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Acta Amazonica

Print version ISSN 0044-5967On-line version ISSN 1809-4392

Acta Amaz. vol.34 no.1 Manaus  2004 



Fishing territoriality and diversity between the ethnic populations Ashaninka and Kaxinawá ,Breu river, Brazil/Peru


Diversidade e territorialidade pesqueira entre as populações étnicas Ashaninka e Kaxinawá, rio Breu, Alto Juruá, Brasil/Peru



Benedito Domingues do Amaral

Geociências e Meio Ambiente. IGCE-UNESP, 13506-900 – Rio Claro (SP), Brasil. e-mail:




This study describes the diversity and the subsistence fishing territoriality of traditional populations of a village Ashaninka and two Kaxinawá living at the margins of Breu River (Brasil/Peru). In general, samplings in the dwellings were carried out late in the afternoon, as the fishermen arrived in the village. The data were analysed in an exploratory way through the index of pondered dominance (ID%), by analysis of variance and by a correspondence analysis in order to determine the associations of the fish species and the fishing spots between the villages of the Indigenous Reserve. The results of the analysis of variance demonstrated that differences exist between the fish diversities of the catches. However, post-hoc tests only detected differences in diversities between the hand fishhook and the other fishing gears (bow and arrow, castnets and rotenone tingui). Although the use of bow and arrow resulted in a low capture (Kg), this fishing strategy is associated with a high fishing diversity, in terms of number of species. These results demonstrate that there is no overlap in the frequency of the visits to the fishing spots between the Ashaninka and Kaxinawá populations. This pattern is the same found for the correspondence analysis for the fish species, which describes the relationship between the deep pools environments exploited by the fishermen Ashaninka and Kaxinawá of Mourão. These ethnic populations still continue to maintain a strong cultural and cosmological tradition, with their territories defined in an informal way of the upper Juruá area.

Key words: Amazonia, Indigenous fisheries, Ashaninka, Kaxinawá, Breu river.


Este estudo tem o objetivo de descrever a diversidade e a territorialidade pesqueira de subsistência das populações tradicionais de uma aldeia Ashaninka e duas Kaxinawá vivendo à beira do rio Breu. Elas se situam no alto rio Juruá acima de Marechal Taumaturgo (AC, Brasil/Peru) num complexo de unidades de conservação e territórios de diversas populações étnicas. As casas dos moradores das aldeias e as pescarias coletivas são as unidades amostrais nesse estudo. De modo geral, as amostragens nas casas foram realizadas nos fins de tarde, conforme a chegada dos pescadores à aldeia. O monitor de pesca fez a coleta das informações sobre a pescaria e a pesagem do pescado capturado. Os dados foram analisados de maneira exploratória através do índice ponderal de dominância (ID%), pela análise de variância para as diversidades das capturas nas aldeias e pela análise de correspondência para determinar as associações das espécies de pescado e os pontos pesqueiros entre as aldeias da Reserva Indígena. Os resultados das análises de variância demonstraram que existem diferenças entre as diversidades das capturas. No entanto, os testes a posteriori de comparações somente detectaram diferenças de diversidades entre o anzol de mão e os outros aparelhos (arco/flecha, tarrafa e tingui). Apesar do arco/flecha apresentar baixa captura (kg), sua estratégia de pesca gera alta diversidade de espécies. Os resultados demonstram que não há freqüência de sobreposição das visitas aos pontos pesqueiros entre as etnias Ashaninka e Kaxinawá. Esse padrão é o mesmo encontrado para a análise de correspondência para as espécies de pescado, que descreve a semelhança entre os ambientes de poços explorados entre os pescadores Ashaninka e Kaxinawá do Mourão devido a sua proximidade de localização na Reserva Indígena, mas não há sobreposição na exploração dos recursos pesqueiros. Essas populações étnicas ainda continuam a manter uma forte tradição cultural e cosmológica, com seus territórios definidos de maneira informal e com respeito aos que habitam a região do Alto Juruá.

Palavras-chave: Amazônia, pescarias indígenas, Ashaninka, Kaxinawá, rio Breu.




