Dr. Brian Griffiths is a Fulbright Fellow and human ecologist at George Mason University and holds degrees in Environmental Engineering (B.Eng.) and Plant and Soil Sciences (B.S.) from the University of Delaware and Environmental Science and Public Policy (Ph.D.) from George Mason University. He has worked with ACEER since 2014, as a student researcher on the field expedition for the Ese'Eja ethnography, and has spent time conducting marine science research in the Caribbean Sea on Little Cayman. Brian began working with the Maijuna, in indigenous group in Loreto, Peru, in 2017 while helping teach a George Mason University field course on conservation and sustainability. He continues to work in Maijuna lands studying mammals and Maijuna hunting practices and managing outreach with a local ecotourism company. Brian is passionate about conservation advocacy and using digital storytelling methods to conserve biodiversity and cultures for generations to come.
Learn more about Brian Griffiths
March 8, 2022
The air in the kitchen shimmers with the heat, but Marina doesn’t sweat as she leans over her moledor to begin pounding yet another batch of boiled, steaming yuca waiting in the wooden batang stretched out before her. It’s clear that the gigantic tool of hardwood is heavy, but the weight doesn’t seem to bother Marina as she drives the curved edge of the moledor into the yuca, creating a cream-colored paste in the trough. This paste will be turned into masato, a traditional beverage that the Maijuna drink to build energy before a long day of work and to foster community.
Masato is a key component of Maijuna traditional culture (see Gilmore et al., 2020; Wingfield & Gilmore, 2020 for more information) that is still a major part of daily life today. Women are responsible for making masato, and men can indulge in the finished beverage but cannot participate in its creation. This batch of masato is destined for a minga, a community work party that Marina’s family is hosting to clear a new field, which is scheduled for four days from today. Masato is an essential part of any minga.
Once the yuca is fully a paste in consistency, the next phase of the work begins. Marina scoops mashed yuca into her mouth, chews it for several minutes, and spits back into the wooden batang. She scoops more yuca and starts the second round of chewing, while also picking up her moledor again to continue to mash and mix. Marina chews fifteen mouthfuls before she’s happy with the look of the masato and steps back over to her hammock hanging nearby for a brief respite.
This masato is now ready to be scooped into covered plastic bins, where it will stay for the four days until the minga. During this time, the enzymes in Marina’s saliva will break down the complex starches of the yuca and natural yeasts in the air will ferment the resulting simple sugars into a smoother paste that is slightly alcoholic.
Marina is up early on the day of the minga, mixing the fermented masato with water to create bowls of the drinkable beverage. The minga invitees have already arrived, and they await the masato before their morning meal. There’s lots of work still to be done, but Marina’s skill with the moledor, knowledge passed down from her mother, has enabled her family to host this minga and have a successful growing season with a new field.
Gilmore, M. P., Griffiths, B. M., & Bowler, M. (2020). The socio-cultural significance of mineral licks to the Maijuna of the Peruvian Amazon: Implications for the sustainable management of hunting. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 16(1), 1–10.
Wingfield, A., & Gilmore, M. P. (2020). Three Days of Masato. Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, 27(2), 406–415. https://doi.org/10.1093/isle/isz084