Feature

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 indigenous healer father. During the State of Emergency for the new Covid-19, Celinda put this knowledge into practice in order to heal herself from the Covid-19 that put her life in danger. 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. Celinda agreed for a portrait with her special plant in the Yarinacocha’s shore as it grows near the lake. ©Florence Goupil

September’s featured photographer is Florence Goupil

Florence Goupil (1990 Lima, Peru) is a French and Peruvian photographer based in Cusco, Peru. 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. Florence is currently an Explorer at National Geographic Explorer.

Raised in an Andean family, nurtured by the stories of its traditions, yet having French heritage, Florence grew up in the midst of two cultures. This is the origin of her approach to the land where she grew up and of her deep commitment to issues such as human rights, identity, the environment and the living memory of the indigenous people of Peru and Latin America.

Her work has been exhibited at the ICP and the Bronx Documentary Center, published in National Geographic, BBC, Polka Magazine, El País, BJP and other international media. She is a contributor for Le Monde and Ojo-Publico. In 2020 she has been nominated for the Joop Swart Masterclass of Worldpress photo and was awarded a grant by National Geographic Society. She is currently based in the Peruvian Amazon doing a multimedia project about the COVID-19 situation in an indigenous community, after obtaining the National Geographic Society Emergency Fund for Journalists. For this project, she was recently awarded with the 2020 Getty Images Reportage Grant and the Pulitzer Center Rainforest Journalism Fund Grant. In 2021, she received an Honorable Mention from POY Latam as Ibero-American Photographer of the Year and obtained the Nouvelles Écritures award from La Gacilly festival, for which her project The Healing Plants is being exhibited in France.

The Healing Plants

Documenting the use of traditional plant-based medicine is a gateway to the diverse flora that the Shipibo-Konibo Indigenous people have long used and protected in Peru. But today, this consciousness linked to the Amazon’s biodiversity is in danger of disappearing.

The epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic has moved to the most vulnerable communities, compromising the lives of indigenous people. The Shipibo-Konibo communities are largely located along the banks of the Ucayali River, one of the most important rivers in the Peruvian Amazon, which originates in the Andes Mountains and flows into the Amazon River.

The diversity of Amazonian plant species are enormous, and there is still much to be investigated in their specificity and use within the Shipibo-Konibo society. Ethnobotany research by the Masisea Research Center (CIPTT), led by Samuel Cauper, a Shipibo-Konibo agronomist, published in 2018, identified 180 species of native flora in the Masisea district of Ucayali, 70% of which are used by the communities for medicinal purposes.

Over the years, the uses and knowledge about these plants have been orally transmitted from elders to children. However, during the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected several of the elder leaders, threatening this transmission’s continuity.

With a collapsed public health system, no beds and no medical oxygen, the Shipibo-Konibo decided to self-organise. On May 15, 2020, they founded a group of healers and local leaders dedicated to the use of traditional plants. In their flora they sought answers that the Peruvian government did not have, some relief from the symptoms produced by the virus.

“Plants don’t leave us and we don’t leave plants”, states Ronald Suárez, president of the indigenous organization Coshikox. Ronald lost his mother along with seven other relatives due to Covid-19. He assures that the disappearance of Shipibo-Konibo elders is very serious because with them goes the knowledge about the use of plants and the biodiversity of the Amazon.

Their grandparents, as Ronald points out, are living libraries. The abrupt interruption of oral transmission can represent the end of a culture.

At a time of darkness, it is of great importance to transmit the connection of the elders with their biodiversity and territory. To bring light to future generations, to raise awareness and understanding among the local public as well as the global public towards the living memory preservation.

