The Politics of Plant Magic: a Discussion of Knowledge Production and Knowledge Ownership in Peruvian Ayahuasca Tourism

7 Apr

I am delighted to preface this post with the exciting news that I’ve been invited to present my paper on how the Plague and Tuberculosis influenced morality and art at a conference hosted by the University of Newcastle in the summer!

Anyway, this isn’t that paper. This is the one I promised, on ayahuasca tourism which was accepted for publication with the Elphinstone Review in 2016. I hope you enjoy and I look forward to your feedback. I’ll go break the text up with pictures now.

The 1986 publication of the influential collection Writing Cultures: the Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, co-edited by J Clifford and G Marcus, signalled one of many turning points to come in the discipline of anthropological theory: understandings were challenged by the concept that not only are cultures and societies anything but stable, they are also under considerable influence by observing external parties. In an era of globalisation, one of these implicated parties has come to be the tourists who wish not only to view a culture but also to partake in its rituals. This essay will examine the effect tourist involvement is having on traditional authenticity and cultural ownership, with the example of ayahuasca tourism in the lowlands of Peru. The importance of this discussion is, however, not restricted to the perspectives of anthropological theory; tourist participation in ayahuasca ceremonies has had fatal consequences for tourists, thus showing the need for such a discussion among the anthropological, indigenous and tourist communities alike.

Ayahuasca is a psychedelic concoction produced in the northwestern regions of South America. The unique pharmacological combination of ayahuasca consists in the combination of Banisteriopsis caapi, a liana containing an MAO inhibitor named harmaline, and psychotria viridia leaves, which contain DMT. The human body’s natural production of MAO would, under normal circumstances, break down the vision-inducing DMT, yet with the introduction of harmaline into the blood stream, DMT can cross into the central nervous system and trigger the visions standard of ayahuasca intoxication. The indigenous groups who ritually ingest ayahuasca believe it “can free the soul from corporeal confinement. (…) The soul, thus untrammeled, liberates its owner from the realities of everyday life and introduces him to wondrous realms of what he considers reality and permit him to communicate with his ancestors” (Schultes, 2001: 124). Ayahuasca is prepared and administered to patients by a shaman known as an ayahuasquero, a position which is acquired through years of “strict apprenticeship” (Schultes, 2001: 127) involving, among others: a specific diet, expansive plant knowledge, and learning the icaros, sacred ceremonial songs which are sung during an ayahuasca intoxication and serve to guide the patients’ visions and spiritual journey[1].

Anthropologists have observed two dominant purposes for indigenous ingestion of ayahuasca. Firstly, it is employed as a “great medicine” (Schultes, 2001: 127) for “prophecy, divination, sorcery, and medical purposes” (Schultes, 2001:124). Its regular use has led to the observation that ayahuasca’s presence is “so deeply rooted in native mythology and philosophy that there can be no doubt of its great age as a part of aboriginal life” (Schultes, 2001: 124). This reinforces the understanding of ayahuasca as having a long-established tradition within the communities. Interestingly, its age and establishment has not led to a unified recipe for the production of ayahuasca; instead, “many plants of diverse families are often added to the basic drink to alter the intoxicating effects” (Schultes, 2001: 124), leading indigenous peoples to have different names for the variations. We see here that tradition remains fluid throughout groups and is subject to personal needs and preferences. Already in its creation, ayahuasca is a tradition with variation, essentially guaranteeing that each ayahasquero will produce a concoction of different ingredients and dosages.

Its second purpose lies in its role in society. Ethnobotanist Richard E. Schultes observed that “partakers, shamans or not, see all the gods, the first human beings, and animals, and come to understand the establishment of their social order” (Schultes, 2001: 127). Ayahuasca thus aids to justify and maintain the traditional construction of indigenous societies of the Amazon. While Western mentality is to overpower nature, ayahuasca intoxication teaches lessons in humility and respect: the visions frequently show jaguars and anacondas humiliating the person, “because he is a mere man” (Schultes, 2001: 126). Thus, we can conclude that while ayahuasca is undoubtably an instrument for social order, it is not one of control over nature. Instead, it is an instrument of revelation, highlighting the importance of man’s submission to nature.

