The Alto Putumayo region is inhabited by Kichwa, Secoya, Huitoto and mestizos. The native Kichwa, Secoya and Huitoto peoples share a long history in this area. Centuries of turbulence and adaptation to external influences have brought about major changes to their social, political and economic structures. Nevertheless, these native communities still depend on the woods, wetlands and rivers for their livelihoods and quality of life.

Sr Belis SandovalIn their mother tongue, the Secoya call themselves Airo Pai, which can roughly be translated as "People" (Pai) of the "Wood" (Airo). This name indicates how strongly these people identify with their ancestral territory, rooted in their cosmology and daily life. The Secoya belong to the linguistic family of the Western Tucano. These people still lived a semi-nomadic way of life some decades ago. Every few years the community migrated because the natural resources in their surroundings were exhausted, their shaman had died, or simply because they felt like it. Ever since schools and medical posts were created in the area, these people have adopted a sedentary lifestyle. Male Secoya still wear the cushma, a piece of clothing in vivid colours that reaches down to the knees, and most Secoya still speak their own language better than they do Spanish.

Dsc07712The Kichwa show far less external symbols of their identity (such as clothing) than the Secoya, and not all community members still speak their own language. These people have migrated from Ecuador to Peru only a couple of decades ago. At the time the extraction of rubber was blooming in Peru, many of them came down along the rivers, in search of some work as a labourer. These people live mainly of their natural surroundings as well: by hunting, fishing and cultivating the fields. Additional expenses are covered by temporary labour and the sale of meat, fish or crafts. It is obvious that these people also live in close relationship with their surroundings. 

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