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Howard G Charing & Peter Cloudsley
The Shipibo are one of the largest ethnic groups in the Peru‐ vian Amazon. These ethnic groups each have their own lan‐ guages, traditions and culture. The Shipibo which currently number about 20,000 are spread out in communities through the Pucallpa / Ucayali river region. They are highly regarded in the Amazon as being masters of Ayahuasca .
Ayahuasca is the jungle medicine of the upper Amazon. It is made from the ayahuasca vine ( Banisteriopsis Caapi) and the leaf of the Chacruna plant (Psychotria Viridis). The two make a potent medicine which opens the doors to experiencing the energetic world which underlies the world of everyday. The vine is an inhibitor which contains harmala and harmaline among other alkaloids, and the leaf contains vision inducing alkaloids. As with all natural medicines, it is a mixture of many alkaloids that makes their unique properties.
Ayahuasca is a name derived from two Quechua words: aya means spirit, ancestor, deceased per‐
son, and huasca means vine or rope, hence it is known as vine of the dead or vine of the soul. It is also known by many other local names including yaje, caapi, natema, pinde, daime, mihi, & dapa. It plays a central role in the spiritual, religious and cultural tra‐ ditions of the Indigenous and Mestizo (mixed blood) peoples of the upper Amazon, Orinoco plains and the Pacific coast of Colombia and Ecuador. To understand ayahuasca in the local context, one cannot avoid taking a look at the ecological environ‐ ment, such as the rainforest, cultural environment and indigenous cultures. This has structured the cul‐ tural content of ayahuasca. One of the more romantic stories takes place amongst the Shipibo people who live up the river in the heart of the jungle in the Peruvian Amazon. This tale is centered around women, more so than men, as they look after the children and their health, whilst the men are out hunting and fishing. Men are more interested in plants that aid their inner spirits when hunting , whilst women are more interested in plants that will allow their children to grow. There was one particular woman who was very interested in plants, who liked to pick the leaves of different plants. She would then crush the leaves into a pot and soak them in water over night. She would then take a bath every morning before sunrise (the way to find out about various plants and their effects is to bathe in them). She bathed in them every morning until she had a dream. In her dream a woman came and said, “why are you bathing every day?” She answered “I am doing this as I want you to teach me.” The other woman said “You must seek out my uncle, his name is Kamarampi. I will show you where to find him”. The woman led the other woman to her uncle. The uncle showed her how to mix the leaves of the chacruna, which was a bush she had taken leaves from to bathe in. He showed her how to prepare the brew of Ayahuasca, he told her to go and tell the people the knowledge of how to use the brew.
BENJAMIN OCHAVANO Benjamin Ochavano Is a traditional Shipibo Muraya.(elder shaman). He is in his eighties. His chants (icaros) sung in the Shipibo language are extraordinary, beautiful and with a powerful vocal range. I first started taking ayahuasca at the age of 10, with my father, who was also a shaman. When I was 15, he took me into the selva to do plant diets, nobody would see us for a whole year, we had no con‐ tact with women, nothing. We lived in a simple tambo sleeping on leaves with just a sheet over us. We dieted plants: ayauma, pucha‐ tekicaspi, pucarobona, huairacaspi, verenaquu. I would take each plant for 2 months before moving on to the next, a whole year without women! The only fish allowed is boquichico – a vegetarian fish and mushed plantains made into a thick drink ca‐ lled pururuco in Shipibo, or chapo without sugar. Then I had about a year’s rest before going again with my uncle, Jo‐ se Sánchez, for another year and 7 months of dieting on the little Rio Pisqui. He taught me alot and gave me chonta, cascabel, hergon, nacanaca, cayucayu. He was a chontero, a kind of shaman who works with darts (in the spiritual world) – so called because real darts and arrows for hunting are made from the black splintery bamboo called chonta. A chontero can send darts with positive effects like knowledge and power too, and he knows how to suck and remove poisoned darts which have caused illness or evil spells. To finish off he gave me chullachaqui caspi. Then I began living with my wife and working as a cu‐ randero in Juancito on the Ucayali. Later I went to Pucallpa where I still live some of the time when I’m not in my community of Paoyhan, where my Ani Sheati project is. The most important planta maestra is Ayauma chullacha‐ qui. Then Pucalo puno (Quechua) the bark of a tree which grows to 40 or 50 meters. This is one of a number of plants that is consumed together with tobacco and is so strong, you only need to take it two times. It requires a diet of 6 month. You drink it in the morning, then lie down, you are in an altered state for a whole day after‐ wards. Another plant is Catahua whose resin is cooked with ta‐ bacco. You must be sure that no one sees you while you take it. It puts you into a sleep of powerful dreams. Ajosquiro is from a tree which grows to 20m, with a penetrating aroma like garlic. It gives you mental strength, it is very healing and makes you strong. It takes away lazy feelings, gives you courage and self esteem, but can be used to explore the negative side as well as the positive. You can be alone in the wilderness yet feel in the company of many. It puts you into the psycho‐ magical world which we have inherited from our ancestors, the great morayos (=shamans in Shipibo) so you can gain knowledge of how to heal with plants. 3