This complex relationship is elaborated by Peruvian artist and ayahuasquero, Pablo Amaringo, as exceeding medicinal and socially-beneficial purposes. He identifies the concoction as: “a spirit, she is love, she is a teacher, and she is female” (Amaringo, 2011: 11). Lovingly called a ‘teacher plant’, ayahuasca is revered as the source of indigenous knowledge: “in the practise of traditional indigenous medicine, this is normal: plants teach” (Amaringo, 2011: 13). Plant knowledge is acquired through ingestion, which is understood to provoke both mental and physical changes in the human body, thereafter enabling a sick person to heal and cure others. Ayahuasca thus becomes a technology through which indigenous peoples minimise their distance to nature, “humanising it” (Ingold, 2000: 314) to the form of a guiding teacher and a protecting mother.

The ingestion of ayahuasca, however, is not without its side-effects. It is known to cause “nausea, dizziness, vomiting” (Schultes, 2001: 126). This standard demands a level of mental preparation for the effects, which can be terrifying to the unprepared tourist. Shamans usually recommend strict diets in preparation for ceremonial participation, including abstinence of alcohol and sexual activity. Preparation by following a strict diet serves to control the chemicals within the human body which could react negatively with the variety of plants included in the concoction.

Interestingly, globalisation has made ayahuasca ceremonies available around the world, so the high numbers of tourists willing to undertake the expensive journey to South America shows that the primary attraction is the desire for an authentic experience in the Amazon setting. The question is, of course, the effects commodification has on the authenticity of a ritual.

Whatever the political or social background of the tourists, their perception of indigenous peoples is often formed by an idealisation reminiscent of E.B Tylor’s perspectives of a unilinear evolution: as guardians of an original state of knowledge and harmony with the earth, which tourists have lost in the commodification and commercialisation of the West: “not only the plants, but the Amazonian peoples themselves are seen as spiritual and wise, and holding the answers to our problems” (Fotiou, 2010: 95-96). As knowledge production is one of the primary reasons for a tourist’s participation, we are reminded of Heath’s exploration of techno-eroticism as “being in sync with certain technological extensions of our mental-physical selves” (Heath, 1997). I suggest we call the tourist form of knowledge production ‘knowledge-eroticism’: the desire to belong to a group of ‘enlightened persons’, whose perception and understanding of the world has been expanded through the ingestion of ayahuasca. It is therefore understandable that knowledge is both the source of tourism, and the first to undergo changes.

The first change in knowledge production can be found in the technology of neoshamanism, defined as “a form of shamanism that has been created at the end of the 20th Century to re-establish a link for Westerners in search of spirituality and, thereby, renew contact with nature” (Jakobsen in Fotiou, 2010: 93). Neoshamanism has had the effect of transforming the social position of the ayahuasquero into a profession of “cultural capitalism” (Harry, 2006: 1): today, ayahuasca ceremonies are commodified in major tourist destinations around Peru at the price of “$700-$1500 a week’” (Proctor, 2001, in Fotiou, 2010: 119). This has, unfortunately, led to great competition and animosity between the locals, who seek to attract the highest number of tourists to their facilities. They will often resort to spreading rumours about their competitors, which can challenge the social construct of the society and certainly does not help in ensuring tourists make the safest choices when selecting a shaman.

The change of the ayahuasqero from a person of knowledge and social standing to one of providing a commodified service, transforms the very nature of knowledge production and knowledge owners – reminiscent of Sakai’s observation of molecular biologists: ayahuasqueros “are being turned into industrial workers” (Sakai in Heath, 1997). Their knowledge, no longer acquired through years of discipline and understanding, is now transmitted as quickly as possible as “received knowledge” (Sakai in Heath, 1997), leaving little room for personal expansion. The commodification process thus transforms knowledge and a former social status into a trade good, causing it to lose its original social values. Peruvian shaman Eduardo Calerdón goes so far as to call them “clowns in a New Age circus” (Joralemon 1990, in Fotiou, 2010: 135).

