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All the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Rainforest

Although the Amazonian indigenous peoples sometimes erase borders, inhabiting two or three countries without differentiating geopolitical boundaries (such as the Yanomami who live between Venezuela and Brazil, or the Achuar between Peru and Ecuador), and although they do not historically belong to any country in particular (because they were there before the arrival of the Spanish conquers) we present a list of the names of the main tribes that inhabit the Amazon jungle for each of the countries in the basin . Know their history, who they are, where they came from, how many are left (population) and the dangers they face today (N. of the E.)

Amazonian peoples by country


Indigenous people of the Bolivian jungle

In the Bolivian Amazon there are about 100,000 indigenous people, divided into 24 ethnic groups: Tucana, Araona, Chiman, Moseten, Machinery, Yaracare, Yaminahua, Yuquinmojeno, Motiva, Reyesano, Siriono, Guarayo, Cavineño, Ese Ejja, Pacuahara, More and Aymara. -Quechua.

Brazilian jungle tribes

Some 125,000 indigenous people live in the Brazilian Amazon , which is equivalent to just 0.78% of the total population of the region.

xingu indigenous architecture
Aldeia Ipatse (Indigenous Park of Xingu-Brazil) Source: Pedro Biondi/ABr [CC BY 3.0 br (]

Among them, the Guarani stand out, reaching some 51,000 individuals, followed by the Tikuna , with a little over 40,000, and the Yanomami , with 19,000, scattered in the north of the Amazon.

These indigenous ethnic groups are subjected to constant harassment from illegal miners or garimpeiros, drug traffickers, smugglers and plantation owners or large cattle ranchers.

Amazonian peoples of Colombia

Between 80,000 and 150,000 indigenous people live in the Colombian Amazon , grouped into 64 ethnic groups, which correspond to about 10% of the total population of the region.

Among them, the Curripaco, Puinaba, Piaroa, Piapoco, Tucano, Desano, Cubeo, Uitoto, Ticuna, Macú, Siona stand out in number.


parade of the embera ethnic group
Parade of the Emberá ethnic group – Colombia

The indigenous settled in the Putumayo river basin suffer the consequences of armed conflicts, deforestation, the granting of oil concessions and the contamination of the rivers, which end up displacing them.

Indigenous from the Ecuadorian East

In the Ecuadorian Amazon there are between 130,000 and 146,000 indigenous people, 20% of the regional population, distributed in 10 ethnic groups, of which there are 7 main ones: Kichwa, Shuar , Achuar , Shiwar, Cofán, Siona-Secoya and Huaorani or Waorani .

Two groups, the Kichwa and the Shuar-Achuar together make up 83% of the regional indigenous population.

Amazonian peoples in Peru

In the Peruvian Amazon there were, according to the 2007 indigenous census, a total of 332,975, which was equivalent to 9% of the Peruvian Amazonian population (3,675,292 people), distributed among 65 indigenous ethnic groups. In the Loreto region alone, whose capital is Iquitos , there were 105,900 indigenous people, distributed in 16 towns and 75 communities. The four largest ethnic groups are Awajún or Aguaruna (45,000), Shipibo-Conibo (20,178), Chayahuta (13,717) and Cocama-Cocamilla (10,705).


Amazonian communities in Venezuela

Some 100,000 people live in the Venezuelan Amazon , of which 40,000 are indigenous, divided into 20 ethnic groups, which make up some 500 communities, including Yanomami , Piaroa , Jivi, Curripaco, Bare, Piapoco, Baniba, Warquena, Yeral, Yekuana .

Of the total ethnic groups, the Yanomamu and the Piaroa stand out, representing, together, 48% of the total indigenous population, scattered in the states of Amazonas and Bolívar.

Indigenous people of Guiana

A little more than 42,000 indigenous people live in the Amazon corresponding to the Guayana region, who are called Amerindians there, to differentiate them from the population that came from India.

The following towns are found here: Arawak, Akawaio, Arekuna, Carib, Hakushi, Patamona, Wapichan, Warau, Wai Wai.

The Pahikweneh, Lokono, Kari’na or Kali’na, Wayampi, Teko and Wayana tribes are in French Guiana.

And with regard to Suriname, the Akurio, Wayarekuie, Trio, Warao and the Wayana live there.

This total is distributed as follows: 3,000 indigenous people in the Cooperative Republic of Guyana (former British Guiana), divided into 9 groups; 19,000 indigenous people, in 6 groups, in French Guiana, and 20,344 indigenous people, in 5 groups, in Suriname, the former Dutch Guiana.

Indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation (PAV)

If it is difficult to count the indigenous population that is in contact with other inhabitants of the basin, mestizos and settlers, it is particularly difficult to advance figures on the number of PAV (Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation) existing in the basin.

Some estimate that there may be as many as 100 true PAVs, numbering probably 5,000 individuals.

Due to its very nature, a PAV is an indigenous group that avoids contact and goes into the jungle to avoid it.

