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Pano Indians

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A former important mission tribe on the middle Ucayali River, Peru, being the principal of a group of twenty or more closely cognate tribes constituting the Panoan linguistic stock, and holding most of the territory of the Huallaga, Ucayali, and Javári Rivers in north-eastern Peru, with outlying tribes on the Juruá, Puruó, Beni, and upper waters of the Mareira in extreme western Brazil and northern Bolivia. Among the most important of these besides the Pano are the Cahibo, Conibo, Mayoruna, Remo, Sensi, Setibo, and Shipibo, all of whom, excepting the Cashibo who are still cannibal savages, were at one time in part connected with the famous Jesuit missions of the "Province of the Mainas" (see Mainas), of which the central headquarters was at first San Francisco be Borja, and later the Pano town of Laguna.

The primitive culture of the Pano and cognate tribes was very similar, and was intermediate between that of the Quichua of Peru and the wandering savages of the Amazon forests. They were sedentary and agricultural. Their villages, always close to the water, consisted of large communal structures of oval shape and sometimes more than 120 feet in length, built with canes and thatched with palm leaves, with two or more fire-places inside, and raised platforms for beds along the walls. The furniture consisted chiefly of clay pots of various sizes and purposes, manufactured by the women, a wooden trough for holding the Chicha liquor, with the weapons and fishing gear of the men. They cultivated corn, bananas, yucca, and the native cotton which they wove into girdles and simple fabrics. They had also bed coverings made from the inner bark of trees softened by beating. Besides the cultivated plants they subsisted largely upon fish, wild game, and the oil procured from turtle eggs, which were gathered in great quantities during the laying season in late summer. The oil or "butter" was obtained by breaking up the eggs in a trough, pouring water over the mass, and skimming off the grease which rose to the top after the sun's rays had warmed it. This turtle oil formed a considerable article of commerce with the tribes of the upper Amazon as well as of the Orinoco.

Their weapons for war and hunting were the bow, the knife, the blow-gun with poisoned arrows, the lance, and the wooden club, armed with deer-horn spikes and ornamented with feathers. The most prized possession was the dug-out canoe, from thirty to forty feet long, and sometimes requiring months for completion. The men cleared the ground of trees, with the help of their neighbours, but the cultivation was by the women. Men and women went nearly naked, but painted in various colours, with the hair flowing loosely either full length or cut off about the shoulders. They stained their teeth a dark blue with a vegetable dye. The women wore nose pendants, necklaces of various trinkets, and bracelets and anklets of lizard skin. In general both sexes were of medium size, but well formed. Their mentality was of low order and they could seldom count beyond four. There was practically no government or chiefship, every man acting for himself, except as common interest brought them together. They paid special reverence to the sun, fire, and the new moon, and were in great dread of evil spirits. Some of the tribes had a genesis hero who was said to have struck his foot upon the ground and called them forth out of the earth. In accordance with a widespread Indian custom, one of a pair of twins was always killed at birth, as also all deformed children, considered the direct offspring of evil spirits. The dead were buried in large jars in the earth floor of the house. In the case of the warrior, his canoe was used as a coffin, all his small belongings being buried with him. There seems to have been no fear of the presence of the dead. Their ceremonies consisted of a few simple dances to the sound of the drum and Pandean pipes, and invariably ended in a drinking orgy. They had few traditions, but sometimes kept a record of events by means of pictographs, painted upon bark cloth. Girls were betrothed in childhood, and married with somewhat elaborate ceremony when very young.

In 1666, the Jesuit, Father Lorenzo Lucero, afterward killed by the savages, established the mission of Santiago de la Laguna, at the present Laguna, on the east bank of the Huallaga, near its mouth in north-eastern Peru. Here he gathered a number of Indians of various tribes, Pano and Setebo of cognate stock, Cocama and others of Tupian stock. In a short time the settlement contained 4000 souls, ranking among the most important missions of the Mainan province. Smallpox visitations and Portuguese slave raids (see MAMELUCO) within the next century greatly reduced it, but on the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1768 it still contained 1600 Christian Indians, ranking first among the 33 existing Jesuit missions of the upper Amazon and its branches. The missionary then in charge was Father Adam Vidman, a Bavarian. With the other missions it was turned over to the care of the Franciscans, under whom it continued until the establishment of the republican government in Peru in 1821, when the missionaries were again scattered, most of the mission abandoned, and the others, being left without support, rapidly declined, the Indians rejoining their wild kinsmen in the forest and relapsing into their original barbarism. The Laguna mission continued, but in 1830, in consequence of dissensions between the Cocama and the Pano, the former removed to the towns of Nauta and Parinari on the Marañon, while the Pano joined the mission of Sarayacú on the lower Ucayali, founded by the Franciscan Father Girbal in 1791. Lieutenant Smyth has given us an interesting account of this mission as he found it in 1835, having then a mixed population of 2000 Pano, Conibo, Setebo, Shipibo, and Sensi, all using the Pano language, which was the dominant one along the lower Ucayali. While the Indians had accepted Christianity, taken on some of the customs of civilization, and showed the greatest devotion to their padre, they were still greatly given to child-murder, and to their besetting sin of drunkenness from chicha, in spite of every effort of the missionary. It must be remembered in explanation that then whole country was a tropical wilderness, without a single white inhabitant other than the padre himself, who laboured without salary or government recognition, and that the mission Indians were in constant communication with their wild kinsmen in the woods. Of the Indians, Smyth says, "Their manners are frank and natural, and show without any disguise their affection or dislike, their pleasure or anger. They have an easy, courteous air, and seem to consider themselves on a perfect equality with everybody, showing no deference to anyone but the Padre, to whom they pay the greatest respect." Sarayacú still exists, though no longer a mission town, but the Pano name and language are gradually yielding to the Quichua influence from beyond the mountains. (See also PIRO INDIANS; SARAYACÚ MISSION.)


For the tribes and missions of the upper Amazon region during the Jesuit period: CHANTRE Y HERRERA, Historia de la Missiones de la Compañia de Jesus en el Marañon Español (Madrid, 1901); for more recent conditions: SMYTH AND LOWE, Journey from Lima to Para (London, 1836). Consult also RODRIGUEZ, El Marañon y Amazonas (Madrid, 1684); HERNDON, Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon (Washington, 1853); BENTON, American Race (New York, 1891); MARKHAM, Tribes in the Valley of the Amazon in Jour. Anth. Inst. XXIV (London, 1895); RECLUS, South America: the Andes Regions (New York 1894).

About this page

APA citation. Mooney, J. (1911). Pano Indians. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Mooney, James. "Pano Indians." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by M. Donahue.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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