This project was funded by the Pulitzer Center in alliance with the Amazon Rainforest Journalism Fund.
©️ Florence Goupil / Pulitzer Center RJF
April 17th, 2020, Cantagallo Community, Lima, Peru
Jheymi Mejía Mori rests on the floor after playing with other children from the community of Cantagallo in Lima. With more than 300 families crowded together and in unsanitary conditions, it is very difficult to lock the children up. The Shipibo-Konibo of the community of Cantagallo are living a confinement that puts their health at risk and are waiting for the country's internal borders to open to return to their native communities all along the Ucayali river.
How did you start photography? Please tell the Chinese readers about your photography experience.
I grew up between two cultures, leading me to develop an interest in stories not only about identity, territory and migration but also about the spirituality of the indigenous world that my Peruvian grandmother (from the Peruvian Andes) told me so much about.
When I was 20 years old I studied fine art at l’acole Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Rennes in France and later at University Rennes 2 where I graduated. I was working in the south France, in a portraiture studio. I use to photograph with a Nikon F5 analog camera and was trained by the owner of the studio who was also my mentor. That's how I began in photography. Later, I became a photo journalist and contribute to various media.
At the age of 27 I returned to Peru. I found myself confronted with myths and indigenous cosmovision, but in the same context as when I was a child. In the shadow of racism and the lack of identity of a country that runs towards progress at the expense of its own culture.
In order that these ways of seeing and describing the world are no longer despised, I decided to transmit them in images. And this process has been and remains the most complex, since it is a constant search for a personal language. It is only during this process that I myself changed my way of living, thinking and acting, that I made many decisions to dedicate myself 100% to photography. It is after this set of events that I became a photographer.
How did you start the project "SHIPIBO-KONIBO"? What does the title SHIPIBO-KONIBO stand for?
The Shipibo-Konibo are an indigenous nation from the Peruvian Rainforest. They are distributed along the shores of the Ucayali River that originates in the southern Andes to join the Amazon River to the north. Of the 12 Amazonian nations, the Shipibo-Konibo represent the largest population, with about 32,964 inhabitants distributed in 140 native communities along the mighty Ucayali River.
Over the years, this awareness of the use of medicinal plants has survived through oral transmission from parents to children. Therefore, the preservation of the Shipibo-Konibo culture, knowledge and worldview, depends on the continuity of its orality.
However, during the past year, the transmission of the biodiversity of the Amazon forest has been severely affected by the disappearance of the Shipibo-Konibo elders due to the Covid-19 virus. This big issue motivated me to document their life experience, protecting themselves against the Covid-19 virus.
On March 25th 2020, I started documenting their situation in the urban community of Lima to later go back with two of my closest friends, Gabriel Senencina and Celinda Cahuaza, to their place of origin in the rainforest. There the project took a more in-depth direction, that I was able to get closer to the intimacy of their community to document their close relationship with the plants.
How do you know about this community?
It’s been almost 10 years since I know the Shipibo-Konibo people and that we have collaborate for photo projects, including exhibitions and crowdfunding for their behalf.
Many Shipibo are settled on the urban community of Cantagallo in Lima but they always keep a connexion with their relatives in the native communities in the rainforest, their place of origin.
©️ Florence Goupil / Pulitzer Center RJF
July 22nd, 2020, Comando Matico Center, Pucallpa, Ucayali, Peru
Demetrio Mera is an elder of the Cacataibo ethnic group, also from the Peruvian Amazon. He left his community to travel for 6 hours by boat to the city of Pucallpa since he had the symptoms of the Covid-19 and could barely breathe. Demetrio is a patient at the Comando Matico (a group of traditional Shipibo-Konibo healers) who are treating him with plants.
How did people live there during the outbreak?
When ex-president Vizcarra declared an estate of emergency, inner borders were closed and all activities ceased. Sanitary protocols were imposed but the indigenous peoples of Peru were left behind.
Because they live in overcrowded places, many times an entire family is sharing a single room. They all depend on selling artisanal crafts and on a daily income to survive. So protocols did not take into account their ways of living, their background and economical issues.
The indigenous community Cantagallo was under a strict quarantine and even surrounded by the military. The more than 300 families did not have running water and food supplies or any source of income. Nor even medical access which lead to an unsanitary experience for them.
In May 2020, 3 Shipibo-Konibo died from Covid-19 symptoms and the entire community was scared for their future.
And how do people in the community use plants to protect themselves?
From thousands of plants in the large Amazon forest, the Shipibo recognizes 100 species of native flora, among which more than 40 are for their medicinal use. This demonstrates their complex knowledge of the variety of plant species and their close relationship with the biodiversity of the forest.
The Shipibo-Konibo, in every community, relied on their plant-based medicines to survive as well as the few medicines supplies the can get. They use the tobacco smoke, essences of plants such as "sacha-ajo", "matico", eucalyptus, ginger, "yuna rao", lemon grass as many others.
Vaporization, the most well-known technique they use, is a very old tradition from the Shipibo-Konibo nation. According to their cosmology, the smoke from their specific selection of plants heals respiratory problems. A vaporization will include "matico" plant leaves accompanied by eucalyptus, ginger, lemon and onions. They cover the patient with a cloth so that the body can absorb the smoke from the plants.
