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When the morning dawns, Gunter Yandari and two other companions of the Candoshi ethnic group carefully row through a kind of forest nailed in the middle of blue waters. The feeling is strange: it is like getting into the foliage, although not walking, but at the point of rowing. But that's the inevitable route to Charapa Cocha, a dazzling Amazon lagoon.
After disembarking on a sandy beach and climbing on small-kids, small boats of three places, the task begins: a tucunaré (Chichla monoculus) has bitten the hook of one of the men and emerges to the surface shiny and flapping . Others will come out. In this place fishing is abundant.
Two fishermen who accompany Yandari during the work. SEBASTIAN CASTANEDA
The big pantry
"Earlier there is more," says Yandari, a connoisseur of these generous waters that are part of the Pastaza Fan, a gigantic ecosystem of about six million hectares, located in the province of Datem del Marañón (department of Loreto, northeastern Peru). This place is considered the potential third largest carbon store on the planet.
Its wetlands have profuse peatlands, masses of organic matter capable of capturing 6,900 million tons of this chemical element, which flies around the world due to the enormous emission of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most abundant greenhouse gas. According to specialists from the National Fund for Natural Areas Protected by the State (Profonanpe), that astronomical figure is equivalent to what 27 European countries issue in 2019.
So taking care of them is one way to contain climate change. The lagoon of Charapa Cocha is part of the great wetland and fulfills that crucial function, as well as being home to numerous species of fish. Not only of the tucunaré but also of the boquichico (Prochiludis nigricans) and the arahuana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum).
Lake Musa Karusha in the province of Datem del Marañón, department of Loreto.SEBASTIAN CASTANEDA
Throughout the Pastaza Fan, the number of species amounts to 300, of which 21 are for commercial use, according to the document Fishing for life of Profonanpe. Harvesting fish sustainably – as candoshi do using arrows, nets or hooks – is one way to help protect this ecosystem. It implies healthier management of rivers and lagoons, and can reduce poaching, which in its advance can destroy wetlands.
"By having instruments of environmental governance of its resources and fisheries management programs, they help conserve this wetland," explains engineer Ignacio Piqueras, one of the promoters of the project Building Resilience in the Wetlands of the province Datem del Marañón (PHD). At the same time, it is achieved that fish, the main protein of the Amazon, continues to be the resource that supplies the indigenous people. as well as riverside and urban populations.
The Candoshi know this well because they are almost mythical fishermen, to the point that they recite songs in a low voice before going to fish and each small lagoon of the Abanico has a name for them. Each technique and species too. When hook fishing, for example, they call it Kachimaama; and the Tucunaré, whose name is of Guarani origin, is the Akupchi. The Arawana is called Karawina.
Gunter Yandari with other fishermen on the shores of the lake. SEBASTIAN CASTANEDA
The Great Lake
After several tucunarés caught, the fishermen wait in front of the immense Rimachi Lake or Musa Carusha, as the Candoshi call it. It is the largest in the Peruvian Amazon; It has about 80 kilometers of perimeter and is like the central heart of the Abanico del Pastaza. In it converge several rivers such as the Pirumba, the Chapuli and the Chuinda. In all this water network, in addition, there are 40 lakes stuck in the middle of forests and swamps.
Yandari recounts his fishing adventures, including catching gamitana (Colossoma macropomum) up to 10 kilos or more. Or even have participated in fishing days with paiche harpoon (Arapaima gigas), a huge fish that can measure more than two meters long and weigh about 200 kilos. Minutes before, another group of natives has cast a net in this immense lake. For them, this type of fishing is called Katánimaama.
"They take care of their resources and are not ambitious," says biologist Atanagildo Díaz. And indeed, candoshi nets have a mesh opening of 3.5 inches or more, which prevents very small fish from being caught. Since 2019, the PHD has contributed a crucial ingredient: the construction of an ice plant that better preserves catches.
In this area the fish is still salted to preserve it. This custom has a problem: in the process of salting, the fish loses weight and, therefore, tends to fish more. The plant located in the community of San Fernando has frozen this practice. It is managed by the 'Katinbaschi' Fishermen's Association, which Yandari chairs, and produces 500 ice bars per month.
Fish between ice produced by the plant built with the support of the PHD. SEBASTIAN CASTANEDA
It works with the energy of several solar panels. This achieves a sustainable sequence: fishing with methods that impact less; have more fish for self-consumption; produce ice with alternative energy; More effectively market part of the catch, a biobusiness that helps the 120 partners of 20 Candoshi communities. "They transform natural capital into economic capital, without damaging the ecosystems of the Datem," says Patricia Balbuena, director of the PHD.
In the 2021-2022 season, Katinbaschi members caught 473,285 kilos of various edible species. On the same floor, you can see how they pile up, between the ice and inside some thermal boxes, specimens of boquichico, tucunaré, mullet (Schizodon fasciatus) or acarahuazú (Astronotus ocellatus). Your final destination will be San Lorenzo, capital of the Datem del Marañón province, or larger cities such as Yurimaguas, Iquitos or Tarapoto.
The candoshi feat
When departing from San Fernando to Puerto Recreo, by the Pastaza River in a motor boat, the crossing is made easier by the current in favor. Lake Musa Carusha recedes and you can see the endless breadth of wetlands and forests. It is not noticeable to the naked eye, but that huge green mantle is capturing carbon, feeding the land and water, fertilizing the life of fish, mammals, amphibians, reptiles.
The Candoshi know how to move around these places and, according to the Catalan anthropologist Alexandre Surrallés, they do not usually differentiate between the bodies of different animal species, including man. For them, "the body of a human, a Sajino or a primate is essentially the same", even when man has the 'vani'; the potential identity of a being.
The sunset in Puerto Recreo, from where you start towards Lake Musa Karusha.SEBASTIAN CASTANEDA
In 1991, this community staged a sort of heroic-cultural feat: they regained control of the Musa Carusha arriving hundreds of them in dozens of canoes, after several years in which the Ministry of Fisheries had taken control of this immense body of water and did not even allow them to fish. As Surrallés says, it was a crucial part of his ethnogenesis process, which would gradually lead to a strengthening of the Candoshi identity.
On February 8 of this year, perhaps at the conclusion of that long trip, the Ministry of Culture declared that the "knowledge, knowledge, practices and orality of the Candoshi people related to traditional fishing in Lake Musa Karusha" are Cultural Heritage of the Nation. All these feats are more understood when Yandari feels a peck on his hook. Perhaps there begins to weave a new thread of this amazing story.