The PAV are hunting and gathering peoples who live in the jungle without changing their customs, their lifestyles and their harmonious relationship with nature.

indigenous architecture
Men from the Xinguano Kuikuro community building their houses. Source: Ras1193 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

COICA mentions, in the Quito Declaration of 2018, the existence of 66 PAV, but there are many more.

Specialists estimate that there may be about 145, of which 80 have been studied.

Of this total, the majority, 100 of them, are scattered throughout the vast territory of the Brazilian Amazon, and about 25 in the Peruvian Amazon.

Some of them are, piripkura, kawahiva , korubo, kuikuro, in Brazil; nahua, nauti, masco-piros, cohibo, in Peru; yuri, nukak, in Colombia.

History of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon

In order to understand the indigenous peoples or tribes of the Amazon, their great linguistic diversity, their particular and common cultural traits, it is first necessary to understand their history, how they got there and how they became what they are today.

The Amazon basin began to be taken into account, actually, from the 19th century.

The political and religious incursions, which tried to colonize the almost impregnable jungle territories, did not make much progress, despite the great dedication of the religious orders (mainly Jesuits and Franciscans) who attempted colonization and evangelization companies.

missionary in Amazonian indigenous community, illustration

These orders founded many settlements to concentrate the indigenous people in “reductions”, particularly in the Upper Amazon, but their progress was very limited.

The Amazon Basin continued to be a setting for naturalists and explorers throughout the 19th century.

indigenous genocide

Until the exploitation of rubber ( Hevea brasiliensis ) was developed, starting in 1879, which inaugurated a time of great economic prosperity for the rubber barons , who accumulated great wealth by collecting and exporting the product.

However, this great business also meant the application of genocide and enormous suffering for the native Amazonian communities.

Before, however, another genocide had been practiced against the indigenous people, voluntary, by the force of arms of the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors and colonizers, and involuntary, by the action of contagious diseases against which the indigenous people had no defenses.

amazon indigenous
Combat between soldiers and indigenous people, engraving by Rugendas. Title: “Guerillas” by Johann Moritz Rugendas (1835). Source: Johann Moritz Rugendas , CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

A genocide that was accompanied by a cruel epistemicide, which persecuted and tried to eliminate, fortunately without completely succeeding, the indigenous religious practices, their cosmogony , their languages and their ancestral knowledge.

amazon indigenous
Illustration of the indigenous genocide committed by the European conquerors.
Included in the book by Bartolomé de Las Casas Very Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1552) Engraving by Theodor de Bry.

How did the indigenous people get to the jungle?

The occupation of the basin is more than 10,000 years old (Roosevelt 1994).

They were then huntergatherers who settled in the eastern and southern part of the basin, and then, around 5,400 to 3,200 BC, they began to settle in the central Amazon, in the Lower Amazon, with migrations that came from the Caribbean, or from the Andes, coming down from the High Forest or the Ceja de Selva, towards the lowlands.

first settlers of america
First settlers of America at the end of the ice age hunting a glyptodont, ancestor of the armadillo. Source: Heinrich Harder (1858-1935) [Public domain]

The first settlers of the jungle arrived probably attracted by its extraordinary wealth of resources, flora and fauna.

Indigenous population in South America before the arrival of the conquerors.

Although there are no certainties, historians estimate that, at the time of the arrival of the Iberians, around 1500, there were between 13 and 17 million inhabitants in America, according to the most conservative.

On the other hand, more optimistic historians, Spinden and the Berkeley School, estimate the indigenous population of the continent at more than 70 million inhabitants.

Estimates of the population in South America range between 7 and 20 million people.

As for the region of the Amazon basin, of some 7 million km2, estimates vary between 5 and 7 million people, estimating that they were distributed among some 2,000 indigenous peoples or tribes.

Those peoples were slowly transforming, changing their ways of life by contact with foreigners and the cultural patterns of settlements and urban lifestyles.

The others, the politicians, the economic groups and the inhabitants of the cities, considered them to be primitive ethnic groups that opposed development, while plans were made to conquer the jungle territory, destroying its natural resources.

What followed was to expand, with increasing deforestation of the forest, the agricultural and livestock frontiers and develop logging and mining activities.

Current indigenous population of the basin

The current population of the entire Amazon basin is estimated at about 20 million people. Of these, close to a million, 5% of the total, are indigenous belonging to 400 ethnic groups or tribes.

indigenous kuarup brazilian amazon
Row of indigenous people preparing for the Kuarup ceremony. Author: Noel Villas Boas 1998

By ethnicity we understand a human community that shares a set of socio-cultural elements (language, religion, institutions, and organizational forms, values, uses and customs), in addition to having common ancestors.

The vast majority of the current inhabitants of the Amazon are mestizo settlers, or landless peasants, who have come from other non-Amazonian regions.

The figures differ, however, according to a source of political representation.

Indigenous organizations (COICA)

In the Amazon region there is the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), created on 27.08. 1995, based in Quito, and whose members belong to nine countries in the basin: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname.

In its Declaration of Quito, of March 2018, it indicates that in the Amazon basin there are 390 indigenous peoples, more than 66 peoples in voluntary isolation and more than 2.5 million indigenous people.

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