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Machiguenga Natives in Manu National Park

by Jason on August 14, 2012

I also had a great conversation tonight with Cesar Flores about so many things. Cesar is currently working on his Ph.D and coordinates logistics for the Cocha Cashu Biological Station. What stuck out most in our conversation was all the talk of the native people in the Amazon Jungle in and around Manu Park. There are the Harakmbut natives, the Amarakaeri, the Machiguengas, the uncontacted tribes and some others as well.

He was telling me how the Harakmbuts are warriors. He was telling me about another group that shrunk the heads of their enemies and wore their heads on a belt as a token of their manhood.

What stood out the most, though, were the Machiguengas. Juan is the one who helped us out bushwhacking while we were setting up camera traps. He is the leader of the Machiguenga tribe in Manu National Park.

The Machiguengas, or “Machis,” are known to be very nice and fun-loving. They are always smiling, always laughing. They take everything lightly. There are no wars or fighting amongst them.

There is no such thing as ownership. They share everything communally. When one person gets something, that person gets it for everyone. It belongs to the community. They always have enough to eat. They don’t have to work so hard to have food.

They also don’t use money. They have no concept of money. If they want something, they barter. So when I was buying goods from them, I had to think of what I owned that would be valuable to them. It turns out that what is valuable to them is long-sleeve shirts, air mattresses, pocket knives, flashlights and clothes. So I gave them a pocket knife, a flashlight, an air mattress and a few long-sleeve shirts.

The Machis also have no concept of mathematics or numbers. In their language, they only have numbers for one, two and many. They never had a need to count beyond that, so there are no numbers beyond two.

The Machiguengas don’t conceptually get the difference between 50, 100, 300, 1,000 or 10,000. To them, it’s all the same. So when Juan was going to get paid some money for helping us with the camera traps, the negotiations were difficult because Juan didn’t understand the difference in what he would get because it was all ‘many’ to him.

After a while of this, he finally saw that he didn’t understand, which was a significant step. So Juan suggested that he just ask for what his people needed as remuneration in the form of barter for most of what he would get paid.

I have to say I love a lot of the values that are intrinsic in the Machiguenga culture. I love how happy they are all the time. I love that they are a peaceful people. I love that there is no concept of ownership and that they share everything communally. I love that there is no money and that they use barter. What a great example they are to the rest of us modernized people.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nelmes September 5, 2012 at 11:27 am

Great post, would be fun to experience a community without money.

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