In the area known as the Brazilian Legal Amazônia there are about 364 indigenous territories, with the Juruá River standing as one of the most complexes areas. The upper Juruá River encompass a suite of conservation units with several territories of traditional human populations, like villages of workers exploring rubber trees and the ethnic Ashanikawa, Kaxinawá, Manchineri, Kulina, Katukina, Nukuni, Jaminawá, Arara, Poyanawá, Yawanawá, among others, that has no contact with the occidental civilizations.

However, the future of this area still depends on the demarcations of 21 indigenous territories which are connected to three Extrativist Reserves and with the Serra do Divisor National Park, an extension of continuous land with an area of about 2.839.850 ha harbouring a population around 15 thousand inhabitants, corresponding to 18.6% of the Acre State. The ecosystem in the area of the upper high Juruá River still maintains its structures and natural functions, mainly because it possesses a low demographic density, low mining for gold, farming activity and low use of hydroenergetic resources. An exception to this is the construction of the highway BR-364, which will link the cities of Rio Branco and Cruzeiro do Sul, in Brazil, with possible expansions to the Pacific Ocean, after joining the Transamerica highway in Peru (Aquino, 1997).

In agreement with the Pilot Project for the Conservation of the Tropical Forests - PPG7 of the Ministry of the Environment - MMA/Indigenous National Foundation - FUNAI, it is expecting the identification of 42 indigenous territories and the physical demarcation of another 58 areas in the Amazon. However, once the demarcations of these territories are completed, it still would be necessary to demarcate another 111 territories in the area. Thus, it is expected that the optimization in the use of the available socio-economic resources for accomplishment of this work contemplate the longings established in the Brazilian Constitution of 1988 (GTA & Friends of the Earth, 1997). The objective of this study is to determine the fishing territoriality between fishermen and to compare the diversities of the catches in the Indigenous Reservation Ashaninka/Kaxinawá of the Breu River (AC, Brazil/Peru).



The Indigenous Reserve Ashaninka-Kaxinawá lies in the middle and upper Breu River, with an area of 23.840 hectares in the municipality of Taumaturgo (AC), with a population estimated as having 350 inhabitants (Aquino & Iglesias, 1992). The Reserve lies adjacent with Extrativist Reserve of Upper Juruá, with the Indigenous Reserve Kaxinawá Jordão River and, along with the Breu River, with the Peruvian Amazon forest (Figure 1).



The regional physiography has a landscape predominately dissected and undulated, encompassing lower plateaus covered by open tropical forest and spots of dense tropical forest. The Breu River is a third-order affluent of the alluvial basins of the Javari and upper Juruá Rivers. The regional climate is defined as having a rainy (November to May) and dry (June to November) periods, with annual precipitation around 2220mm (RADAMBRASIL, 1977; Emperaire et al. 1992).

Fisheries data sampling in the Indian Reserve encompassed a complete hydrological cycle, and were monitored by an interviewer (November 1995 and September 1996) and by the first author (September 1995 and April 1996). Fishermen dwellings in the villages and the collective fisheries were the sampling units in this study. In general, dwelling samplings were carried out late in the afternoon, as the fishermen arrived in the village. The interviewer sampled the information about the fishery, weighed and counted the fish caught. The inventory of fish species caught in the basin of the Breu River was performed in summer (August 1995) and winter (April 1996). Species collected were identified and voucher specimens are deposited in the Zoological Museum of the University of São Paulo (MZUSP). Taxonomic identification of specimens caught in the villages, but absent in the inventory, were done with the aid of a list of species for the studied area (Silvano et al. 2001).

The fixation of geographical co-ordinates of the main fishing spots in the Indigenous Reserves was accomplished in the last field trip (September 1996). The GPS was with the configuration in the system UTM, plan, meters and true north.

The index of pondered dominance, ID% = [(Ni*Pi)/S(N i*Pi)]*100, where Pi is the weight (Kg) of the species caught and Ni is the number of species caught in the fishing spots, was used to obtain data on the main fish species catches as well on the main fishings spots in the Indigenous Reservation (Beaumord, 1991).

