The Ashaninka are one of the largest indigenous groups in South America. They live on the border between Peru, where most of them are located, and Brazil.
Benki Piyãko is a political and spiritual leader of the Ashaninka people that has worked tirelessly for the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, their lands and cultures. As a young boy, he was designated to become a spiritual leader or “pajé” of his people and, since then, has undergone a series of initiations in the traditional medicinal practices that are part of the Ashaninka culture.
Benki has played a leadership role in fighting for the protection of indigenous land against illegal loggers and invaders. When he was 18, he left his village for the first time to take part in Eco 92, as a youth representative for the Amazonian indigenous peoples. Since then, he has dedicated his life to the protection and restoration of the rainforest through education and community building among indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Since 2007, Benki and his local team of volunteers have planted over 2 million trees, helped several animal species on the brink of extinction to survive, and trained countless young leaders and community representatives in sustainable agroforestry practices.
The efforts of Benki and his people have been internationally recognized. Among others, he has received the 2013 Human Rights award from the city of Weimar, (ii) the UN Equator Prize in 2017, and (iii) the 2020 Culture for Peace Prize from the Chirac Foundation. Furthermore, he has travelled the world to speak on behalf of his people and met with various political and spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama. Among others, he participated as an expert speaker in the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issus (UNPFII) and the Parliament of the World’s Religions (PoWR).
In 2019, Benki created the Yorenka Tasorentsi Institute (“Wisdom of the Creator Institute”) to further advance his work in sustainable development, education and community building, and safeguarding the traditional knowledge and cultural heritage of Amazonian indigenous peoples.