Madidi Mosaic People
When the Spaniards arrived in the Americas, there were between sixty to ninety million Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas. One hundred and fifty years later, they had been reduced to just three and one half million (Darcy Ribeiro 1969). This gives us an idea of the destruction that besought our continent. The disappearance of Amazonian people has been equally dramatic.
Archeological and ethno historical studies have demonstrated that human beings occupied the Amazon region since the first human occupation of the continent generating broader social and environmental adaptations than the ones we find today. The oldest ceramics found in America have been found in the Amazon region, thus disproving a common theory that the Amazon was populated by peoples from the western Andes.
Investigations of the extraordinary biodiversity of the Amazon basin give indications that one of the reasons for this biodiversity is the intense domestication of plant species by the people who lived in the area until the arrival of the Europeans.
Acheological studies have demonstrated an evolution of the people of the Amazon dating almost 12,000 years back from nomadic collectors, to collectors, hunters, fishermen, and small scale agriculture, to large scale agriculture that included the burning of forests, to extensive and dense populations maintained by intense agriculture that included the use of grains as well as intense hunting and fishing.
There is evidence of the existence of urban centers populated by as many as 200,000 persons. The varzea (flood plain forests) of the Bolivian Amazon were inhabited by peoples who concentrated in areas of many hectares, who left evidence of sophisticated ceramic, and who constructed thousands of square kilometers of complicated raised fields and mounds for an extensive and sophisticated agricultural system which to this day can be identified through over flights and satellite imagry. Some of these are currently used for the roads that have penetrated the area.
Relationships of exchange between different regions of the Amazon as well as with different areas of the continent date back to the earliest populations. The exchange included a great variety of objects as well as a great variety of techniques for their processing and use.
This encouraged a specialization in the exchanges so that some units or groups could specialize in say mining, while others in processed foods, canoe building, medicinal plants and animals, etc. The dependency on these varied goods was strong, and the routes of exchange have been considered “arteries of power” by some.
Important fairs for bartering were held once a year in places such as Pata in Bolivia and Cocabambilla in Peru. Ethnic groups would bring products from the rainforest such as birds and other animals, vestments, feathers, woods, resins, basketry, cotton, seeds, medicinal plants and animal products, canoes, tobacco, coca, peanuts, Brazil nuts, bark, vegetable dyes, honey, etc.
They would exchange these products for knives, machetes, scissors, nails, mirrors, salt, cheese, etc. with groups that descended from the Andes. There were some ethnic groups that specialized in commerce covering circuits that covered thousands of miles and that lasted all year.
The Kallawayas, from the Apolobamba region of Bolivia, were extraordinary healers who based their work on medicinal plants, minerals, and animal parts as well as through spiritual work. They used plants from the Madidi Mosaic region, particularly from the Tacanas, as well as from the rest of the continent.
These healers were renown from Mexico to Patagonia, and the routes they covered could take as many as three years to complete. The Kallawayas have been named a “patrimony of humanity” by the United Nations. It is clear they could not have had such great spiritual and medicinal powers if they had not had access to the resources of the Madidi Mosaic.
Of all of these fascinating peoples, near Serere (and among the Serere staff) you can still find Tacanas, Esse Ejjas, Maropas, Mosetenes, Tsimanes, Lecos, Quechuas, Aymaras, and others. A short distance from Serere a pre-colombian cemetery that must have been huge can still be found. During decades the Beni river has been taking the huge burial ceramic away during the floods. The first studies on this place are only now taking place. Almost everything about the history of this region has yet to be discovered.