The relationship between Indigenous Communities and Fire

Paamari means fire in Asháninka. For so long, fire has been an incredible resource for many Indigenous societies across the world, shaping their everyday life.

But in an age of climate breakdown where long drought periods have become the norm for many Amazon rainforest villages, fire has become a destroying force, severely impacting the livelihoods of those who live in the forest.

PAAMARI – the project – was created to address this. This is a one-of-a-kind initiative led by Asháninka groups with the support of Cool Earth to encourage local, regional and national governments to include local and Indigenous knowledge in state-run fire prevention programmes.

The image shows trees in the rainforest charred and surrounded by the smoke of a forest fire.

The effects of forest fires on the rainforest.

Fire is a way of life

Fire in the rainforest didn’t always mean danger or destruction. Indigenous peoples have lived in harmony with the forest for centuries, and fire is a fundamental part of their culture. Fire is used for cooking, heating, lighting, and to clean and renew the soil.

“An Asháninka family is accompanied by fire from dawn to dusk. Fire is what allows them to plant in a medium as complicated as the Amazon rainforest,” explains Antonio Sancho, coordinator of the PAAMARI project.

However, the climate crisis is threatening the relationship. Rising temperatures and prolonged droughts create favourable conditions for the spread of fires, which are too strong and too frequent for Indigenous communities to control.

The image shows a pan with boiling water over a communal fire.

Fire is essential for tasks such as cooking.

Reclaiming communal fire

The project PAAMARI looks to address these challenges and protect the vital relationship between Indigenous peoples and fire. This intervention focuses on training brigades in 19 communities in the Ene River basin to detect and extinguish fires, improving fire management practices, and providing a monitoring and reporting centre.

Thanks to this, we hope that the 19 communities living in the area and the 242,000 hectares of rainforest will see less widespread forest fires and communities will be better prepared to respond to the disproportionate effects that the climate crisis brings to their territories.