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BENJAMIN OCHAVANO

SHIPIBO MURAYA INTERVIEWED Benjamin Ochavano Is a traditional Shipibo Muraya .He is in his late eighties, and his chants (icaros) sung in the Shipibo language are extraordinary beautiful with a powerful and extensive vocal range.
Interview by: Peter Cloudsley & Howard G Charing 2002 Authors of ‘The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo’ (Inner Traditions USA) www.ayahuascavisions.com

1 (c) Howard G Charing & Peter Cloudsley

BENJAMIN OCHAVANO – SHIPIBO MURAYA INTERVIEWED Note: This interview was with Peter Cloudsley and Howard G Charing on the Rio Tamishaku in 2002. The article has been revised to include end notes, plant classifications, and some additional photos. I last met up with Benjamin in Pisaq January 2010, he still looking strong and very robust – he is in his late eighties! Benjamin is holding ayahuasca ceremonies in the Cuzco area, and if anyone has an opportunity to drink with this traditional Shipibo Muraya and Palero and hear his amazing icaros – go for it! – Howard.

Benjamin Ochavano Is a traditional Shipibo Muraya .He is in his late eighties, and his chants (icaros) sung in the Shipibo language are extraordinary beautiful and with a powerful and extensive vocal range. I first started taking ayahuasca at the age of ten, with my father, who was also a shaman. When I was fifteen, he took me into the selva to do plant diets, nobody would see us for a whole year, and we had no contact with women, nothing. We lived in a simple tambo sleeping on leaves with just a sheet over us. We dieted the plants: ayahuma i, puchatekicaspi, pucalupuna ii, huairacaspi iii , verenaquu. I would take each plant for two months before moving on to the next, a whole year without women! The only fish allowed is bocachicoiv ( a vegetarian fish), and mashed plantains made into a thick drink called pururuco in Shipibo, or chapo (a drink made from bananas) without sugar. Then I had about a year’s rest before going again with my uncle, Jose Sánchez, for another year and seven months of dieting on the little Rio Pisqui. He taught me a lot and gave me chonta, cascabelv Jergon vi, nacanaca, cayucayu. He was a chontero, a shaman a specialist working with darts (in the spiritual world) – so
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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 caspivii. Then I began living with my wife and working as a curandero 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 Ayahuma, Chullachaqui Caspi, Then Pucalapuna (Quechua) the bark of a tree which grows to 40 or 50 meters high. This is one of a number of palosviii that are 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 afterwards. Another plant is Catahuaix, you must be sure that no one sees you while you take it. It puts you into a sleep of powerful dreams. Ajosquiro x is from a tree which grows to 20 metres high, 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 psychomagical world which we have inherited from our ancestors, the great Murayas xi so you can gain knowledge of how to heal with plants.

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The word ‘shamanxii’ is recent in the Amazon, my father was known as a Muraya 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, introduced me to a plant which he said was better than any other plant ‐ Palo Borrador, maestro de todos los palos (master palero). 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 chaicunixiii ‐ an enchanted being in traditional dress, a cushma xiv or woven tunic, chaquira xv 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 Muraya’ ‘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 muraya. Even 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 outboard 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 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
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to know each other and become like brothers, solutions emerge. To get rid of vices and drug addictions, for example, 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 Pucallpa.

Ayahuma: Couroupita guianensis, a tree with large fruit. Ayahuma in Quechua means “head of a dead person,” or “spirit head.” It is an important tree for a palero to diet, and the thick bark and seeds are used by curanderos to protect against brujeria. Pucalupuna: Cavanillesia umbellata, or Cavanillesia hylogeiton. Puka or puca is the word for “red” in Quechua. It is the most formidable tree from which a palero can learn and gain mastery. It requires a demanding diet in isolation over a period of many months. The power of this tree is used by both curanderos and sorcerers.
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Huairacaspi (Cedrelinga cataneiformis)

Ayahuasca cascabel (rattle) is a rare variety with very powerful effects. It gives visions in red and is used by shamans to heal and cleanse a person suffering from malign sorcery. (Source Pablo Amaringo: The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo).
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Jergon Sacha (Dracontium loretense / peruviuanum). The large tuber of the plant is a well known and effective antidote for the bite of venomous snakes.
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Chullachaqui caspi (Remijia peruviana).

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Palos: The roots, bark, and resin of trees (typically, the larger hardwood varieties), which are prepared and taken in the context of a diet. Shamans who specialize in these are known as paleros.

Catahua (Hura crepitans). is one of the strongest palos and its mastery requires a long and demanding diet. When boiled with tobacco, the resin provokes powerful dreams. Ajosquiro (Cordia alliodora), a tree that can be used for malevolent sorcery. A curandero must diet with this tree to learn its icaro in order to heal dano caused by sorcery. Muraya: A Shipibo term denoting one of the grades of a vegetalista. Pablo |Amaringo states that a muraya is an accomplished maestro with dominion over the subaquatic realm, and is able to live underwater.
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Bocachico (P. Nigricans)

Shaman: The term “shaman,” or in Peru chaman, originates from the Turkic Asiatic word šaman. The term “shaman” is a recent Western import into the Amazon in the past thirty years or so. In the Amazonian tradition there are many specializations and categories. The traditional generic term would be vegetalista, which denotes they have received their power from the plant kingdom. There are many sub-specializations of the vegetalista, for example: Palero: Specialist in the bark and roots of trees Perfumero: Specialist in the perfumes of plants and flowers Ayahuasquero: Specialist in ayahuasca Chontero: Specialist in chonta (darts)
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Chaicuni: ancestral spirits of the Shipibo

Cushma: A traditional, loose-fitting woven cotton tunic. A Shipibo cushma is usually white cotton decorated with Shipibo geometric patterns.
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Chaquira: Typically a necklace or bracelet made from small seeds or coloured beeds.

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