American girls were eager to take up archery after watching Katniss Everdeen shoot off arrows left and right in The Hunger Games.
Girls and women in the Peruvian Andes are also asking to learn — but for a different reason. They want to be able to hunt for meat and fish so they don’t have to rely on the men to bring home food.
“The world is modernizing, and women are starting to want to use the bow,” says Sergio Pacheco, a skilled archer who’s part of the tiny Wachiperi community — population estimates range from 90 to 140 — in a remote region of Southeast Peru. “They say, ‘We are just women in the family, so what happens when our father dies? We need to learn this to be able to take care of our families.'”
Pacheco was part of the Peruvian delegation that brought the cultures of their native land to Washington, D.C., for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. And it turns out, that even in their traditional community — which they call Santa Rosa de Huacaria — the practice of archery is changing because of modern-day influences.
For centuries, the Wachiperi have aimed their bows at monkeys, other mammals, fish and birds. Boys as young as 5 begin their archery lessons and learn hunting techniques. When going after a fish, Pacheco says, the trick is to aim at the fish’s head to knock it out. That way, the fish’s body isn’t damaged and the fish itself is easier to collect.
But there have been dramatic changes since the mid-20th century. “Loggers and miners have come in,” says Pacheco. “Trees are cut down and now we need to go farther out to find anything [if we go hunting]. There used to be many animals near us, but our whole area has changed.”
“Just outside where the Wachiperi live, there are more development pressures and threats,” says Hannah Stutzman, executive director of the Amazon Conservation Association. “There’s an uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, poaching, logging and mining that’s destroying habitats.”
So it can now take days to locate prey, Pacheco says.
The Wachiperi are taking their own steps to protect their land. Some of them work as guards in Manú National Park, alerting authorities when loggers or miners illegally come into the territory.
And they’re cutting back on their hunting.
“The Wachiperi are very aware of their forest,” Stutzman says. “They have a vested interest [in its well-being] because it’s ancestral territory where they want their grandchildren to live, so they have a commitment to conserve.”
Some Wachiperi are helping with animal conservation efforts, Stutzman says. They’re bagging fewer of the area’s threatened species, like the tapir, woolly monkey and giant armadillo.
But the Wachiperi still love their bows and arrows. The younger generation is eager to learn, says Pacheco. Though he has no sons of his own, he teaches his nephews how to use the bow and arrow. The skill can come in handy for more than just hunting.
Pacheco has twice faced a jaguar with nothing but his bow. Each time, the big cat was threatening his community.
Was he scared?
“No, never. I killed them both.”