This will have two primary consequences for the shaman: firstly s/he may no longer be doing so for the purposes of healing or maintaining social order, but for economic gain: “(the number of shamans) has multiplied, not because of a search for knowledge but rather as a way to obtain money” (Arrévalo in Dobkins, 2005: 205); and secondly, not all shamans will have undergone the year-long processes to obtain knowledge, as either the demand for economic security, or the lack of genuine interest in plant knowledge, may not allow such a dedication: “before, if one wanted to be a shaman, one had to go on a diet for at least a year. Now, people don’t want to try to arrive at such a high level” (Arrévalo in Dobkins, 2005: 205). This is leading to a poverty in the once-rich ayahuasca tradition, where we must differentiate between ‘knowledge’ and ‘information’: information is the poverty of knowledge, wherein a Neoshaman may understand which plant to use, but not why or how: “it is up to (the shaman) to be able to keep the patient from going crazy. A person who is not in control of these energies can cause grave consequences to the patient” (Dobkins, 2005: 205).

As knowledge production undergoes changes, commercial shamans become aware of the tourist necessity for authenticity. This had led to an emphasis on the location of a ceremony: tourists will consider a jungle retreat or lodge the most authentic – which is ironic, as Fotiou’s research shows: “locals will drink (ayahuasca) in the city” (Fotiou, 2010: 136). Goffman’s structural division of social establishments into a ‘front’ and ‘back’ becomes applicable: the front as “the meeting place of hosts and guests or customers and service persons” (MacCannell, 1973: 590) is the ayahuasca ceremonial room; the back as “closed to audiences and outsiders, allows concealment of props and activities that might discredit the performance out front” (MacCannell, 1973: 590) is the place where the shamans may keep their daily materials (jeans, a can of Coke, etc) in order to conserve a state of mystification. Ironically, back rooms may not always be places of mystification, and are yet made inaccessible to tourists so as to imply secrets. This shows a fluidity between front and back rooms, with which local shamans freely play: rooms which will be given the appearance of being back rooms may in reality be front rooms of performance “totally set up in advance for touristic visitation” (MacCannell, 1973: 597). An example of this can be the residential home of the shaman’s family, or the location of ayahuasca preparation. For those who consider “the term ‘tourist’ (to be used) as a derisive label for someone who seems content with his obviously inauthentic experiences” (MacCannell, 1973: 592), accessing – or believing to be accessing – a back room will increase a tourist’s sense of authenticity in that “being ‘one of them’ means, in part, being permitted to share back regions with ‘them’” (MacCannell, 1973: 592).

Secondly, authenticity can be performed in the body habitus. As Mauss claims: “the body is man’s first and most natural instrument” (Mauss, 1992: 461). The body can be understood as a place of performance “of appearance, displace, and impression management” (Csordas, 1994: 2). How we dress is a performance on how we wish to be perceived and what social group we identify with. As Fotiou has observed, shamans of different ethnic groups will buy clothes with Shipibo symbols in local markets in order to perform authenticity (Fotiou, 2010: 136). Equally, tourists expect a shaman to wear clothes that is in line with their perspective of unilinear evolution, and would consider their experience less authentic should this performance be refused. This demonstrates that the performance by locals is expected by tourists.

However old the ayahuasca tradition may be, anthropological theory understands that traditions are in a constant and fluid state of invention and reinvention. As Hobsbawm examines, traditions may gain the garment of age through repetition, as this “implies continuity with the past” (Hobsbawm, 1997: 1). The effect this implication has is that the tourist will assume that due to its age and repetition, it is safe to consume. Yet the changes whereby a tradition becomes reinvented does not render the tradition inauthentic; in fact, if tradition is understood “to be an invention designed to serve contemporary purposes” (Hanson, 1989: 890), then the reinventions will show the changing purposes of that contemporary society. Tourists should not forget that a tradition may be reinvented because its predecessor was found to be unsafe, and that safety does not make an experience less authentic.

