Ayahuasca Shaman

Artidoro Aro Cardenas Interviewed
By Howard G Charing and Peter Cloudsley (2003)
This interview has been revised to include plant classification names. An extract from this interview appeared in the book Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA).


The story of my path of medicine began when I saw a brother in law who healed and chanted and I saw that he earned a little bit of money, and I didn’t have any profession because my parents were poor. I only had studies up to fifth year primary and I wanted to get out of the place we lived, Parimarques on the River Ucayali, a day downstream from Pucullpa. I felt trapped in that pueblo, being poor, my brothers drinking too much, and when we did find work we earned next to nothing. So I fled from there to the Montana (upper jungle), and also to Tamaya in the Alto Ucayali. I was just 17 years old. I used to watch how the curanderos worked, how they cooked their ayahuasca. I loved listening to what they talked about, how they prepared their remedies, their icaros (chants), and I began drinking ayahuasca. So I learned to brew ayahuasca and then went off on my own deep into the jungle, to know the plants little by little, to smell the leaves and roots of all the medicinal plants. I had no maestro to learn from. I dieted plants for a year and a half alone, and then returned to the city to recuperate as I was very thin by then. The first plants I dieted were ajosquiro (Cordia alliodora), huairacaspi (Cedrelinga Cataneiformis), chontaquiero, huayruro (Ormosia spp.), palo sangre (Brosimum Rubescens), ana caspi (Vatairea guianensis), shihuahuaco (Dipteryx micrantha), ayahuma (Couroupita Guianensi). Later I dieted chiricsanango (Brunfelsia Grandiflora), chullachaquicaspi (Remijia Peruviana), bobinsana (Calliandra Angustifoli), remocaspi (Aspidosperma Excelsum), abuta (Abuta grandifolia), clavo huasca (Tynanthus Panurensi), as well as all kinds of renacos (Ficus Americana), and insira (Insira Limulana), capirona (Calycophyllum spp.), mishquipanga


(Renealmia alpine), timareo (Vochysia), sauco (Sambucus nigra), pijuayo (Bactris macana), ipururo (Alchornea castaneifolia). In the city I dieted lettuce, cauliflower, and beetroot, all those things are medicine and give strength. For example lettuce is good for the lungs. Cucumber cools the body, and is good for skin, and apple juice helps with indigestion and wind. When I was 21 I finally returned to my parents. My father was a lawyer but he neglected it for working on his clearing in the jungle. I went back into the Montana again. At that time all my chants were in Spanish so I went to learn from the indigenous Indians and I learned and dieted their plants. I lived with the Ashaninka. For example chiricsanango in their language is mocapari, and so on for all the plants, and I wrote their names down. So when I dieted these plants on my own; I knew how to call their spirits using the indigenous languages, and I would learn the icaros of these plants. It is also advantageous to be able to work in a different language so that people don’t understand the words. So they don’t know what your saying or doing. For one thing, much envy can be avoided this way. Then there are misunderstandings, for example, if I am making an amarre (a tie between a couple) and if the parents get to hear of it, they might get an exaggerated idea and go to the authorities to denounce it. Alternatively I might discover who is responsible for a robbery, and the person who comes to me tells another who tells that person. Then that person might turn against me. Or they might go to justice to deny it, or make a counter claim to make problems or to create a kind of smoke screen.


But when a person comes for knowledge or healing, I explain everything they need to know. It is not that I think they might steal my knowledge. A lot of the words in Shipibo don’t really mean much, like banana or canoe. They are like prayers. I use all the names of the plants, the plant spirits. When you diet a plant you discover what are its symptoms, it energies, what are its medicinal properties and what things it can cure, from personal experience. There are lots of books even in English, and this one from the Caribbean. I also started to learn from prayer books, such as the Cruz de Carabaca, the Rosa Cruzisto, and the San Cipriano. Green magic which is medicine, White magic which is water and air; I used Agua Florida, Camalonga (Thevetia peruviana), perfumes and dedicated myself to studying all about aromas. I get people coming for help to give up drug addiction, people with family problems, where the woman has gone away from the man or the man has gone away from his children. These are amarres (ties), or Pusanga situations. Supposing the woman has gone off, I bring her back so that the family can consolidate again. I call the plant spirits which work for that. Renaco, Huayanche (Orchids), sangapilla (Chamaedorea fragrans), perfumes and I call her spirit back to her home. I blow smoke to reunite them. Let’s say the Mama is here with me and the father is far away. I pull him back so he returns to his home. In a short time he will be thinking of his children and his wife, and he comes back. I don’t need to have the actual plants in front of me, I call their spirits.


I make my own perfumes from plants, no chemicals. They have wonderful smells, and I chant at the same time as I rub them on the children and the woman. The man starts thinking or dreaming of them. I have several different preparations; I am studying now how to make them have nice colours, otherwise they tend to all look dark. I sent 20 litres of these to France and they liked it a lot, many flowers, plants and roots from the jungle. A smell has the power to attract. I can also make smells to attract business, people who buy. You just rub it on your face and it brings in the people to your business, if you are selling, people come to buy. I also make perfumes for love, and others for flourishing. These are the forces of nature, what I do is give it direction with my breath so it has effect. I use my experience of the plants which I have dieted. I have a relation with the plants and with the patient; I can’t make these things on a commercial scale. When I diet I take in the strength of the plant and it stays with me. Later I find the illness or suffering of the person or what it is they want, and the plant guides me and tells me if it is the right one for that person, and I cure them. The most important plants for me have been ajosquiro, ajo sacha (Mansoa alliance), chiric sanango, chullachaquicaspi, Pinon Colorado (Jatropha Gossypifolia), las albachas (Ocimum spp.), paico (Chenopodium Ambrosioides), verbena (Verbena littoralis), bobinsana (Calliandra Angustifolia), abuta (Abuta grandifolia), these are the strongest.


The diets are strict; you need to be alone, and away from women. You bathe a lot after drinking them. I teach my apprentices all the ways and customs of each plant… My pipe of Cumaceba (Swartzia polyphylla) was carved by me. I smoke tobacco in it as protection against an attack by brujeria. My father didn’t want to live in the city so could never practice the law he had studied. My mother came from Tarapoto to live with him on the Ucayali, they liked growing bananas and yucca, and fishing, and they stayed there. I am one of 18 children. They brought us up nicely and never separated until death. Both died years ago. Only two offspring still live there on the Ucayali where my parents are buried. Two are here in Iquitos but I can’t trace them. I couldn’t bare the hopelessness at my home then, of my drunken brothers. I suffered a lot to learn medicine, always on the good side. Now I can treat cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, etc. I learned from the Cashibo and Capanaua, but mostly Ashaninka… their world, their medicine and customs. They keep their houses and clearings very clean and tidy. They are hardworking and good hunters with bows and arrows. If people are very weak I don’t use the most powerful chants in Ashaninka, which induce visions. The Huaynos are better in this case, they don’t stir people up so much, and they don’t throw up. I need to concentrate to feel the sound and movement of the earth, and

of space and the spirits of the plants. I have to be on the watch out for attack to, not just on me but the people I am looking after. I am forming my centre for people to learn about medicine but some of the money will go into a school for local people to benefit.