When you are shooting, do you fear getting a virus? How do you personally protect yourself?
I guess I fear death, but death will always be a mystery. I do not wish to compromise anyone’s health so I protected my family and my Shipibo-Konibo friends and colleagues, following the protocols and using the biosecurity equipment.
How long has this series been shot? How did the locals view this shoot of yours?
I started this series on March 25th 2020, when the state of emergency was declared by ex-president Vizcarra. First in the urban community of Cantagallo in Lima (the capital) to later go with my team back to the rainforest, their place of origin in July 2020. Gabriel Senencina and Celinda Cahuaza, from Shipibo-Konibo origin are team members of this project.
During this project and thanks to all the visibility and publications, the indigenous people felt grateful and empowered to continue using their plant-based medicines and to spreading their knowledge to other rainforest regions in the country. Also, as they gained more exposure, the government began to respond to their requests and in May 2020, they reached out to the communities for PCR testing.
Please share a few things that impressed you when you were shooting in this place.
When I was working in (and with) the Shipibo-Konibo community, I was so impressed of their strength. The faced the pandemic without medical supplies and in unsanitary conditions.
Sadly, during the project, I lost several friends to the Covid-19 in the Amazonian region and accompanied many others during this terrible event.
What do you hope to convey to people through this project?
I believe cultural diversity is what sustains the world and that we should be able to share and learn from our different experiences. And we can learn so much from the Shipibo-Konibo people’s relationship with their environment.
In Peru, there has long been a lack of collective memory, a black hole where the importance of our roots and identity was lost. During the pandemic, the indigenous populations were left behind and this is a clear consequence of this lack of identity, of care and love for who we are.
Remembering where we come from is very important to me, so that we know who we are. I look to generate a reflection on the cultural and spiritual bond of the inhabitants with their territory, in order to raise awareness on the environment and the cultures rooted in nature. I trust that with this powerful photographic medium, there will be a change on the way we see the indigenous root, that we will understand the reason they are still here and value them.
July 24th, 2020, Yine's territory, Pucallpa, Ucayali, Peru
Carlos Guimaraes a Shipibo-Konibo elder lies inside the mosquito net with strong symptoms of Covid-19 while he is cared for by his family: his daughter and wife as the Shipibo indigenous health protocol dictates to guard his health. Carlos's family could never afford to have him hospitalized in a private clinic, as the Amazon Hospital has already overcrowded.
July 27th, 2020, Pucallpa, Ucayali, Peru
Anita Mori an elderly Shipibo-Konibo woman, sitting next to a photograph of her husband who died with symptoms of Covid-19 in her native community Bethel, located 4 hours from the city of Pucallpa in the Rainforest. Anita mourns the death of her family as she lost her brother, her son and her husband to the Covid-19 virus.
July 29th, 2020, San Francisco Community, Ucayali, Peru
Elida Garcia waits inside the Health Center at the San Francisco indigenous community. Shipibo-Konibo people regret the government has not sent medical supplies and they are forced to go to the city of Pucallpa for medical assistance. In the Community, at least 90% of the Shipibo-Konibo people had the Covid-19 virus.
July 29th, 2020, Yarinacocha lake, Pucallpa, Ucayali, Peru
Rusber Rucoba is a young Shipibo-Konibo and a volunteer at the traditional health care organization "Comando Matico", lying among the leaves of the matico herb. Matico leaves, also known as "Roca-roca Noi Rao" in his native language, is the most important medicinal plant in the Amazon region to cure respiratory problems and is now used against the symptoms of the Covid-19 virus. According to Shipibo-Konibo cosmology, the plants of the Amazon are like the doctors protecting humanity.
August 3rd, 2020, Yarinacocha lake, Pucallpa, Ucayali, Peru
Celinda Cahuaza, a Shipibo-Konibo healer, standing on the shores of Lake Yarinacocha with the Yuna Rao leaves on her body. Celinda Cahuaza inherited the knowledge about medicinal plants from her father. The Yuna Rao plant she is using, is a well-known and important medicinal herb in Shipibo-Konibo cosmology. Its name translates as "Herb that Heals" and is used for fever and now for Covid-19 virus symptoms.
November 7th, 2020, Pucallpa port, Ucayali, Peru
Many Shipibo-Konibo opposed to the use of plants as an alternative method against the Covid-19. The presence of the Catholic and Evangelical Churches has transformed the cultural and traditional system of these communities.
November 12th, 2020, Calleria Community, Ucayali, Peru
Gabriel Senencina, a Shipibo-Konibo leader, crosses the Calleria lake to fish, after being under a strict 5-month quarantine, locked up in the city of Lima in the overpopulated Cantagallo indigenous community without drinking water or food supplies. However, there is no medical attention in Calleria and to access the Amazon hospital in the city of Pucallpa, the Shipibo-Konibo have to cross the lake and then travel down the Ucayali River for about 6 hours by boat.
She studied at L'École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Rennes and later at University of Rennes 2, where she graduated in Multimedia and Editorial Design. She is currently an Explorer at National Geographic Explorer.