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. In November 2020, Senencina returned to his community of Calleria to stay. 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. The number of cases in the Rainforest continues to grow and according to Health Minister Pilar Mazzetti, the Amazonian hospital only has no more ICU beds for the entire population of Pucallpa. I portrayed Senencina on his return to the Calleria community, in this wonderful landscape in contrast to the danger still afflicting the Shipibo-Konibo people. ©Florence Goupil
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. I accompanied Rusber Rucoba to Yarinacocha to collect this native plant that grows very close to the city of Pucallpa. When Rusber had a large amount of leaves, he lay down to rest and I asked him to go among the matico leaves to make him a portrait.
November 10th, 2020, Calleria Community, Ucayali, Peru A group of Shipibo-Konibo searching for medicinal herbs in the rainforest. According to the Shipibo-Konibo cosmovision, the spirits of the Amazon forest only come out at night to roam among the trees and let themselves be heard as powerful sounds of night birds. I took this photo because it reminds me of their myths. ©Florence Goupil
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. Anita mourns the death of her family as she lost her brother, her son and her husband to the Covid-19 virus. As a symbol of her loss, and as the Shipibo-Konibo tradition dictates, Anita cut her hair and now dresses in black to mourn. When I interviewed Anita about how she survived the Covid-19 virus, she took a photograph of her chest and placed it next to her. At that moment she told me about her losses and broke down in sorrow. ©Florence Goupil
April 7th, 2020, Cantagallo Community, Lima, Peru Pablo Faustino Díaz, a state nurse and a traditional Shipibo-Konibo medicine expert, uses Tobacco smoke as a palliative way to protect his patient against the Covid-19. In the community, he has managed to bring the two worlds together, using plants such as tobacco and occidental medicines to protect his people from the symptoms of COVID-19. When I asked Pablo for an interview on how he uses plant-based medicines, he requested that I attend the healing sessions to be able to register the Shipibo-Konibo methods. ©Florence Goupil
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. Nor could they buy him any western medicines to improve his health. In response of the lack of medicinal care access, they found refuge in their plant based medicines, however Carlos couldn’t survive. he passed away due to Covid-19 symptoms. So far, 249 828 cases and 4 477 deceased were reported by the Peruvian Department of Indigenous Peoples, among them, indigenous leaders and elders who are the living libraries of plant knowledge in the Amazon forest. ©Florence Goupil
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. Jheymi’s grandparents live in the community of Bethel, 4 hours from the city of Pucallpa and the Covid-19 has affected their health. In Lima, every day, Jheymi hears news of family members infected by the virus and in difficult conditions to survive. The virus has reached isolated communities and the Peruvian government has not presented any contingency plan to protect them. When I saw Jheymi lying down with his mask, I saw the uncertainty of the children’s future. ©Florence Goupil
August 1st, 2020, Covid-19 Cemetery, Pucallpa, Ucayali, Peru General view of the Covid-19 cemetery that was built in April 2020 in response to the large number of deaths from the virus in the Ucayali region of the Peruvian Amazon. While the Peruvian government states that as of August 2020 there are more than 1000 deaths from Covid-19 in Pucallpa, the director of the local cemetery, Hugo Torres, states that there are about 300 gravestones. The population, among indigenous and mestizo people, is unhappy with this cemetery and claims that it is a common grave since they are unable to locate the bodies of those deceased by Covid-19. ©Florence Goupil
November 12, 2020, Community Calleria, Ucayali, Peru. Gabriel Senencina (41) a Shipibo-Konibo member of Comando Matico, is back in his place of origin after spent a long quarantine in the urban indigenous community of Cantagallo in the city of Lima. Gabriel lost 7 family members because of Covid-19 virus. As most of the Shipibo-Konibo, Gabriel found refuge in the use of medicinal plants from the rainforest. ©Florence Goupil

To see more of Florence’s projects, here


La fotógrafa del mes de Septiembre es Florence Goupil

Florence Goupil es una fotógrafa francesa y peruana radicada en Cusco, Perú. Estudió en L’École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Rennes y posteriormente en la Universidad de Rennes 2, donde se graduó en Diseño Multimedia y Editorial. Actualmente, Florence es Explorer en National Geographic Explorer.

