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Vegetalismo - Shamanism Among the Mestizo Population of the Peruvian Amazon

Vegetalismo - Shamanism Among the Mestizo Population of the Peruvian Amazon


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Published by Projekt E 012
Doctoral dissertation for the doctor's degree in humanities at the University of Stockholm, to be publicly examined in English in room 7, house D, Frescati on Thursday, June 5, 1986 at 10 A.M

Luis Eduardo Luna

Department of Comparative Religion, Stockholm 1986
ISBN 91-22-00819-5
Doctoral dissertation for the doctor's degree in humanities at the University of Stockholm, to be publicly examined in English in room 7, house D, Frescati on Thursday, June 5, 1986 at 10 A.M

Luis Eduardo Luna

Department of Comparative Religion, Stockholm 1986
ISBN 91-22-00819-5

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Published by: Projekt E 012 on Feb 08, 2010
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"Pues la Ayahuasca encierra toda la ciencia y el arte
del médico aborigen o del curandero popular que se
sirve de aquélla. A ella acuden en demanda de sabidu-
ría, sea por aliviar el dolor de sus semejantes o
descubrir lo desconocido y alcanzar la esencia de las
cosas. " (Gabriel del Castillo 1963: 88)

There is no doubt that shamanism is quite the vogue today. The
words shaman and shamanism are no longer obscure terms used
only at scientific meetings by a handful of specialists. We are
witnessing an explosion of literature on shamanism, both
scientific and popular, in the West. These terms are, in
fact, being used so much, and in such a broad sense, that they
will probably soon lose all significance -there is already
enough debate in scientific literature about the elements
implied in these terms, the geographical location where "real"
shamans exist -or existed-, and in what cases these terms can
be applied.

There has been a similar explosion of literature dealing with
psychotropic plants and mind-altering compounds, partly a con-
sequence of the discovery -some would rather say "rediscovery"-
of mind altering substances by the Western world, with all its
economic, social, cultural, religious and political implica-
tions (cf. Grinspoon & Bakalar 1979: 56-88; Weil 1972: 39-72;
Furst 1972:vii-xvi). In the past twenty years many books and
articles have been published dealing with the ritual use of
psychotropic plants by indigenous people. Because these plants
are nearly always used in a sacred context, the connection
between shamanism and the use of psychotropic plants is self-


I first became interested in the shamanic use of psychotropic
plants in November 1971 when meeting the American ethnobotanist
Terence McKenna in Florencia, the capital of Caquetá, my native
province, in the Colombian Amazon area. McKenna was at that
time searching for information about an indigenous psycho-
tropic beverage best known in Colombia under the Tukano name of
yagé, and in Ecuador and Peru under the Quechua denomination of
ayahuasca, which is used by a number of tribes of the Western
Amazon, the Orinoco Plains and the Pacific Lowlands from Panama
to Ecuador.

Although born in the Amazon area, I had had relatively little
exposure to Amazonian life and way of thinking. I received most
of my basic education in Bogotá. In 1965, when I was seventeen
years of age, I moved to Spain, where I studied Spanish philo-
logy at the University of Madrid. In November 1971 I was having


holidays in Colombia after an absence of seven years. When I
met Terence McKenna I had never heard about yagé. But I soon
realized that many people in Florencia, including my father,
knew about yagé, and about its association with the jaguar,
which I later learned is an element in shamanism among several
Amazonian tribes (cf. Reichel-Dolmatoff 1975).

My father and several other people mentioned to me the name
of Apolinar Yacanamijoy, an Ingano Indian I had vaguely heard
about since my childhood, but without paying much attention to
it -the nature of our educational system makes us much more
interested in what is happening in Europe or in North Ame-
rica than in what is at our own door-step. Don Apolinar lived
near Yurayacu, at that time a small settlement, which could be
reached from Florencia only by walking about 12 hours along a
jungle path from the town of Belén de los Andaquíes.

