Founder of Mzungu Expeditions travel bureau, Alexey Kolbov, 38, from Moscow, Russia, was travelling along the Galves river, near Buen Peru Village, Peru, when he captured these incredible photographs of the Matses tribe.
The women of this ancient Amazonian tribe are recognisable thanks to their unique whiskers and facial tattoos. Thin fibres of palm leaf are inserted into the nose. Matses women can have up to ten of these on each side of the face and these adornments are considered beautiful. Other photographs show the faces of the Matses children covered in red paint – thought to provide the wearer with strength. This unique look also prevents Matses tribespeople from being kidnapped by other tribes – something that is common in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest.
Kolbov spent two days travelling to the remote village – spending around eight days with the Matses tribe – and was made to feel incredibly welcome. Despite the occasional tourist visit, the Matses tribe have been able to largely maintain their traditional ways. It is only ceremonial cannibalism which has fallen out of practice in the 21st century. This ancient ceremony allowed the tribe to ‘absorb the spirits of their ancestors’.
Recounting his trip, Kolbov says, “It’s a really difficult place to reach. I was dropped off by aircraft piloted by the Peruvian army. I then travelled by boat upstream for two days and reached the Matses tribe near the Brazilian border. I feel really at home there. Byso and Tumi, two of the women, were crying when I said goodbye and asked if I could visit again.”
“Two things that are really remarkable about the Matses women are their tattoos and whiskers. Tattoos are made with a palm thorn and fruit and ash colourant. The whiskers are called ‘demuzh.’ These are thin palm leaf fibres inserted into the nose. The Matses consider these to be beautiful. Demuzh and tattoos also arose as a protection against kidnapping by other tribes. It was a way of self-identification.”
Due to the tribe’s remote location, they have been able to retain many of their traditional ways. “They no longer practice cannibalism but Tumi – one of the tribe members – told me about when her grandfather died. They ritually ate his leg,” says Kolbov. “They live really traditionally. In order to illuminate their dwellings, they use kopar – a kind of tar that they collect from the tree. “In Peru, there is no government organisation to protect indigenous minorities. The Matses have survived only because of their isolation.
“We have to learn more about these cultures. In the situation we are in right now with Coronavirus, we should look to these people so that we can learn how to value what we have – to create a more sustainable world.”
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