Huni Kuin Tribe

The Huni Kuin tribe (huni “man”, kuin, “true”) extends from the foothills of the Peruvian Andes to the Brazilian borders, in the states of Acre and Southern Amazonas, covering the area of ​​Alto Juruá, Purus and the Javari Valley.

Their native language is Hatxa Kuin, “the language of truth”, although practically all of them are bilingual (Spanish and Portuguese, depending on the country). This tribe is divided into small communities or villages that have remained isolated until 1946 in the virgin jungle, far from the rivers that the merchants navigated. In recent decades they have experienced a great change both in terms of internal exodus (many Peruvian populations have moved to the Brazilian side), and in their way of life.

The Huni Kuin are also called cashinahuá (or kaxinawá), perhaps because of their ability to move at night in the dense jungle, since kaxi means “bat” in Hatsa Kuin.

huni kuin kaxinaxa

Social structure and worldview

The ecosystem in which the Huni Kuin (or Kaxinawá) live is divided into three well-marked areas. On the one hand there is the town, made up of single-family houses that rise on pillars, and malokas, covered but open common spaces, without walls. All buildings are entirely made with materials from the jungle. Next to the houses, there are the farms, cultivated areas. Afterwards we found an area of ​​the jungle still with a lot of human presence with open roads. Finally, there is the deep jungle, the largest virgin forest in the world, which is so difficult to enter. If a population migrates to other lands and abandons the village, it will be eaten by the jungle, and will completely disappear under its thick green mantle in a maximum of five years.

The social life of the Huni Kuin is highly marked by their sex. Man is the predator, the hunter, he is the one who brings the meat and raw materials from the jungle. He is the nomad, the intrepid one who ventures into the depths of the jungle. The woman is the one who transforms what the man brings from the outside and converts it for his inner use. She is the one in charge of the crafts, the harvesting of vegetables, the cooking of food, the raising of the children. The man is in charge of building the house and the woman is in charge of decorating and caring for it. The man is the one who prepares and plants the farm and the woman is the one who is in charge of caring for it and collecting food. The woman, in principle, never enters the virgin forest.

However, although her tasks are separated on the material and practical level of life, both men and women are very united on the spiritual level of all these tasks. It is a very dual organization, but neither part superimposes the other, neither is subjugated, both are part of the one, of the whole.

There is no marriage ceremony among its rites. The union of a couple is consecrated when the young man prepares the farm for his lover. Although parents intervene for their own interests in these unions, they cannot force young people to be together against the will of any of them. There are, however, many ceremonies that are carried out methodically, such as that of fertility, or that of the passage from childhood to adulthood.

The Huni Kuin do not have a word to describe humanity, or the human being. They distinguish, on the one hand, the kuin (themselves) and on the other the bemakia (“the other, the others”). The Huni bemakia are for them both the Incas and the whites. There is an intermediate group between the two, which are the Huni Kayabi, indigenous people of the same linguistic group, Pano. So, to say “all humanity,” the Huni Kuin would say dasibi huni inun betsa betsapa, which we could translate as “all of us and others who are different.”

In their worldview they imagine a hill that represents the world. At its top is the center and from it all the rivers originate and lengthen until their other shore cannot be seen. In the lower part lives a tarantula, owner of the cold and death. The sky extends below the earth until it joins at the horizon. The Huni Kuin imagine themselves living at the top of the hill, while the Incas and the whites, the Huni Bemakia, live below. Currently both are in closer positions, since the huni kuin have come down from the summit and the whites have managed to cross the serpentine rivers thanks to the help of a large crocodile.


The Huni Kuin (or Kaxinawá) forcefully faced the violent assaults of the rubber tappers at the beginning of the 20th century, and did not maintain peaceful relations with the white man until the 1950s. Then, the Huni Kuin began to maintain a relationship of exchange economy with the non-indigenous society of Brazil and Peru. The Kaxinawá, great hunters, obtained skins, feathers and seeds in exchange for manufactured utensils. Over time, they stopped using their arrows and began using rifles for hunting, so they depended on the cartridges that the settlers sold them. The Huni Kuin thus lost their hunting autonomy, since the new generations were not instructed in making arrows or learning traditional hunting. When cartridge prices were no longer profitable for the tribe, they began to dedicate themselves to cattle and pig farming, which drastically changed their way of life.

In 1951, the arrival of the filmmaker and anthropologist Schultz brought with it a measles epidemic that devastated the indigenous population, killing 80% of the Huni Kuin.


For the Huni Kuin, the person is made of flesh (or body) and Yuxin, a word that we could translate as “the ability to establish communication with the animals and plants of the jungle.” Likewise, both animals and plants have a body side and a Yuxin side.

The tribe claims that the true shamans, the mukaya, died. They had within them the bitter and shamanic substance called muka, to communicate with the invisible side of reality, and they did not need any external substance to enter that state. Indeed it seems that many died in the fifties, during the so-called “Schultz flu”, and it seems that many villages have cut off their relationship with the shamanic world. Some communities, however, continue to practice other forms of shamanism considered less powerful but also efficient.

The use of ayahuasca, a privilege of the shaman in many Amazonian groups, is a collective practice among the Huni Kuin, experienced by all adult men and adolescents who wish to see “the world of ayahuasca.”

The first sign that someone may be a shaman, and develop a relationship with the world of yuxin, is failure at hunting. The shaman develops a great familiarity with the animal world and by empathizing with them and seeing them as his peers, he can no longer kill them. Therefore, the shaman does not eat meat.

For the Huni Kuin, there are several ways to begin shamanism. Some result from a deliberate search on the part of the apprentice, and others occur spontaneously due to the initiative of the yuxin. The presence of the muka in the heart of the apprentice is an essential condition for any exercise of shamanic power, which ultimately depends on the will of the yuxin.

The specialty of huni dauya (“man with a sweet remedy”, herbalist) is not usually combined with that of the huni mukaya (shaman). The herbalist’s learning process is very different from that of the shaman. Unless dealing with poisonous leaves, the herbalist is not subject to fasting and can carry out normal hunting and marriage activities: he acquires knowledge of it through apprenticeship with another specialist and requires keen memory and perception.

Today the spirituality of the Huni Kuin (or Kaxinawá) resonates throughout the world. This began a decade ago, with the arrival of three young Huni Kuin leaders to Rio de Janeiro with the idea of ​​holding ceremonies outside their home area for the first time. Nowadays many leaders travel to all five continents to offer rituals.

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