I went several times to a house where Don Apolinar used to
spend the night on the rare occasions he went to Florencia. In
January 1972 I finally met him for the first time. He told
me that if I wanted to learn about yagé, there was only one
way: To stay with him some time and to follow a special diet he
would prescribe me. Unfortunately, I had to return to Europe to
finish my studies in Madrid and did not return to Colombia
until seven years later.

I spent the summer of 1973 at McKenna's home in Berkeley,
where I was exposed to the bewildering Californian cultural and
intellectual life. Among the books that came into my hands were
two anthologies, edited by Peter Furst (1972) and Michael
Harner (1973) on the role played by psychotropic plants in
shamanism and Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff's book on Desana
mythology (1971). I wrote to Dr. Reichel-Dolmatoff, who kindly
replied to my letter. He wrote to me that if I really wanted to
undertake any serious research on yagé in the future, I had to
try to get some interdisciplinary education. Back to Europe -I
had recently moved to Norway-, I took courses in chemistry,
ecology and linguistics, while at the same time I was lecturing
on Spanish and Latin American Literature at the Institute of
Romanic Languages of Oslo University. In 1979 I got a teaching
post at the Swedish School of Economics and Business Adminis-
tration in Helsinki/Helsingfors, and for the first time I was
able to afford to do field work.

In the summer of 1980 I went to Yurayacu to see Don Apoli-
nar. I simply took a bus, since Yurayacu was already connected
through a road to Florencia. I found a very old man dismayed
by the destruction of his garden of magic plants by ignorant
colonists, who did not distinguish one plant from another. He
agreed that I could spend the summer of 1981 with him, although
he warned me that he thought he was going to die soon. I prepa-
red myself for this trip consulting Prof. Åke Hultrantz, Head
of the Institute of Comparative Religion of Stockholm Universi-
ty, who was generous with his time in instructing me about what
things to look for when I would be with Don Apolinar.


In May 1981, when I was about to leave for Caquetá, I got
news of Don Apolinar's death. I was advised by Terence McKenna
to travel to Iquitos (3°50s 73°15w), a city of nearly 300, 000
inhabitants in the Peruvian Amazon, where I could study the use
of ayahuasca among mestizo practitioners. He gave me the names
of several practitioners he had heard about a year before, in-
cluding the name of Don Emilio Andrade Gomez, whom he had never

I arrived in Iquitos in June, 1981, where I met Don Emilio
and other plant-specialists or vegetalistas, which is the main
term by which these practitioners call themselves). After some
hesitation I decided to concentrate on the person of Don
Emilio, charmed by his eloquence, his humbleness and his
wisdom. Don Emilio has ever since been my main informant and
friend, and I owe him my deepest gratitude.

So far, I have carried out five periods of field work, during
the consecutives summers of 1981-1985. I have spent several
weeks each summer with Don Emilio, documentating on tape and
film his practice, attending ayahuasca ceremonies as a parti-
cipant-observer, and collecting medicinal plants. I also spent
considerable time with Don Jose Coral More, a friend of Don
Emilio's, who lives in a small chacra (swidden garden) 18
kilometers from Iquitos and an hour and a half's walk from Don
Emilio's house. I have also attended ayahuasca sessions and
interviewed several other practitioners in Iquitos, in Pucallpa
(the second city of importance in the Peruvian Amazon, on the
river Ucayali), in Puerto Maldonado (Department of Madre de
Dios, near the borders on Brazil and Bolivia), and along the
river Maniti, between the cities of Iquitos and Leticia (Colom-
bia). In July 1984, thanks to a kind invitation by Brazilian
anthropologist Clodomir Monteiro da Silva, I was also able to
spend a week in Rio Branco, State of Acre, Brazil, among
members of the Colonia 5000, a rural-urban religious group
which uses ayahuasca as a central sacrament. Monteiro da Silva
wrote his M.A. thesis on this subject (1983).