The diversity of the species caught (weight and number of individuals) was calculated for each fishing gear used by the Shannon-Wiener H' index (Krebs, 1989). Calculations of the analysis of variance model were accomplished between the diversity presented by the different fishing gears, following the equation Yi = m + ai + ei, where: Yi is the diversity measure H'; m is a constant; ai identifies the fishing gear with i = 1, 2, 3 and 4, where 1=hand fishhook, 2=bow and arrow, 3=net and 4= rotenone "tingui"; and ei is the random error N(0, s2). The residual analysis was carried out by plotting studentizated residuals and the estimated values, with the random observation of the distributions of values close to zero, that is, the evaluation of the occurrence of tendencies and outliers. Asymmetry (g1) and kurtosis (g2) were also calculated. Whenever ANOVA was significant, Tukey test was used a post-hoc test (Sokal & Rholf, 1995).

The correspondence analysis (CA) was used to describe the fisheries between the villages, specially to obtain data on the overlap in the use of fishings spots and on the territorial relationships between the villages (Manly, 1986; Ludwig & Reynolds, 1988).



Description of the fisheries in the Indigenous Reserve.

In the inventories realized at the Indigenous Reserve, 41 species of fishes were collected. Other 27 species that were not collected during the sampling period are described in the fish list of the ExtrativistReserve of Upper Juruá (Silvano et al. 2000; Silvano et al. 2001). Thus, catches in the Indigenous Reserve Ashaninka/Kaxinawá encompass 59 species plus one species of crab (Sylviocarcinus devillei). The fish species belongs to the Order Characiformes, with 6 families, Siluriformes, with 3 families, Gymnotiformes and Perciformes, with 2 families each and Rajiformes with the family Potamotrygonidae.

Villages fisheries took place in 78 encompassing different fishing spots such as creeks mouths, creeks, deep pools, and lakes. The fishermen of the village Ashaninka visited 18 spots, the fishermen Kaxinawá of Mourão visited 48 and Kaxinawá of Japinim 31.

Total fish production in the Indigenous Reserve was 2,895 kg with a capture of 44,583 specimens of several species. A total of 359 fishing activities were sampled in the Indigenous Reserve, where 96, 176 and 87 trips occurred between the villages. The most common fish species were the "mandi" (35%, Pimelodus sp.), armoured catfishes (25%, Hypostomus sp.), curimatã (9%, Prochilodus sp.), "saburu" (8%, Curimatidae), among others.

Fisheries in the villages of the Indigenous Reserves have dominance in catches closely tied to the fishing gears and with the typology of the exploited fisheries environments. In the fishhook (average=0.086 kg/fishermen) fisheries used by Kaxinawá fishermen, there was a dominance of fish species caught such as the "mandi", the "pintadinha", the "piau" and the "piaba" which, in turn, are caught in habitats close to the village harbours. Armoured catfishes were more efficiently caught with bow and arrow. The Ashaninka and Kaxinawá of Mourão fishermen use this gear to exploit rapids habitats, while the Kaxinawá of Japinim fishermen use bow and arrow in the igarapés, as they live near the head streams.

Catching with bow and arrow (average=0.116 kg/fishermen/village) in different habitats are associated with marked differences in the composition catch of fish species. In general, armoured catfishes dominate catches. However, there were subtle differences in species composition and, in fact, using of bow and arrow is associated with a higher diversity in the species. For example, in the rapids habitats, male painted and big armoured catfishes are the dominant species caught by bow and arrow, while in the creeks the dominant species are the yellow and black armoured catfishes. The use of bow and arrow also favour the catch, during the summer, of several other species of armoured catfishes (Loricariidae) and of the crab Sylviocarcinus devillei.

In fisheries with castnets (average=0.437 kg/fishermen/village) carried out in deep pools in Ashaninka and Kaxinawá of Mourão villages, the most common species were male's catfishes and species of the genus Pimelodus sp. ("mandi") and Prochilodus sp. ("curimatã"). In the village Kaxinawá of Japinim, fisheries with castnets were associated with igarapés and lakes, with a dominance of species such as armoured catfishes, "piaba" "curimatã" (Prochilodus sp.) and "saburu" in the catches. It should be noticed that the use of castnets was associated with a high kg/fisherman.