The word ‘shaman’ is recent in the Amazon, (coming from Asia via the Western world in the last 10‐20 years). My father was known as a moraya or banco, or in Spanish curandero. A curandero could specialize in being a good chontero or a shitanero who does harm to people. Virjilio Salvan, who is dead now, dead now introduced me to a plant which he said was better than any other plant ‐ Palo Borrador, maestro de todos los palos (master of all plants). You smoke it in a pipe for 8 days, blowing the smoke over your body. On the eighth day a man appears, as real as we are, a Shipibo. He was a chaycuni ‐ an enchanted being in traditional dress… cushma, or woven tunic, chaquira necklace, and so on, and he said to me ‘Benjamin, why have you smoked my tree?’ ‘Because I want to learn’ I said. ‘Ever since I was little I wanted to be a Moraya’ ‘You must diet and smoke my tree for 3 months, no more’ he said. ‘And you can eat whatever fish you like…it won’t matter’ … and he listed all the fish I could eat. ‘But you must not sleep with any woman other than your wife’ he said. And I’ve followed this advice until today. Three nights later, sounds could be heard from under the ground and big holes opened up and the wind blew. Then everyone, all the family began to fly. And from that day I was a moraya. Today I still fast on Sundays . What do you think about Westerners coming to take plants in the Amazon? It is a good thing for them to come and learn, for us to share and for there to be an interchange. This is what I would like to do in my community of Paoyhan. But the Ecuadorians stole our out‐ board motor. How could the plants of the Amazon help people of the West? It can open up the mind so we can find ways to help each other. It can help them find more self‐ realization in life. If a person is very shy for example it can help warm their hearts, give them strength and courage. You have a different system in your countries, when we travel there we feel underrated just as when you come here you have to get accustomed to being here. When we get to know each other and become like brothers, solutions emerge. To get rid of vices and drug addictions, for ex‐ ample, there are plants which can easily heal people. Pene de mono is a thick tree, which I have used to cure two foreign women of AIDS. The name means ‘monkey’s penis’. I saw in my ayahuasca vision that they were ill and diagnosed them as having AIDS. I boiled the bark of the tree and made 6 bottles which they took each day until it was finished. They had to go on a diet as well. No fish with teeth, salt, fruit or butter. The fish with teeth eat the plant so it cannot penetrate into the body. After this you get so hot that steam comes off the body. In the selva there is no AIDS, only some cases in the city of Pucullpa. 4
The Shipibo maestro is now in his late 70's with the appear‐ ance of a man in his 50's. He was born in the Shipibo commu‐ nity of San Francisco by Yarina Cocha (an oxbow lake near Pu‐ cullpa). On a number of occasions he has worked with medical doctors in various cities in Peru. Don Leoncio also founded a healing centre near Nina Rumi on the Rio Nanay.
I didn’t become a shaman until I was 50, I am now 74 (2005). I was always so busy working in the chacra, or cutting wood, it was only when I began to get a bit older. Until then I had taken Ayahuasca for all the usual reasons of health, but that was all. After deciding to do the diet I drank Ayahuasca seri‐ ously but I didn’t see anything and didn’t think I would learn anything but still I kept on drinking every night and didn’t sleep. With just one day to go before completing three months’ diet, I had a tremendous vision and I began to chant and continued all night until dawn. I saw under the earth, un‐ der the water, and into the skies, everything. Probably I was learning from the sprits during the diet but I didn’t under‐ stand. After that I could see what the matter was with people. I dieted pinon Colorado and to‐ bacco first and then tried all the other plants. This was in San Francisco, a Shipibo community on Yarinacocha, Pucullpa where I was born. After this I went to Huancayo for six months to try my medicine. Then I went to Ayacucho and then a Senor took me to Lima to heal his wife. After two months I was taken to Trujillo and then Arequipa, Cusco, Juliaca, Puno. Everything worked out well and I worked with a doctor once who was not very successful and soon there were people queuing outside her consultancy. Eventually I came to Iquitos in 2000 and I haven’t had time to return to my family since then, I just send them money. When I go round to people blowing tobacco smoke it is to give them arcanas, to protect them so that when things happen around them it doesn’t hurt them or make them ill. A cautionary myth? There was once a wise man called Oni who knew what each and every healing plant could be used for. He knew all their names and one day he saw a liana and recognized it as Ayahuasca and he learned to mix it with Chacruna. One night he tried it and learned so many things that he carried on drinking it. But because he went on drinking so long and often he stopped eating and drinking, and just chanted day and night. Now he had two sons and they said ‘come and have breakfast Papa’, but he carried on drinking Ayahuasca and when they tried to pick him up, he was stuck to the ground and couldn’t be moved. So they left him chanting to all the plants everyday and night and they noticed that Ayahuasca was growing out from his fingers. So the sons went back to their chacras and after a month came back again, to see their father. Everywhere Ayahuasca ropes had tangled around him and still he continued chanting day after day and the forest carried on grow‐ ing around him. After a few more months, he had merged with the forest itself and that is why its called Ayahuasca, rope of the dead and in Shipibo Oni. 5
