LAMAS, THE MOTILONES
AND THEIR ANCESTORS
Lamas is a province and capital city located 22 km from Tarapoto. It is also known as the folklore capital of the "Ethno-Historical Central Region of San Martin", and is inhabited by an ethnos descended from an ancient Peruvian warrior race called the Chancas, who after a failed attempt at taking the imperial city took refuge in the Lamas area, very close to the Chapahuanki waterfall. The city is a small hillside village located on a 1,000 meter peak, with very steep unpaved streets, except for those close to the "plaza de armas" (main square).
Lamas is a quiet and peaceful town that seems lost in the mists of time. Located in the upper Amazon area, it seems to be an Andean village undergoing a process of transformation, and rightly so. As we mentioned, it is believed that the Lamas population came down from the mountain area hundreds of years ago, maintaining their customs, while adapting to jungle life; these people still value their Inca lineage. Lamas is called the "City of Three Levels" because it is laid out on three terrace levels on an 800 m-high hillside: the lowest level, known as Waico, is inhabited by Indians that speak an interesting dialect combining the Quechua and Cahuapana tongues, a jungle language; they walk barefoot, but are quite skilful with their hands, weaving Spanish-style clothing and making many ornaments that are classic items in their culture; many of the women wear pleated blue skirts, embroidered white blouses and hair ribbons, while the men wear narrow trousers and unbuttoned vests. During the festivals, girls wear highly colorful dresses, like all the "Lamistos" (Lamas inhabitants); the second terrace-level of Lamas contains the shopping area, and the third level, where the aboriginal aristocracy may have once lived, is now the public "plaza" or square, and features the church. Soon it may also host a hotel complex. This terrace-type arrangement of the town was the reason the Italian savant Antonio Raymondi named it "the three-storey city". The first "storey" is said to have been occupied by the Chancas from Apurimac led by the redoubtable Ancohualloc, while the second was inhabited by half-breeds and the third was used as a natural lookout point.
Originally, the city was named Santa Cruz de los Motilones de Lamas. Currently it is the capital of the Province by the same name, being 25 km from Tarapoto and 80 km from the important city of Moyobamba, the first city in Peru founded in the jungle. The road linking the town to the highway is undergoing improvement, and soon the trip will take only 30 minutes. Visitors to Lamas can enjoy the thermal sulfur baths of Moyobamba, as well as the stone carvings and the nearby lakes.
Near Lamas lies Rio de Mayo, an ideal place for canoeing. This river flows towards Rio de Huallaga, a silent witness to Inca expansion, Spanish conquest and Missionary work over the centuries. This was the refuge of the rebel chieftain Ancohualloc, who fled after his defeat by Inca Pachacutec Yupanqui in the middle of the 15th century. His army crossed the Andes Cordillera in the north and then the Huallaga river, reaching the region of Lamas, and settling all along the Rio Mayo river basin.
In 1460 Inca Pachacutec Yupanqui and his son, Tupac Yupanqui, began the conquest of the rebel cultures in the north, while they dominated the Chachapoyas, Canas, Caņaris, and finally the powerful Chimu kingdom, including its important city of Chan Chan. Thence, Inca expansion continued along the edge of the jungle, taking over the towns of Nuyupampa, Tabalosos and Lamas, while imposing the Quechua language. The inhabitants of all this area, conquered and dominated by the Incas, were called Motilones, and rapidly assimilated the Inca culture, only to find themselves a century and a half later facing the new Spanish culture and language.
The Spaniards concluded the conquest of the native peoples that had been commenced by the Incas. When the conquistadors arrived in the early 17th century, they found a number of native jungle tribes, one of which, the Jibaros, were headhunters, keeping the shrunken heads of the defeated tribes as trophies. However, their resistance to Spanish conquest was short-lived. On April 22 1650, a Spanish decree announced the complete indoctrination of the natives known as Jibaros, Motilones, Mayorunas, Tabalosos, Lamas and others, and the fact that "their numbers had been reduced".
Currently, these people live in the same area that their ancestors occupied, but now carry out farming, stockbreeding and craft activities; although better organized, they still live in their original dwellings, retaining their culture, traditions, customs and techniques; they differentiate between "Indians" (natives from other ethnic stock), lamistas and mestizos (half-breeds), who even have different patron saints and festivity dates; the "Indians" celebrate Santa Rosa on August 30, and the half-breeds pay homage to Santa Cruz de los Motilones on July 14. In the area known as Waiko there are around 1,200 descendants of the Chancas, and the neighborhood streets have the names of the Sangama, Cachique and Amasifuen families.
Lamas is one of the most exotic cities of the "department". Located in the deep jungle, it has a fresh climate. Its inhabitants maintain ancient customs and handicrafts, speaking a curious dialect that combines the quechua and cahuapana tongues, although its population is more than 50% white and half-breed immigrants who settled the area some 150 years ago. They are very shy of contact with strangers or neighboring villagers; their passive attitude and slowness in reacting has led to the so-called "cuentos lamistas" (jokes at the expense of Lamas-dwellers).
A visit to this ethnos in a way implies living by very ancient customs, traditions and ideas. We may admire their dress, customs, food, craftsmanship and agriculture, while also admiring their adaptability in adopting well-organized modern methods, allowing them to keep their traditions while developing socially; this experience is really worthwhile.
To reach this enchanting area, all you have to do is take a commercial flight taking you from Lima to Tarapoto in 50 minutes. Once you arrive in this city and lodge in one of the comfortable hotels in the area, you can take a public transport bus that will get you to Lamas in 20 minutes; there you will find the people waiting for you to show you their culture, their customs and their town.