“Currently the Yagua live in some 30 communities scattered throughout a section of the Peruvian and Colombian Amazon basin which can roughly be described as a rectangle 200 miles wide and 350 miles long (70,000 sq. miles) extending southward from the second to the fifth parallel and westward from the 70th to the 75th meridian west.
The third earliest documented European contact with the Yagua was probably made by the Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana in January 1542. While exploring in the area of modern day Pebas, Orellana encountered a village called Aparia, and captured two chiefs named Aparia and Dirimara, as well as some others. These names could conceivably have come from the Yagua words (j)ápiiryá ‘red macaw clan’ and rimyurá ‘shaman’ respectively. The former could very well be a village name as well as a name applied to an individual; today clan names are still used by many Yaguas as family names. The word for shaman might also be used to refer to an individual, especially one singled out as a ‘chief’. Regular European contact began in 1686 with the establishment of a Jesuit mission at San Joaquin de los Omagua, on an island in the Amazon river probably near what is now the mouth of the Ampiyacu River. Though this mission was established to serve the Cambeba people, there was undoubtedly contact with the Yaguas as well. From the 17th century to the last half of the 19th century, contact with the Yaguas was mainly through the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries. In the early 18th century, Portuguese raiding parties attacked the Spanish missions throughout the Amazon region causing much geographic dispersion of the tribes that were in contact with the Spanish, and inflicting severe casualties.
The present extreme geographic dispersion of the Yagua, however, is due largely to the effects of the ‘rubber boom’ in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time Europeans arrived in large numbers from Brazil and began to exploit the indigenous people to extract natural latex from the jungle. Many Yaguas died in conflicts with these Europeans, as well as by exposure to European diseases. Others were exploited as slave labor. Still others fled to remote regions of the jungle. Ever since the rubber boom, the Yagua sense of unity and of common culture has declined.”