Criada en el seno de una familia andina, arropada por las historias de sus tradiciones, pero con raíces francesas, Florence creció entre dos culturas. De ahí nace una mirada hacia la tierra que la vio crecer y su profundo compromiso con temas como los derechos humanos, la identidad, el medio ambiente y la memoria viva indígena en Perú y América Latina.

Su trabajo ha sido expuesto en el ICP y en el Bronx Documentary Center, y publicado en National Geographic, BBC, Polka Magazine, El País, BJP y otros medios internacionales. Es colaboradora de Le Monde y Ojo-Publico. En 2020 ha sido nominada para la Joop Swart Masterclass de Worldpress photo y ha sido becada por la National Geographic Society. Actualmente se encuentra en la Amazonía peruana realizando un reportaje sobre la situación del COVID-19 en una comunidad indígena, tras obtener el National Geographic Society Emergency Fund for Journalists. Para este proyecto, ha sido recientemente premiada con el Getty Images Reportage Grant 2020 y el Pulitzer Center Rainforest Journalism Fund Grant. En 2021, ha recibido la Mención de Honor del POY Latam como Fotógrafa Iberoamericana del Año y obtuvo el premio Nouvelles Écritures del festival La Gacilly, por el cual su proyecto The Healing Plants esta siendo exhibido en Francia.

Diálogo con las Plantas

Abordar el uso de la medicina tradicional a base de plantas es una puerta de entrada a la diversa flora que el pueblo indígena Shipibo-Konibo ha utilizado y protegido durante mucho tiempo. Pero hoy, esta conciencia ligada a la biodiversidad de la Amazonía está en peligro de desaparecer.

El epicentro de la pandemia de la Covid-19 alcanzó el año pasado a las comunidades más vulnerables. Las comunidades del pueblo Shipibo-Konibo se ubican en gran parte en las riberas del río Ucayali, uno de los ríos más importantes de la Amazonía peruana, que tiene su origen en la Cordillera de los Andes y desemboca luego en el río Amazonas.

La diversidad de especies de plantas amazónicas es enorme, y aún hay muchas por investigar en su especificidad y uso dentro de la sociedad Shipibo-Konibo. Una investigación de etnobotánica del Centro de Investigaciones de Masisea (CIPTT) liderada por Samuel Cauper, ingeniero agronomo Shipibo-Konibo, publicada el 2018, identificó 180 especies de flora nativa solo en el distrito de Masisea, Ucayali, de las cuales 70% son usadas por las comunidades con fines medicinales.

A lo largo de los años, los usos y conocimientos sobre estas plantas han sido transmitidas de generación en generación, de padres a hijos. Sin embargo, durante el año pasado, la pandemia de la Covid-19 afectó a varios de los líderes con más edad, poniendo en riesgo la continuidad de la transmisión.

Con un sistema de salud público colapsado, sin camas y ni oxígeno medicinal, los Shipibo-Konibo decidieron organizarse. El 15 de mayo del 2020, fundaron un grupo curanderos y líderes locales dedicados al uso de plantas tradicionales. En sus hojas y raíces buscaban respuestas que la ciencia occidental no tenía, algún alivio a los síntomas producidos por el virus.

“Las plantas no nos dejan y nosotros no dejamos las plantas”, afirma Ronald Suárez, presidente de la organización indígena Coshikox. Ronald perdió a su madre junto con otros siete familiares a causa de Covid-19. Asegura que la desaparición de los ancianos Shipibo-Konibo es muy grave porque con ellos se va el conocimiento sobre el uso de las plantas y la biodiversidad de la Amazonia.

Sus abuelos, como señala Ronald, son bibliotecas vivientes. La interrupción brusca de la transmisión oral puede representar el fin de una cultura.

En tiempos de oscuridad, es de gran importancia transmitir la conexión de los más ancianos con su biodiversidad y su territorio. Aportar luz a las generaciones futuras, sensibilizar y concienciar tanto al público local como al global sobre la preservación de la memoria viva.

Para ver más de los proyectos de Florence, aquí