The fisheries carried out with the use of rotenone "tingui" (average=0.240 kg/fishermen/village) stands out among Kaxinawá fishermen. Fishermen at the village of Mourão catch several species of Curimatidae and Loricariidae in deep pools during the winter, with a dominance of "piabas" when this gear is used in "igarapés" during the drying water period. Fisheries in the village Kaxinawá of Mourão had satisfactory catches (in terms of kg/fisherman) with the use of the rotenone, which is the most common fishing gear among the fishermen of Kaxinawá of Japinim village (Table 1).

Diversity (H') of the catches between different fishing gears.

The calculated values of the diversity indexes (H') can be interpreted for each of the fishing gears accordingly to their strategies of resource allocation (Table 2). The results of the analysis of variance for the diversities of species, calculated in the number of individuals and weight are show in Tables 3a and b and 4a and b. The post-hoc Tukey test of comparisons only detected differences of diversities between the hand fishhook and the other gears (bow and arrow, net and rotenone "tingui"). Residual analysis indicated that there was no inconvenience in these results.





Fishing territoriality between the villages.

Fishing spots with larger dominance in the catches were the Algodão deep pool (46%) in Kaxinawá of Mourão village, the Mulateiro (16%) and Alho deep pool (4%) used by the fishermen of Kaxinawá of Mourão and Japinim villages, while the Cuchirir deep pool (6%) was more frequented by the fishermen Ashaninka. Overlap in the use of spots between the fishermen of Ashaninka and Kaxinawá villages only occurred at the Pedra, Cuchirir and Passarinho deep pools. The visits to the spots with higher overlap in their use occurred between the Kaxinawá of Mourão and Japinim villages in 18 of the fishing spots.

The first factor in the correspondence analysis (CA) was related to the associations of fish species with higher dominances that were caught between villages Kaxinawá of Mourão and Ashaninka (Figure 2 and Table 5). These values excluded those related to extreme associations (> 2.5), which were related only to fish caught by the village.



It is suggested that the number of species associations in this factor is larger between those two villages, due to the exploitation of fishing resources in similar environments, such as deep pools. The second factor describes the associations of species of fish that were caught between the villages Kaxinawá of Mourão and Japinim. It can be noticed that the extreme values of the associations are due to the species caught exclusively in the village Kaxinawá of Japinim. The associations of the second factor describe the fish species that were caught jointly in the villages Kaxinawá, with a predominance of catches in the deep pools, creeks and lakes (Figure 2 and Table 5). Table 6 shows the associations between the villages as a function of the catches of fish species. It can be seen that in the first factor the highest association is related to the Ashaninka village, while in the second axis the highest association is related to the Kaxinawás village.



This pattern describes the similarity between the deep pools exploited by fishermen of both villages (Ashaninka and Kaxinawá of Mourão), due to their proximity in the Indigenous Reserve. Nevertheless, there was not overlap in the use of fisheries resources and of frequency of visits to the spots between these two villages (see Figure 3). For example, in Figure 3, the first factor makes the distinction between the spots visited by the village Ashaninka with high negative associations loads. The second factor demonstrates the spots visited by the Kaxinawá fishermen, with elevated positive associations' loads for the village Kaxinawá of Japinim. The Kaxinawá of Mourão fishermen were more active in the exploitation of the fisheries resources, overlapping with their close neighbours near to the heads of the Breu River (Table 7). The results displayed in Table 8 described a similar pattern as those presented in Table 6.





There was a division of fishing territory, as well as a distinction in the fish species caught and fishing spots visited between the fishermen of the villages Ashaninka and Kaxinawá of Japinim. The fishermen of the village Kaxinawá of Mourão presents a more active foraging behaviour of the fisheries resources as they devoted a portion of their time to other activities such as agriculture. The use of the fisheries resources was a more efficient and fast way to obtain the necessary protein, at least when compared to the time that would be devoted to obtain the same protein by other activities, such as hunting.



