The Bora Indians
The Bora (Bore-uh) people are located along the Nanay River primarily in Peru and Columbia, but also can be found in Brazil. Historically enemies with the Huitoto (we-toe-toe) Indians, they have in recent times become close allies with adjoining villages and frequent intermarriage. They are well acclimated to outsiders, having been mostly assimilated into Brazilian culture and have lost their native language. Some Boras put on dance shows for tourists in Iquitos, but the show they display is not one that they do for their own rituals. They are a people of rich tradition who have thrived by assimilation where other tribes have faltered or died out entirely.
They divide themselves into different clans that are often represented by an animal, and use face painting that varies from clan to clan. In order to reduce interbreeding, they are not allowed to marry within a clan. These people are well known for their unique style of dress and art. They often make cloth from the bark of a palm tree, which they pound and wet until only the inner bark remains. The inner bark is then woven resulting in a coarse and inflexible material that has the texture of burlap. It is colored with giner, and fruit to give it natural hues of yellow and black. They also craft bags woven from a fiber known as chambira, which is also made from the palm tree.
Another unique facet of Bora culture is their drumming. They have a special drum known as the Manguare drum, which comes in gendered forms – male and female. These drums are used in some of the ceremonies, where they use large batons decorated with shells to pound on the ground as they dance to the drumming. These rituals can go through the whole night, and do not very closely resemble the dancing they put on for outsiders. Despite their heavy contact with outside forces, they have managed to retain much of their traditional culture.
They are also masters of utilizing the natural resources around them, particularly with regard to traditional medicines. The coca plant is a vital part of their diet and medicine. Unlike tribes located in the Andes, these people do not process coca at all, instead they dry the leaves over a fire, then pound them into a very fine powder that is often combined with tobacco that is inhaled while the coca is eaten. They have also practiced forestry for many generations, and have become quite adept at it. So much so that scientists are learning from and utilizing new ways to manage forests from these people.
Originally, these people originated in Columbia where they lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle. They built large communal homes and traveled from one communal field to another that they cultivated which supplied the bulk of their food, and was supplemented with additional hunting and fishing.
Like many tribes in the region, the Bora were nearly destroyed by the Rubber Era, a period beginning around 1900 in which rubber companies forced most of the indigenous population into slave labor to harvest latex from the rubber trees. A massive number of Boras were killed, over 14,000 during this period alone.
Bora clothing made of pounded bark cloth.
They are artistically talented tribes, making masks, dolls, rattles, blowguns etc. Many of their crafts are made of bark cloth decorated with vegetable dyes. The bark cloth is made of the inner bark of a fig tree and is beaten until it is paper or cloth like. From the bark cloth they make their clothing which consists of a short skirt for both men and women in the Huitoto. There is a type of palm tree used the make the twine used in bags and hammocks. The Huitoto women traditionally go bare breasted. The Bora tribe dresses similarly, but the women wear a dress of bark cloth as opposed to just a skirt.
These traditional paintings were made by the Bora Indians using vegetable dyes on pounded bark cloth.
Both sexes wear necklaces, feathers and sometimes white body paint or red body paint made of onoto or urucu which is a pod that crushes to a reddish paste.
Bora Ceremonial Rattles
Photos property of Hands Around the World
Amazon art – Toucan paintings on bark cloth
Bora Indian Agroforestry: An Alternative to Deforestation
Bora Indians of the Amazon – Traditional Chants and Music Video