Yaminahua in Peru

Photo Source:  David and Jenny Skinner 
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People Name: Yaminahua
Country: Peru
10/40 Window: No
Population: 900
World Population: 2,400
Primary Language: Yaminahua
Primary Religion: Ethnic Religions
Christian Adherents: 2.00 %
Evangelicals: 1.70 %
Scripture: New Testament
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: Yes
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: South American Indigenous
Affinity Bloc: Latin-Caribbean Americans
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

The Yaminahua had first contact with the Western world during the rubber boom at the turn of the 20th century, when catastrophic violence and enslavement decimated the majority of the population. In the 1980s, a respiratory epidemic wreaked further havoc on the Yaminahua, killing perhaps half of the population.

The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) began working with the Yaminahua in 1975, and they have since completed the New Testament and portions of the Old Testament. Since then, various mission organizations, have worked together with Peruvian national and indigenous Christians to evangelize the Yaminahua. Efforts primarily focused on evangelization, chronological Bible storying, and initiating a church in 2005.

Since then, however, the church has disbanded, and participants dispersed to various villages, where the majority do not actively practice their faith but remain open to hearing someone come teach them from the Bible. Believers fall readily into works-based legalism and syncretism with animistic practices.

Where Are they Located?

The Yaminahua live in the central jungle region of Peru along the Yurua River valley and its tributaries and the Mapuya River, with another settlement near the town of Sepahua.

What Are Their Lives Like?

The Yaminahua live an agrarian lifestyle based on farming, fishing, and hunting. Principal crops include manioc and plantains. Most Yaminahua live a subsistence lifestyle, only raising enough food to eat, but a few also raise commercial crops of manioc, plantains, rice, chestnuts, and rubber. Men traditionally hunt, build houses, and prepare farmland, while women are in charge of farming, cooking, and raising children.

The Yaminahua have one of the lowest levels of education and literacy of all the ethnic groups in the Peruvian Amazon, with 50% of the population never having had any schooling and 70% unable to read. However, they have a rich oral culture with several forms of lyrical chanting and dramatic narrative.

Traditionally, the Yaminahua lived as large extended families in one long oval house with an open space in the middle for dances and ceremonies, but today they live in smaller houses. They remain semi-nomadic, frequently building new houses or moving between communities. Many Yaminahua now wear Western clothing, but historical ornamentation included bark crowns around the head, a round piece of metal affixed to the bottom of the nose, and a string of white beads tied from the metal piece back around both sides of the head.

What Are Their Beliefs?

The Yaminahua hold to an animistic worldview that seeks to discover spiritual causes for life problems and resolve them through shamanistic rituals. They believe that the cosmos is made of many overlapping worlds that can be perceived and navigated by the shaman, who functions as a helpful bridge between the material and the spiritual worlds. Because mysterious evil spirits abound, often hidden behind ordinary plants and animals, the shaman must take the hallucinogenic ayahuasca drug to enter into contact with the spirit world and discover both causes and solutions to problems like death, illness, and hunger.

They believe that all people, plants, and animals have an unseen spirit and can all be divided into one of two opposing and complementary groups called Roa and Dawa. Yaminahua societal structure reflects this spiritual dualism, as it follows strict rules of identification and separation according to one's spiritual classification as a Roa or a Dawa. Today the dualistic worldview among the Yaminahua is beginning to decline, though shamanism continues to a much greater extent.

What Are Their Needs?

The Yaminahua need well-discipled pastors and spiritual leaders from among their own people who will not simply study theology but can also maintain a good testimony in the community, earning the people's respect and trust.

Substance abuse is common in Yaminahua communities and leads to a host of other problems. Because they have seen so few Yaminahua Christians with lasting life change, many of them have lost hope that Christ is able to redeem them from their sins and brokenness, yet they long to know that deep life transformation is still possible.

One of the biggest physical needs of the Yaminahua people is for potable drinking water.

Prayer Points

* Please pray for Jesus to empower Yaminahua believers to lead lives of good character and moral stability, as an encouragement both to themselves and to the rest of the community that God is able to change lives.
* Pray that more Yaminahua would come to know Jesus and seek His Word.
* Pray for more believers to go live among the Yaminahua and effect gospel changes in the context of their own community.

Text Source:   Pioneers