Catch Diversity in the Indigenous Reserves

The wealth of fish species caught and the number of fisheries habitats visited by the fishermen in the Indigenous Reservation were high. The use of bow and arrow entails a high diversity in number of species, which is the same as the values associated with the use of more generalists' gears such as castnets and rotenone.Use of hand fishhook entails lower diversity, as this gear is somewhat more specialists in terms of type of species caught. Castro & Begossi (1995) mentioned that the strategies in the use of different fishing gears vary with the objectives of the fishermen. These authors studied the ecology of a community of artisan fishermen in the Grande River (SP/MG) and concluded that the diversity of fish species varied in agreement with the fisheries patterns adopted during the hydrological cycle. The subsistence fisheries in the period of low-productivity using castnets leads to higher diversity values in relation to commercial catches, which seeks specific schools during the crop, high-productivity, period. Thus, a gradient can be described in catch diversity among the levels of subsistence fisheries, where the diversity is higher than that of commercial fisheries. A commercial fishery usually catches fish species that have a better acceptance in local markets, and consequently, is associated with a larger income (Petrere, 1978). The subsistence fishermen tend to exploitation a larger number of species of fish in the trophic chain, except those related to certain local taboos (Begossi & Braga, 1992; Aquino & Iglesias, 1992; Begossi et. al. 1999).

In the Indigenous Reserves, fisheries are subordinated to cultural habits. The perceptions of these traditional human populations about the natural resources come in a holistic approach. The knowledge and utilization of natural resources are taught through parental relationships and by the diffusion of information shared by these populations. Many of these perceptions are related with the functional characteristics of the resources. Thus, the inhabitants of the upper Juruá River (AC) classify the rays, snakes and the wasps, among other animals that possess poisons, as insects. From centuries, this functional vision has facilitated the sustained coexistence of these traditional populations with the ecosystems of the upper Juruá River. That coexistence is demonstrated by a relationship of respect and adoration, through strong mythological and cosmological traditions with the natural environments (Eid, 1994; Aquino & Iglesias, 1992; Costa, 1995; Begossi, et. al. 1999).

Posey (1983) suggested that popular knowledge and the daily practices of traditional populations, coupled with management strategies could be preponderant for the best use and conservation of natural resources. The management of natural resources by traditional populations is important experiences in the Amazon basin, and these experiences should be used as models for the sustainable development and for the maintenance of the biotic integrity of the area (Petrere, 1992).

Territoriality between traditional populations

The traditional populations use the fishing resources in a common way, respecting the fisheries territories of each other. In the case of the populations Ashaninka and Kaxinawá, differences exist in the frequency of use of the different fishing spots. This low frequency of overlap in the use of fishing spots is probably due to the usual trade and war relationships between sub-Andean Arawak and the Panos (Eid, 1994).

Although the property is of common use between the two ethnics, territory delimitation is important as it gives a base for the restriction to the regime of the common property, regulating the transfer, use and distributions of the rights of the common resources (McCay & Acheson, 1987; Berkes, 1985; Begossi, et al. 1995). The territory distinction between the two ethnics is rooted in history. The Ashaninkas are known in the area as possessors of great warring ability, their territory of domain are of difficult access and their organization are in the form of small nomadic groups of high mobility, denominated in the past as " Anti " by the Inca that dominated the oriental areas and its sub-Andean people. Like the sub-Andean Arawak, the Inca Empire (Century XI to XV) maintained exchange relationships without having vassalage power. The ancestors of the Ashaninkas had certain autonomy in the Incan relationships of conquests, or against their main enemies, the ethnics of the language Pano. However, in remote times, the Arawak and the Pano already possessed alliances in relation to the Spanish expansions in the area, and they blocked the attempts of the colonial conquest towards the oriental forests of Peru. After the onset of the rubber trade, this fact started to exercise strong pressure on the cultural and territorial patterns of the Arawak and Pano populations in the forests of the Amazon area (Eid, 1994).

Nowadays, these populations still continue to maintain a strong tradition of their cultures, with their territories informally and legally defined between the ethnics that inhabit the area of Upper Juruá. However, the definition of territories between traditional populations is a dynamic process, because some ethnic groups are nomadic and the populational growths of these ethnics, as well as of the rubber-gathers, are increasing in the border of the Brazilian/Peruvian Amazon (Eid, 1994; Aquino & Iglesias, 1992).

