The Bolivian Amazon has been continuously inhabited for more than 12,000 years. Some of the first inhabitants, the Moxos tribe dominated most of the western Bolivia Amazon and succeeded in fighting off invading tribes, most notably the Incas who tried to conquer the Moxos strong-hold in the 15th century. The Incas never completely conquered the Moxos, but did force a treaty allowing them to settle inside Moxos territory.
The Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Bolivian Amazon in the 16th century. Like the Incas, they wanted to lay claim to the mysterious and vast jungles. Legends about the existence of a rich and powerful Amazonian kingdom known as El Dorado (the Golden One) or PaititÃ (the land of the celestial jaguar) led the Spaniards deeper into the Amazon forest. They never found the elusive kingdom, however, and the hazards of the rainforest environment forced them to move their search elsewhere by the 17th century.
The next wave of intruders came in the form of Jesuit missionaries looking to 'spread the word' to the highly spiritual Moxenos. Their attempts were more successful than those of the conquistadors and by 1675 they had founded their first mission in Loreto. Although they imposed Christianity and European values upon the Moxenos, they also fostered the indigenous peoples' expertise in woodwork which led to a tradition of beautiful wood carvings which still exist in the missions. The Jesuits also imported cattle and horses, descendants of which can still be found in most of the department.
The Jesuits eventually retreated from the area in 1767. The Franciscan and Dominican missionaries followed, bringing slavery and disease to the area and its indigenous populations. It has seen development recently due to increased populations, which in some cases has caused destruction of the Amazon Basin through logging and slash-and-burn agriculture. Ecotourism may provide the answer to these problems by giving locals an economic incentive to preserve the environment.
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