My five periods of field work yielded nearly 180 hours of re-
cordings of interviews with vegetalistas, magic chants and
ayahuasca sessions, material which I am still organizing. I
also took several hundred slides and completed an ethnographi-
cal film (Don Emilio and His Little Doctors, 1982). When I
began serious examination of scientific literature on Amazonian
shamanism, I realized that many of my observations had long
since been accurately reported. But I have also become aware of
the fact that, with a few exceptions, little attention has been
paid to shamanic practices among the mestizo population of the
Amazon, simply because most scholars working on Amazonian
shamanism have devoted their efforts to the study of Indian
tribes. This work is an attempt on my part to summarize what I
have learned about a subject that deserves more attention, and
that, I hope, will occupy several years of my life.

During these years I have had the privilege of meeting many
scholars, whose work and advice have greatly helped me in my
research. First of all, I wish to thank Prof. Åke Hultkrantz,


who from the very beginning has guided me in my studies on
shamanism, and who finally accepted me as his student. I also
wish to thank Dr. Richard Evans Schultes, of the Botanical
Museum of Harvard University, and Dr. Bo Holmstedt, of Karo-
linska Institutet, Stockholm, for their enthusiastic inspira-
tion. Dr. Timothy Plowman and colleagues of the Field Museum of
Natural History, Chicago, have helped me with the identifica-
tion of botanical material, and Dr. Ilkka Kukkonen, Head Cura-
tor of the Botanical Museum of Helsinki University, has suppor-
ted the transport and preservation of voucher and living
specimens. I also wish to thank Drs. Stephen and Christine
Hugh-Jones and Dr. Françoise Barbira-Freedman, for their
hospitality and positive criticism during my visits to Cam-
bridge. I am specially indebted to Terence and Dennis McKenna,
who during years have helped me with good advice and intelli-
gent conversation. I also wish to add the names of Jean Pierre
Chaumeil, Anthony Henman, Jean Langdon, Elizabeth Kramer,
Carlos Pinzón, Guillermo Arévalo, Sinforiano Rodríguez Doldán
and Clodomir Monteiro da Silva, for the interesting conversa-
tions on shamanism and ayahuasca. Many people made my work in
Peru possible. In Lima I wish to thank Dr. Alejandro Camino,
Dr. Fernando Cabieses, Dr. Baldomero Cáceres, and the staff of
CAAP (Centro Amazónico de Aplicación Práctica). In Iquitos I am
indebted to Pedro Felipe Ayala, Dimitri Eftyvoulos, Armando and
Germana Alba, and Gunther and Juanita Schaper for their hospi-
tality and great generosity. Thanks also to Dr. Franklin
Ayala and colleagues of the Herbarium Amazonense, who have
always been most helpful to me, to Alfonso Padilla for trans-
cribing into musical notation some of Don Emilio's icaros, to
Pekka Hako for printing the music, and to Valericio Leppe for
drawing the map. I am particularly indebted to Gurli Barck, who
spent so much effort revising the manuscript.

My greatest thanks are of course to my friends the vegetalis-
of the Peruvian Amazon, who have been so patient with me,
and who have accepted me with boundless generosity. Here my
thanks go to Don Emilio, Don José, Don Celso, Don Alejandro,
Don Fidel, Don Sergio, Don Miguel, Dona Dolores, Doña Rosa, Don
Ruperto, and to Misha, Vichín, Alí, and Jorge. Thanks also to
Pablo Amaringo Shuña, for allowing me to reproduce some of his
paintings in this book.

Field work during the summer of 1983 was partially financed
by Norges almenvitenskapelige forskningsråd (NAVF), Oslo, and
by Donnerska Institutet för Religionshistorisk och Kulturhisto-
risk forskning, Turku/Åbo, Finland. The latter institution also
contributed to my travel expenses during the summer of 1984. I
also received financial travel aid from The Welcome Trust,
London, for spending one month of bibliographical research at
the library of The Welcome Institute for the History of Medi-
cine. I wish to thank The Swedish School of Economics and
Business Administration of Helsinki/Helsingfors for providing
me with institutional support and for allowing me to pursue
my outlandish interests.


May, 1986




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