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Reviewed by:
  • Atlas de Comunidades Nativas de la Selva Central
  • David S. Salisbury
Atlas de Comunidades Nativas de la Selva Central. Edited by Margarita Benavides. Lima, Peru: Instituto del Bien Común, 2006 116 pp. maps, tables, photographs, index, bibliography, sources for digital data. $45/$35/$17 to general public/NGOs/academics (ISBN: 9972-2702-2-X).

Amidst the continuing contest for Amazonian indigenous homelands and their resources, this atlas offers a compilation of the best kind of geographic information, that straight from the field. Created by the Peruvian Amazon Native Communities Information System (SICNA in Spanish), a project of the Instituto del Bien Común, the atlas provides geo-referenced information of the 492 indigenous territories and their competing interests in the selva central of the Peruvian Amazon. While the atlas focuses on a selva central stretching from the eastern slopes of the Andes from Huánuco and Cusco to the lowlands bordering Brazil in Ucayali and western Madre de Dios, this book also contains excellent maps covering the entire Peruvian Amazon (over 17% of which is in indigenous territories). With the 47 maps and 50 tables in the atlas, editor Margarita Benavides, also director of SICNA, hopes to: accelerate the titling and creation of the remaining indigenous communities of the Peruvian Amazon, improve the information base to defend and manage indigenous territories, and spark the creation of an official cadastre of indigenous territories to mitigate the current conflicts between indigenous peoples and the resource concessions, protected areas, and properties overlapping their homelands.

To these ends, the atlas contains four separate but related sections: (1) a review of the methodology, purpose, and data of SICNA, (2) an introduction to the estimated 1,380 indigenous territories of the entire Peruvian Amazon including statistics, political organization, history, categories, and threats, (3) a selva central-focused selection of thematic maps and essays of the history and conflict over indigenous territories and resources, (4) A collection of 19 1:500,000 scale maps which together not only cover the entire selva central, but also include tables with basic, but hard to find, legal, demographic, ethnic, and economic information on the territories mapped.

A reading of the first section's description of SICNA's approach to field-based cartography demonstrates a team committed to a systematic and formal approach to the gathering, organizing, and representation of geographic information. SICNA's efforts impress all the more, given the inadequacy, inaccessibility, and ambiguity of most [End Page 194] data on indigenous Amazonians and their homelands. SICNA's maps reflect the same attention to detail with the representative legends, scale, software, sources, and projection displayed prominently. Color choice is appropriate to limit confusion between the 1,000 odd territories shown and highlight the overlaps with protected areas and resource concessions. Thematic maps of the selva central focus on health, education, population, indigenous federation, and ethnic groups. Building on these maps, a variety of tables attractively display basic information critical to the analysis of these territories.

The atlas also contains useful text introducing the reader to the geography, history, and complexity of indigenous territories including attention to the fourteen indigenous groups in isolation. Two insightful, albeit brief, essays add important context to the mapping endeavors framed in the atlas. Richard Chase Smith, founder of IBC, uses his own research on the sacred footprint of the Yánesha to demonstrate the fluidity and fuzziness of indigenous conceptions of territory through time and space. Frederica Barclay, an anthropologist/historian, invites the reader to reflect not only on the indigenous struggle represented on the atlas' maps as colored territories, but also on how those areas uncolored symbolize the historical marginalization of indigenous peoples who once occupied the entire selva central. This marginalization and struggle of indigenous peoples is captured in a useful series of maps showing the titling of indigenous territories over time.

Despite the strengths outlined above, the atlas could be improved. While it includes 49 beautiful photographs, the lack of captions lead the reader to guess at both the identity of the subjects and landscapes photographed and their relationship with the maps, tables, and text on the proximate pages. Furthermore, additional photographs could be used to fill space throughout...


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pp. 194-195
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