When a passing bear overheard the village shaman complain about the spectacled bears of the forest, he took offence and carried the shaman away.
The bear arrived at one of the magical lakes and began to swim out to a tree in the middle. As he began to climb the tree to his nest, the shaman saw the nest become a magical house.
Despite keeping the shaman captive, the bear offered hospitality, providing food such as icoja, charichuelo and moena. The shaman refused, however, believing he would become a bear too if he ate the offerings.
One day a little bird, a pichoquiti, landed on the tree. “Pichoquiti”, the Shaman said to the bird, “take me with you because I am trapped by this bear!” The pichoquoti obeyed the shaman and took him back to his house.
After the bear realised the shaman had escaped and having checked the mouths of all the alligators in the lake, he once again went to the village and recaptured the shaman.
This time, the shaman pretended to be dead. To check whether he was pretending, the bear laid the shaman next to a bullet ants’ nest and hid in camouflage to check for movement, but the shaman continued to play dead. Seeing there was no reaction, the bear left, and the shaman quickly returned back to his village.
Soon the shaman arrived back at his family’s house and sought help from the village chief. “Where were you?” he asked and the shaman responded, “The bear captured me again.”
The village chief answered “The bears will soon be here to take you away again. We must prepare ourselves with many arrows.” During the battle, many of the bears were defeated, but the villagers allowed one to escape. Returning home, he informed all other bears not to go near the shamans “for they have become like jaguars”.
So, it is told, do not injure the bears of the rainforest, for you too could be carried off.
Translated from Asháninka by Jaime Peña | Translated from Spanish by Alicky Davey
Nowadays, the bears aren’t killed; the lesson passed through the generations is one of mutual respect.
The Spectacled Bear is the best known Red List species in Peru (thanks in no small part to Paddington) and despite its rarity, the Asháninka Biodiversity Officer, Jaime Peña, regularly captures photos of them. Jaime is on a mission to see one first hand, regularly walking for 8 hours a day to fulfil his quest. Community Forest Watch Teams in our partnerships in Peru and Papua New Guinea are key to understanding the richness of the forests they protect. With the help of camera traps and laptops, the teams collect images and data from the forest. As well as underpinning our monitoring work, the photos are used in the community schools to show animals the children may never have seen.
Community forests, globally, contain over 54 million tonnes of carbon. That’s a quarter of the total carbon stored by the world’s tropical forests. Without land rights and financial security, there’s a risk these indigenous people will be displaced, and the forest destroyed, releasing the carbon into the atmosphere. It’s estimated that at least one tenth of the carbon in tropical forests is in land managed by indigenous communities, but they legally own just a fraction of this. Despite indigenous people forming a larger percentage of the population, Peru is losing it’s cultural heritage fast, along with stories like this Myth of the Bear.
Cool Earth works to enable people to protect the forests they have lived in and relied on for generations, to help them to develop sustainable incomes and maintain their culture and traditions. Giving control back to them, and giving them security for the future is a far more cost-effective means of reducing carbon emissions and safeguarding habitats. Not only that, it also improves lives for some of the world’s poorest people.
We know that our village partners know far more about how to protect their forest than we ever will. That’s why we put the control back in their hands.
Good news for the two, and four, legged inhabitants of the Peruvian rainforest.