Amahuaca myth. Once a group of wise Amahuaca Indians drank Ayahuasca in a circle each night. There were two men and two women, and they chanted all night, never stopping to eat anything. And each night they sang higher and higher, and each night they lifted a little further off the ground until finally they became the ‘Tatatao’ birds, flying about in the sky. And one night they settled in the branch of a very high tree in their chacra and said goodbye to their families … Ta tat a ta tao, and that night the family left behind drank Ayahuasca together. Until today, all you can see or hear are the Tata‐ tao birds. ENRIQUE LOPEZ Enrique Lopez Is a Shipibo shaman, he is originally from the Shipibo community of Roaboya on the River Ucayali. He started his appren‐ ticeship as a shaman with his grandfather when he was 10 years old. We worked with Enrique at our last retreat, and found his ayahuasca to be very potent. His chants are all in the native Shipibo language which adds another dimension to the ceremonies. Enrique is knowl‐ edgeable about plant medicines and diets. The Shipibo people are re‐ garded as masters of Ayahuasca. Enrique has a gentle and caring quality in his work with our participants. As a note his father in law is the elder shaman Benjamin Ochavano. Enrique discusses his early years in the indigenous Shipibo community in the Ucayali region of the Amazon Rainforest in Peru. Enrique talks about the Shipibo views on Ayahuasca and medicinal plants. I was born in a Shipibo community called Roaboya which is on the River Ucayali about 10 hours downstream from Pucallpa. Roaboya means the place where the Koto monkey lives. In Shipibo this kind of monkey is call Ro, but Mestizos tend to lengthen words, so they called the place Roaboya. The first Mestizos to arrive in the area were loggers – Boya (Buoys in English) refer to the logs which they floated down to their saw mills. Actually there are two places; Roaboya Nativa and Roaboya Mestiza a bit further down river. When I was young, Angel Sanchez Vargas was the local Curaca – who is both a chief as well as shaman – he was my grandfather and he knew all about plants for healing, for giving visions and increasing human intelligence. They later named the school after him there. Roaboya was the first indigenous community to be officially recognized 114 years ago. Later the river changed its course and the banks crumbled and many Shipibo people moved to form communities elsewhere on the Upper and Lower Ucayali. When the earliest missionaries came in the 1940s, at first the people didn’t want to know about their pharmaceutical medicines or clothes which they tried to give away. The Shipibo didn’t wear Western clothes at that time and even refused to meet with them. But the missionaries were clever and brought sweets and presents, and impressed them with their water‐planes and eventually suc‐ ceeded in introducing their evangelical religion. The effect was to threaten Shipibo customs and create divisions in the community. 6
Later in the 60s when I was in my infancy, my grandfather put up resistance to Western things and warned that his people should not forget their customs and ancestral knowledge. He forbade the use of Western clothes, and encouraged people to eat together from one central plate as a commu‐ nity. His four wives were also shamans and helped to revitalize their traditions. Don Angel even learned Spanish through his plants, such was his faith! Nevertheless, today most of the Shipibo in Roaboya are nominally evangelicos. After he died, his cousin took over as shaman and he wanted me, at the age of 10, to help at aya‐ huasca sessions by smoking mapacho for protection while he chanted. I told him I wanted to be a womanizer when I was grown up! And he made it happen by chanting a Huarmi Icaro. I also want to be a good fisherman and again he said yes, I could be, and so it was. By the time I was 14 it had come true, and I had women coming after me! However, I didn’t want to marry at that time. At the age of 16 I started taking ayahuasca, but my Mother didn’t want it ‐ a womanizer can’t be a good shaman she said. Only when you learn to follow a proper diet can a person serve. This is the test that the plants give us. It has happened to me twice, a woman comes just when you are work‐ ing and wants to make love. You can’t, if you give in just once you will fall ill, go mad, fall into the water, or die ‐ these are the tremendous problems of being a shaman. At the age of 16, I started my first diet for 3 months, without ayahuasca, only plants, no drink, women, salt etc. After that the shaman called me and said I could go further and he chanted for me. Then I did another 3 months’ diet, again no ayahuasca, but the plants made me dream of what I should eat, how I should live, to not to go out etc. It is important to avoid women who are menstru‐ ating, or who have made love the previous night, that is bad with the plants. It clashes, like a mirror smashing; it makes you ill or goes against you Tell us about the use of Tobacco. Tobacco is very necessary for a shaman's work. Smoke protects against enemies and badness cross‐ ing your path. Before you light a mapacho you icaro it, then you blow the smoke onto your body before the session begins. You can also cure a child of susto (fright) by blowing smoke over it but babies are very sensitive and if very small, they can be made worse ‐ cutipado ‐ in which case you use agua florida. You can also chant to it and the mother's milk. What is your state of mind and vision when you go around to each person before the session, blow‐ ing? I am asking the ayahuasca to give every one a good mareacion, or vision. The tobacco makes a kind of bridge with the ayahuasca. We normally prefer the cashimbo (Shipibo pipe) in a ceremony not mapacho cigarettes. It has a strong effect, and also calms people when the effects are too strong.
