The following is adapted from a story told in 2004 by the Shipibo-Konibo primary school teacher Marcial Inuma Pezo; from the community San Francisco de Yarinacocha.
…Before the time of the first colonial náwa or outsider, there were two large clans on the Ucayali River. One clan up-river and another clan down-river. They had common ancestors, but it had been quite some time –maybe two or three generations– since they had come in contact with one another. The boundaries of their territories had not overlapped in all those years.
One day, a hunting party from up-river traveled far enough down-river to encounter another hunting party. They were from even further from down-river and had traveled far enough up-river to where their territories intersect. When such hunting parties meet in the woods it can be a tense moment to know if you are with friend or foe. Thankfully these two groups were able to understand each other’s language, even though there were differences with some words and accents.
After a friendly chat, the group from down-river invited their new friends to bring their families down for a celebration in their largest village. The group from up-river happily accepted and announced it to their village when they returned home after the hunt. When the group from down-river arrived home they announced to everyone that they had met some distant relatives from up-river. They would be coming down for a proper celebration during the following full moon.
Each group prepared for the celebration, collecting and curing meats, along with fruits and roots from their gardens. The hosts down-river had the obligation to prepare the fermented beverages of cassava and corn for everyone to drink.
The days went by and the moon grew brighter every night. Soon it was the time of the full moon and everyone down-river was on lookout and keeping their ears sharp for notice of the arrival of their distant relatives. However, they did not arrive when the moon was the brightest. Three days past and there was still no sign of their guests. They decided the next day they would drink the fermenting beverages and eat the food they had collected before it all spoiled.
The following day they started drinking early as they prepared the food and fires for a proper feast amongst family and friends in the village. Then, around midday they heard the first drum beat from up-river. The guests would be arriving soon!
When the guests from up-river arrived, they were slapping their ores on the water and singing a song of joy and friendship. The hosts also received them with welcoming songs, and dance, and drink! As soon as all the boats landed in the port they were led with a dance into the center of the village. The hosts sang to their guests to excuse them for having started before their arrival. Then they began sharing bowls of a fermented cassava and sweet potato drink called masato along with bowls of chicha, a sweetened corn drink.
The guests noticed that the strongly fermented masato had many of their hosts a bit tipsy already; it was three-days stronger after all. Many of the hosts had the white drink spilled around their mouths. So, in the playful spirit of their shírobewa joking songs, one of the guests sang a song to their hosts and referred to the hosts as the shípibo. The white masato beards and mustaches made them look like the shípi monkey; a saddle-back tamarin with a white mustache and beard. A shipi is singular and the –bo suffix makes the term plural; shípibo.
A Shípi saddle-back tamarin. Picture found at: https://photorator.com/photo/29967/saw-this-little-saddle-back-tamarin-saguinus-fuscicollis-eating-a-grasshopper-in-the-amazon-
For these two groups and their cultures a good sense of humor is a necessity to wellbeing. It appears that everyone had a good laugh at the shípibo joke. Now, the newly anointed Shípibo would need an equally entertaining reply. The strong masato may have been influencing their talking and singing at that point. One of the down-river hosts then sang an entertaining song about the wide-mouthed up-river guests. Mouths like the infamous konínewa electric eel, these people must be the Kónibo.
A Konínewa electric “eel” knifefish. Picture found at: https://imgs.mongabay.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2019/11/06114525/2-1.jpg
The guests took no offence to the superficial observation and laughed along with their hosts. It was a compliment to have been compared to such a powerful being of the river. The two families then sang together of the renewed alliance between the Kónibo and the Shípibo. Everyone laughed, ate, drank, sang, and danced. This may have been the first reencounter between the two distant families!
To this day, the names have remained, as they were as complimentary as they were funny. After all, the shípi tamarins are a tight-knit group of intelligent and organized primates. Meanwhile, the konínewa electric eels are powerful and respected creatures of the river and mystical water world.