Riberalta’s Untold History


According to the standard written history of Riberalta, Amazonian Bolivia began after the arrival of rubber prospectors towards the end of the 19th century. Before that, it was an “empty space”. 

This story effectively erases the presence of the original inhabitants of the Bolivian Amazon. Few historians bothered to ask who the ancestral inhabitants of Riberalta were, and who defended this territory from the attacks of the last Incan warriors.

Through ethno-historic investigation, anthropologist Wigberto Rivero determined that the area where the city of Riberalta currently lies was once populated by indigenous groups of the Pano family; which belong to the native Pacahuara, Chacobos, Caripunas, Sinabos and Perintintin.

The same peoples that, during the decline of the Incan Empire, resisted and defeated an expedition that came from Incan Capital in Cusco.  A 2 hour boat ride from Riberalta down the Amarumayu (Madre de Dios River) leads to center of this civilization in “Las Piedras”.  Remains of this culture, which developed agricultural and forest conservation methods, can still be found today.

The original name of the first human settlement in Riberalta was “Pamahuayá”; meaning “place of the fruits”. 

While the name has since changed, this defining feature continues: the area remains extremely rich in native fruits such as the motacu, majo and asai. This incredible biodiversity of flora is perhaps most pronounced within the nearby Aquicuana Reserve. Wild edible-fruit trees grow throughout the reserve. 

Furthermore, ceramics and other instruments used by indigenous peoples, who resisted the invasion of the rubber traders, can be found on the banks of the Aquicuana Lake.


Indigenous philosophies managed to make rational use of nature and are credited with inventing agriculture and animal husbandry.  Thanks to such “inventions”, human settlements flourished.  

It is within this context that the Amazon maintains a privileged ecological space. Its forests creates much of the pure oxygen used by the planet and its biodiversity contributes to the generation of energy sources, food and medicines. Perhaps such contributions wouldn’t be available to humanity today, if the population that originally inhabited this region had not acted as guardians of the forest and its natural resources.

Indigenous Amazonian peoples developed a relationship with their natural settings which enabled a humanely dignified existence. Their way of life maintained and sustained a lasting ecological balance.

Today’s Amazonian identities were built on the foundations of the cultural and ecological record left by their indigenous brothers and sisters.  

Unfortunately history DOES show the numerous atrocities inflicted upon them; many exterminated through greed for natural resources and in the name of an unjust “civilization”.

A true history of Riberalta must first begin with our indigenous ancestors.  From this historical base we can recognize the contributions of peoples from other parts of the American continent and the world.  The intermingling of this indigenous and global culture, resulted in a rich and diverse Amazonian identity that continues to flourish in Riberalta today.

Wigberto Rivero Pinto


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