From the Jungle to NJ: A Celebration of Amazonian Heritage

(Photo via Reporte Hispano)

As he carves a piece of balsa wood in the shape of an otorongo, a spotted jaguar living in the Loreto area of the Peruvian jungle where the indigenous Cocama-Cocamilla ethnic group lives, Pablo Turicuarima sings the country’s national anthem in the Cocama language.

“I have been making this artisanal work for 10 years,” said Turicuarima, adding that he plants the trees from which he obtains the wood himself, which take two years to mature.

Turicuarima is one of the artisans who arrived in New Jersey recently to promote the 4th Amazonian Festival – 4to Festival Amazónico – to be held on Sunday, June 24, in Paterson.

The festival is an attempt to promote the arts and resources of the Peruvian Amazon, considered one of the planet’s “green lungs.”

Event organizer Bell Ruiz spent four months traveling across the Peruvian provinces of Ucayali, Loreto and San Martín trying to convince officials, artists and entrepreneurs to hop on a plane and come to New Jersey to promote the Peruvian eastern region. In some cases, she has been successful, and the event is expected to continue growing.

“We have many activities here to promote the [musical genres] marinera and huayno, the food, but most of it comes from the coastal areas and the mountains of Peru. Out of pride and love for my land, I want to promote the marvels of the Peruvian jungle,” said Bell.

The festival will be dedicated to the San Juan Bautista festivities, which have been held in eastern Peru since 1902 to honor the saint whose head was delivered to Herod’s daughter on a plate at her request.

Legend has it that the most popular dish in Amazonian gastronomy, called “juane,” is a representation of the head of St. John the Apostle. The festival will feature the first Juane Gastronomic Contest, and so far six people have signed up to participate. Renowned Amazonian chef Edgardo Rojas has been chosen to judge the competition.

Úrsula Vera, for her part, is promoting the Amazon Garden Ecolodge, which offers bungalow accommodations and activities for tourists. She said that the beautiful views and contact with nature visitors enjoy in the ecosystem surrounding the Amazon River and the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve allow them to recharge and renew their energy.

“Along with Iquitos, located in Loreto and the world’s largest city island, populated by 60 distinct indigenous communities – we are at the entrance to a magical and different world. You cannot imagine the face tourists make when they taste a grilled suri, a high-protein worm, for the first time, or a piece of crocodile meat, which tastes like poultry.”

A culture of responsible eco-tourism is practiced in the area, as well as the Amazon River International Raft Race, the longest in the world, added Vera. She also said that there are a number of centers where manatees – an endangered species of aquatic mammal – are rescued, cared for and released.

In addition to exotic bird-watching activities, much requested by photographers, there are unique places such as the so-called “mariposario,” or butterfly farm, where tourists can see the birth and evolution of the insect.

Taking into account the difficulties of connecting Peru’s eastern region with the rest of the country, LAN Peru airline is currently offering a Lima-Cuzco-Loreto package for $80.

The festival will feature musical performances by famous tropical music singer La Tigresa del Oriente, as well as Jairo Tafur, Felipe Alberto and Jackie. Among other artists, La Sonora Dinamita from Colombia will play as well, and folkloric ballet Las Acuarelas del Perú will perform traditional dances from the jungle.

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