Huitoto Indians

The Huitoto (we-toe-toe), also spelled Witoto, Indians live deep in the Peruvian Amazon along the Ampiyacu River which is a tributary of the Amazon. Historically enemies with the Bora (Bore-uh) Indians, they have in recent times become close allies with adjoining villages and frequent intermarriage. They are artistically talented tribes, making masks, dolls, rattles, and blowguns.

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. The Huitoto women traditionally go bare breasted. Many now wear Western clothing, using the traditional dress for ceremony only. The Bora tribe dresses similarly, but the women wear a dress of bark cloth as opposed to just a skirt. Both sexes in both tribes 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.

They also use this pounded bark to make dolls. These unique dolls are formed and then painted with vegetable dyes and decorated with beading, shells, feathers, and other items found in nature.

The Huitoto survive by living off the land through a slash and burn method of agriculture. They grow a vast number of crops, but work carefully to ensure that the land is never depleted. By moving after every few crop yields, they ensure that the land will be useable for future crops.

They normally grow cacao, caca, maize, both bitter and sweet manioc, bananas, mangoes, palms, peanuts, plantains, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, tobacco, and yams. They normally only grow what they will be able to consume and rarely sell any produce grown in excess.

The men use blowguns that they have made and shotguns to hunt for prey in the area. These can include monkey, wild pig, peccary, and any other creature that they can catch. They also make their own honey, eat wild fruits and seeds, and fish.

Their masks are either formed from the fig bark, made from hollowed out gourds, or created from carved wood. The masks are painted and etched to be worn as a part of their ceremonies and are sold as souvenirs for travellers. They are often adorned with bright paints, beads, shells, and feathers.

Medicinal Plants

Gabriel, the Huitoto shaman, is an expert on the medicinal herbs and plants that grow through the Amazon. One of the most prized of these plants, is the Ayhuasca vine. This vine is used in many healing applications and is often brewed into a rich tea and drunk. It is said to have a deeply calming effect on the person who drinks it.

village

Pounded Tree Bark Clothing

One of the main materials that the Huitoto Indians use for their artistic creations, and even their clothing, is the pounded bark of the fig tree. They take the inner bark from the tree and vigorously pound it until it becomes as thin as paper or cloth-like. Once this cloth is created, it is used to make their clothing, which consists of short skirts for both sexes. Neither sex normally wears any type of chest covering. They are normally created wearing the traditional dress of the Huitoto people. Though many of the Huitoto now wear more Western-type clothing, they still dress in the traditional clothing for ceremonies and special occasions.

huitoto artwork huitoto artwork
huitoto artwork

Huitoto Rattles

The Huitoto also create rattles that are used in ceremonies and festivals, and sold to other villages and travelers who come through the area. They are created from bundling leaves or seed pods that are dried and emptied of their contents. They are then bundled or woven together on belts and in bracelets to create a unique musical sound.

huitoto artwork huitoto artwork

Huitoto Jewelry

They are well known for their craft creations that consist of jewelry that has been crafted from beads, shells, feathers, nutshells, and pods. These pieces are often brightly colored with vegetable dyes, but are sometimes left in their natural form. As a part of the traditional dress, the Huitoto wear necklaces, feathers, and are often seen wearing white or red body paint.

Photos property of Hands Around the World.

chief of the Huitoto and his wife and daughter
Victor, the chief of the Huitoto and his wife and daughter.

 

Additional Information

Ethnologue: Colombia

4 thoughts on “Huitoto Indians”

  1. The first pic with the snake-like design is the Bora tribe. I believe the ‘x’ design is the Yagua. The Huitotos have a different traditional dress (and they paint their faces a reddish color). I recognize the man in your first picture because he is the father of a Bora man that helped my group over the course of several weeks in Iquitos. The Bora and Yagua tribe are within walking distance so perhaps that is where the confusion came. Anyways, great pics!

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