Some shamans drink pure juice of tobacco macerated with alcohol instead of ayahusca. First he drinks and goes off into another world and has a green vision. That means patterns only. Sometimes the animals and things you see, have patterns on their skin. It happens when you sing in Shipibo, how do ex‐ plain this? What I do when I chant is to call the animals for protection. Otorongos may come near to us but sometimes they get too near and are ferocious and out of control. This can be caused by an enemy who has found a way to harm me. The thick bark and seeds of the Ayauma tree is good to protect against this. You take a vapor bath in it before the session. Camalonga (a seed) is good too, it returns the harm from where it came and the wrong doer becomes ill. Lupuna and Catauhua are also good against brujeria (bad magic). Huayruro is not so much used. Ajo sacha can be used in protective baths, for illnesses like arthritis, and as a powerful teacher. It makes you hard working, turns around a run of bad luck ‐ saladera, helps you in fishing and hunt‐ ing. You can also pour the ajosacha up the nose of the dog to make a good hunting dog. Also loose women (pishcotas) can be cured with ajosacha. I left Roaboya in 1998 and went to live in Trujillo to sell healing plants and ointments made from boa, otorongo, bufeo colorado etc. I found many charlatans there selling any old thing. I worked mainly with banos florales and didn't use ayahuasca. I also felt a lot of envy from people there, and once it made me very ill. I couldn't walk, and was urinating blood so I went to Lima by bus and from there to Tingo Maria where it got much worse, and I only just got to Pucullpa to return to my community. I was 24 then. Everyone said it was dano (envy and bad magic). I cured myself with Catahua, Lupuna and Ayahuma. At the bottom of the saucepan we placed crushed green bottles before adding the plants and barks. When I was well I returned to Lima for a few years, and then my wife got a job as a cook at a tourist lodge, so that's how I came to live in Iquitos. My uncle Benjamin (who is from Pauyan) still works there occasionally. Authors note: Benjamin Ochavano a powerful Shipibo shaman. How does a Shaman help people who have experienced harmful and negative sorcery? Enemies can come from anywhere. If I heal someone, I undo someone's dano ‐ illness from black magic ‐ and that makes me the enemy of the brujo who tried harm or kill the person. What is it important for an Ayahuasca shaman to know? A shaman must know how to do three things; They should know how to bring about the vision. Second, how to bring the effects down again when a patient is suffering. Thirdly, they must know how to close the session. These are the most important things, but there are shamans who take ayahuasca without know‐ ing them. 8
Howard G. Charing Howard G. Charing is a partner in Eagle’s Wing Centre for Contem‐ porary Shamanism. His initiation into the world of Shamanism was sudden, which was caused by a serious accident (a lift crash) which resulted in severe injuries and a near‐death experience. After many months of physical pain and disability, he had a transformational experience which started him on the path to healing. He co‐ authored the best‐selling book ‘Plant Spirit Shamanism’, published by Destiny Books (USA). Peter Cloudsley: Since 1980, Peter has been researching Peruvian fiesta music. He has built up a documented archive of traditional music and interviews, and has collected for the British Museum. Throughout this time he has travelled extensively in Latin America, especially Peru, studying the wealth of music and diversity of popular religions. Peter has taught courses at the City Lit and elsewhere (on music and popular culture in Latin America) and speaks fluent Spanish & Portuguese . Eagle’s Wing The work of Eagle’s Wing founded by Leo Rutherford in 1983 is to help people connect their inner and outer worlds, to bring dreams from the world of spirit into matter, and thus enjoy a creative and fruitful life ‐ to dance their dreams awake. Details of Eagle’s Wing programmes , workshops, journeys to meet indigenous shamans in Peru , books, tapes, CD’s can be found on the internet at
or call or write BCM Box 7475, London WC1 3XX tel: 01435 810233.