February 3, 2011

Sanctuary in the Forest: Telma’s Story 4

February 2011

In part 4 of our rainforest rescuer series, we learn more about Telma’s community and visit a “tsimi” – the Asháninka word for a natural wildlife sanctuary in the rainforest.

As one of the leaders of TSIMI, the Asháninka Bioclimatic Association, Telma’s daily life involves activities that she would have never imagined herself doing just a few years ago. In the last six months or so she has:

  • been out to the nearest town to open a bank account
  • been on a field trip to another community to learn from them about sustainable forestry
  • attended training workshops on climate change and the importance of the rainforest to the wider world
  • learnt how to keep accounts and good records
  • learnt how to use a telephone

Learning to use a telephone was not that tricky. Telma has used a solar powered radio transmitter/receiver to stay in touch with other Asháninka from other villages for many years. She just needed to learn a different way of speaking and to forget about saying “over and out” (in Spanish) every time she finishes saying something.

The solar radio is located under a tin roof outside her father’s house in her family’s (or clan’s) compound. A few yards away, beyond a large and very leafy mango tree, starts the steep descent to the Rio Ene, a large river and the traditional thoroughfare for the Asháninka around here. The community’s solar powered telephone, on the other hand, is about a mile away right at the other end of a grassy airstrip, the community’s other occasional transport option. The airstrip has to be long enough at least for a small light aircraft to land and take off and wide enough for the wings of a plane not to touch any shrubs or vegetation along each side. The landing strip feels like several football pitches placed end to end. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to walk the strip from Telma’s house to the centro Cutivireni where you find the primary school, a community meeting space, the health post and most of the villager’s wooden-walled homes.

The last time Telma ventured into the forest was to visit her grandmother – a healer called Noemi. On route to Noemi’s village, Tinakreni, Telma visited a ‘tsimi’, one of a range of natural animal haunts that are spread around the Asháninka’s land. Tsimi’s are usually based around either a cliff face or a water source. The Asháninka see them as sanctuaries in the forest where it’s often possible to find animals or birds who go there to eat clay, lick minerals or simply drink good water. On this occasion, on the way to her grandmother’s house, Telma went off the path to find a tsimi that she had known as a little girl.

One of the closest tsimis to the main village of Cutivireni, she didn’t expect to find many animals there. Yet, as she rounded a rocky mound to quietly take a peek at a small spring below a small muddy cliff, she saw a family of wild peccaries splashing in the stream. These were “collared peccaries” (Tayassu tajacu), a rainforest pig that runs around in small family groups. The adult peccary was almost a meter long and half a meter tall, probably weighing around 15 kilos. After just a few seconds, the peccaries must have caught Telma’s human scent, since they ran off together, disappearing into the undergrowth in the opposite direction to where she was looking from.

Telma set off again in the direction of her grandmother’s house.


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