peru in Smithson. Miscel. Colls., quarterly issue, V (Washington, 1909), 2; HERNDON, Exploration of the Amazon (Washington, 1854); ORDINAIRE, Les Sauvages du Pérou in Revue d'Ethnographie, VI (Paris, 1887); SMYTH and LOWE, Journey from Líma to Pará (London, 1836).