Management of free-access fisheries resources can include the following vulnerabilities: a low control of the resources by the community, the increase in the fisheries trade, the strong increase in the use of the resources, and the fast changes in the technologies (Berkes, 1985). Hames (1982) analyzed the conservation of the exploitation of free-access resources through optimum foraging and conclude that the indigenous hunters of the Amazon area are not concerned with conservation, as they only seek an increase in the efficiency in the way by which animal protein is obtained. Peres (1993) characterized the Kaxinawá of the Jordão River as opportunist fishermen, as they carefully observed the movements of fishes during the reproductive season "piracema", placing a strong demand on daily catches in order to supply the necessary intake of animal protein (Begossi & Richerson, 1992; Begossi, 1996). Roberts & Baird, (1995) showed that the Khone fishermen of Mekong River possess fisheries areas for generations with the domain of the local families.

The possibility of conflicts in the future is the new regional dynamics of territory restriction and the growth of the traditional human populations. Aquino & Iglesias (1992) mentioned that the incorporation of the rubber-gatheres farms Independence and Altamira to the Indigenous Area of Kaxinawá of the Jordão River occurred in order to absorb part of the populational contingent that inhabit the eight rubber-gatheres farms in the area. Along 18 years the population Kaxinawá triplicated. In 1975 the natives were 383 people but in 1992 this number increased to 1.085 in the Kaxinawá villages. In the first ten months of 1993, 63 children were born and only three adult died. Thus, the increase of the traditional populations, and the changes in the patterns of the regional economies, can constitute in a larger pressure upon the fisheries resources, which are the basic subsistence food for these populations. Eventually, this fact may lead to the appearance of conflicts in the exploitation of the fishing territories, implying in the establishment of the tragedy of the commons (Hardin, 1968) on the fisheries resources.

McGrath, et. al. (1994) mentioned that free-access fisheries resources lack any sort of regulation, and only exploitation rights exist in such systems. This type of system is confused with the regime of common property and the term "common" used by Hardin (1968) refers to the regime of free-access (McCay, 1996). However, and much on the contrary, the notion of common property rights excludes and defends the local resources from other exploiters, regulates the number of users and the techniques of resources allocation. The common property systems adopted by the fishermen in the lakes of the Lower Amazon contradict the thesis of Hardin (1968) of the tragedy of the commons,because the dynamics of free interest reconciled with responsibilities in avoiding the "tragedy" is the power underpinning the success of the collective management of the fisheries resources.

Hilborn et al. (1995) emphasized that most of the institutional successes in the maintenance of the sustainability of the fisheries resources has been happening in communities of traditional fishermen or in private properties. Begossi (1996) defined that the property right or uses of the resources varies in agreement with the different scales of the human behavior, with territoriality in its exploitation in an individual, familial way, ghetto, clan, communities, villas, societies, among another. The evolution in the change of the territoriality and the rights upon fishing spots are related to the densities of local fisheries, outsiders and sporting fishermen, to the diversities and availability of fishing spots and to the capacity of the fishing technologies.

In the complex of conservation units and indigenous territories in the area of Upper Juruá, there is the need of implementation of management plans for the sustained development of the natural resources of the area. When considering the indigenous area of common use between two populations with different habits, we have to define the priorities that minimize the conflicts between the parts and the gradual retraction of the fishing practices that depreciate the stocks of the river Breu. The maintenance of the biodiversity and the sustained use of the biological productivity of these ecosystems for the traditional populations should constitute the goals of the management to be established in the area. However, the future of those traditional populations depends on its cultural resiliency (Begossi, 1995), that is, of their functional structures, of the exploitation and the conservation of the natural resources and of their cultural habits, of the dissipation of the conflicts and the invigoration of the tribal community organization. Thus, the management of the common resource should be supported by a more realistic and effective co-operation between traditional populations and the western society represented by government and NGOs.



To the Ashaninka/Kaxinawá communities for their understanding and wisdom. CNPq for the grant, USP and NCI – Indigenous Culture Centre and Austrian Government for the financial support of this study, and to Dr. Oswaldo T. Oyakawa, from the Zoological Museum of the University of São Paulo, for helping with taxonomic identification of the fish species. Dr Keith Brown Jr. and Dr. Miguel Petrere Jr. for their kindness in inviting us to participate in a pioneer project in Acre which opened the opportunity for the present work.



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Recebido em 16/10/2001
Aceito em 12/12/2003

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