Origins of a Name

Non Jói, Jóikon, and Shipibo-Konibo

While the outside world knows our language as Shipibo-Konibo, when we distinguish our language as a proper noun we call it Jóikon or ‘True Language’. That is to say, ‘the language we truly speak and know’, or our ‘mother tounge’. We consider Jóikon to the be the oficial name of our language.

When we speak casually about our language amongst ourselves and others, we simply refer to it as non jói or ‘our language’.

The term Shipibo-Konibo is the oficial name that outsiders have given our language, while many outsiders and even ourselves will call our language Shipibo. The language Shipibo-Konibo represents the fusion of the two dialects our nation speaks; Shipibo and Konibo. These terms are also used by many of us for our ethnic self-identification.

Jónikon: Our Original Term of Self-Identification

Our word for a ‘person’ and self identification is jóni. Prior to colonization, we collectively referred to ourselves as jónikon or ‘true person’ and outsiders were called náwa. We call our famliy and allies our kaíbo, ‘those who go (with us)’, and we distinguish between them if they are from our bloodlines and thus a jónikon, or a náwa outsider.

As our nation progresses toward self-government there will come a day when we will discuss reclaiming the term Jónikon or if we will continue to use the name Shipibo-Konibo, or just Shipibo for our national self-identification.

Origin of the Terms Shipibo and Konibo

The names Shipibo and Konibo come from terms that our families may have begun calling each other as nicknames or jokes that stuck. One story for the origin of the words Shipibo and Konibo goes like this:

Before the time of the first colonial náwa, there were two large clans on the Ucayali River. One clan up-river and another clan down-river. Many generations before they had lived together, but it had been quite some time –maybe a hundred years– since they had come in contact with one another. The boundaries of their territories had not overlapped in all those years.

But one chance day, a hunting party from up-river traveled far enough down-river to encounter another hunting party from down-river that had traveled far enough up-river. 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 some differences in some words and their 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 also announced to everyone they they had met some distant relatives from up-river and they they would be coming down for a proper celebration at the following full moon.

Each group prepared for the celebration, collecting and curing meats, along with fruits and roots from their gardens. Meanwhile, the hosts from 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 for their distant relatives, but 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 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. 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 pounding their ores on the water and singing a song of friendship. The hosts also received them with 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 and began sharing bowls of cassava and sweet potato masato along with bowls of sweet corn chicha.

The guests noticed that many of their hosts were already a bit tipsy from the strongly fermented masato –naturally it was three days stronger– and many had the white drink around their mouths, on their faces. So, in the playful spirit of their shírobewa joking songs, one of the guests sang a song to their hosts and referred to them as the Shípibo because their white masato beards and mustaches made them look like the shípi monkey; a saddle-back tamarin with a white mustache and beard. A shípi is singular and the –bo suffix makes the term plural; shípibo.

It seems everyone had a good laugh at that, and the newly anointed Shipibo would need and equally entertaining reply. The masato was talking or singing at that point and one of the hosts made the superficial observation that the guests had very wide mouths and looked like the kóni river eel. They guests would now be called the kónibo; they are dangerous and respected after all, the fish at least. And everyone laughed and everyone ate, drank, and sang. The first reencounter between the two distant families of the Shipibo and the Konibo!

The names stuck. Perhaps it was because the shípi tamarins are a tight-knit group of intelligent primates, while the kóni eels are fearsome and magical creatures of the river.

Origin of the Term Xetebo

A Konibo who grew up in Shipibo territory has said the Xetebo began a long time ago when a Shipibo family moved their home to start a new village further down-river towards the lands of the Kokama. Due to their proximity to another outsider group, the family may have had a smaller territory for fishing, hunting, and gathering to provide for their family.

At some point a family member came across a fresh carcass and decided to bring it back to their village to cook and eat. This is something that their Shipibo family clan never would have done. However, it is said they made a routine of collecting carcasses to eat and became known as the Xetebo, named after the scavenger xéte turkey vulture.

Origin of the Term Piskibo