Survival Alert: The Amazon’s Jaguar People Would Rather Live Than Drill

The expansion plans of a single Canadian oil company threaten to destroy an entire way of life for the Matsés people of Brazil and Peru.

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Matsés children look out upon a world and a way of life that is imperilled due to the civilized appetite for oil. (Photo © Survival)

Survival Alert is a fortnightly update on the state of indigenous peoples around the world from Survival International. Founded in 1969, Survival International is the globe’s foremost organization working for tribal peoples rights.


The Yaquerana River in the Amazon rainforest marks the border between Peru and Brazil, but to the Matsés tribe, who live on both sides of it, this international border is meaningless. To them the streams, floodplains, and white-sand forests make up an ancestral territory that is shared by the entire tribe.

Today, the Matsés are at risk of losing their land to a Canadian oil company that plans to cut hundreds of miles of seismic testing lines through their forest home and drill exploratory wells.

Around 2,200 Matsés are living on the Peru-Brazil frontier in the Amazon rainforest. They hunt for animals such as tapir and paca—a large rodent—using bows and arrows, traps and shotguns. Each community lives close to the riverbank, and every morning children and adults will set off to catch the day’s fish.

When school’s out, parents take children to their gardens to teach them how to grow their own food. They grow a wide variety of crops, including staples such as plantain and manioc. Together with the closely related Matis tribe, the Matsés were known as the “Jaguar people” for their facial decorations and tattoos, which resembled the jaguar’s whiskers and teeth.

When Europeans invaded Canada, they introduced alien diseases, seized control of natural resources, and brought about the extinction of entire peoples. Pacific Rubiales is today committing the same crimes against tribes in Peru.

In 2012, the Canadian oil company Pacific Rubiales began to explore for oil on part of the Matsés’ ancestral land. Though the Matsés have repeatedly opposed the company’s work on their land, their protests have been ignored.

In March, hundreds of Matsés Indians from Peru and Brazil gathered on the border and called on their governments to stop the exploration, warning that the work will devastate their forest home.

“Go and tell the whole world that the Matsés are firm in our position against the oil company,” said one Matsés man. “We do not want it invading our land!”

The Matsés are concerned about more than their own tribe’s future. Uncontacted indigenous people live close to the Matsés in both Peru and Brazil. During the 1990s, when loggers flooded into Matsés territory, the uncontacted Indians fled the region. But the Matsés say that the isolated people had been returning. They are now afraid that the oil company will force them to flee once again.


‘We don’t eat factory foods. We don’t buy things. That is why we need space to grow our own food.’ (Photo © Survival)

Despite promising to protect the rights of its indigenous citizens, the Peruvian government has allowed oil company Pacific Rubiales to go ahead with its $36 million project. The project will see wells drilled in search of oil, affecting the headwaters of three major rivers that are essential to the Matsés’ livelihoods. The company’s oil block “135” lies directly over an area that has been proposed as a reserve to protect the uncontacted tribes.

A second block, “137,” has been drawn up directly over the Matsés’ land title.

The effects of oil work are also likely to be felt across the border in Brazil’s Javari Valley, home to several other uncontacted tribes, as seismic testing and the construction of wells threaten to pollute the headwaters of several rivers on which the tribes depend.

When Europeans invaded Canada, they introduced alien diseases, seized control of natural resources, and brought about the extinction of entire peoples. Pacific Rubiales is today committing the same crimes against tribes in Peru. Its work threatens to wipe out some of the last remaining uncontacted tribes in the world and ignores the wishes of Peru and Brazil’s indigenous inhabitants.

Please email the company’s President, urging him to pull out of the Matsés’ territory before their lives are destroyed forever.

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These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.

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