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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

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

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

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

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

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.