Hobsbawm argues that changes will occur more often “when a rapid transformation of society weakens or destroys the social patterns for which ‘old’ traditions had been designed” (Hobsbawm, 1997: 4). An example of such a transformation in our case would be the opening of cultural boundaries through globalisation, industrialisation in developing countries and a greater influx of tourists to formerly inaccessible areas. A reinvention will then “legitimate or sanctify some current reality” (Hanson, 1989: 890); in our case, the increased availability of ayahuasca to tourists. We could argue that this commodification renders the tradition inauthentic – but how can we know this to be true? Shamans have undoubtably always been paid for their services; albeit not with capitalist means, but an exchange will have undoubtably followed. In the quest for authenticity, we must understand that we cannot discard a tradition simply because it has obviously been invented; it is precisely the need for it to be invented, which makes this tradition interesting. Understanding that “producers of inventions are often outsiders (including anthropologists) as well as insiders” (Hanson, 1989: 898) allows us to acknowledge that while traditions are in a constant state of change, the aforementioned implicated parties will play a role in producing a new authentic tradition. Thus, when a tourist participates in an ayahuasca ceremony, it is their very expectation of an authentic experience which is changing the future authenticity of the ceremony. Their participation sets a norm for a new authenticity, which, in a few generations may become the undisputed form of ayahuasca ceremonies; and the what the tourist experienced today, may later be a discarded version of the tradition.

As individuals and communities meet the demand for ayahuasca by reinventing the tradition to the form of cultural capital, the question arises as to the ownership of this indigenous tradition. The effect of individuals handling a common good, in this case the necessary plants to create ayahuasca, can be discussed in reference to Hardin’s Tragedy of Commons, which states that “a finite world can support only a finite population” (Hardin, 1968: 1243). Ayahuasqueros and tourists alike must remain aware of the ecosystem’s sustainability of ayahuasca tourism, particularly if it continues as uncontrolled as at present. An ‘over-grazing’ of the commons could have devastating effects for tourism, livelihoods and the ecosystem alike. The question of restricting the use of ayahuasca to indigenous peoples, however, would not be accepted by the international community. At the Psychoactivity III Conference in 2002, Fotiou observed the consensus to be that Westerners should be not be restricted in their use of ayahuasca, as “these powerful plants give access to universal knowledge and are there for all humanity to use” (Fotiou, 2010: 140). The West may accept indigenous ownership, but certainly not a use restriction to indigenous peoples.

The fundamental question remains: who owns ayahuasca knowledge and may therefore make decisions on how to guard and distribute it? Hardin, in fact, proposes a solution of the common remaining public property but with an allocation of the right to enter. Implementing such a law on the Amazon, however, would discriminate shamans from poorer backgrounds who may be dependent on ayahuasca ceremonies for their income. Hardin’s further proposal of the common to be administered on a first-come first-serve basis would most likely lead to queues, bribery and over-population in some areas, and the illegal production of ayahuasca in others. Of course what is equally controversial is who may implement and be responsible for these changes. Governments are not always the most honest of custodians, raising the old question: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who shall watch the watchers themselves?” (Hardin, 1968: 1245-1246)

Activists and lawyers will demand an implementation of intellectual property law over ayahuasca, but unfortunately “intellectual property law does not make property out of culture in the same way as it makes property out of technical knowledge” (Leach, 2010: 159)[2]. There are Western-based bodies in place, offering protection of indigenous knowledge, such as World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Yet while international bodies may be in place to protect indigenous groups from bioprospecting[3], this case highlights the under-examined fact that bioprospecting also occurs from within the community. The difficulty is, of course, that indigenous peoples will claim ownership over land and their products: “if I tend a tree and it grows, then it is mine” (Leach, 2010: 133-134), and it is customary to make decisions concerning such produce with the family, and never individually: “everyone in the family must hear of it before we can sell to another. (…) It may be yours, but not yours alone” (Leach, 2010: 140). Often, this custom passed down through generations will have the social standing of a law, which is applicable to both tangibles, like the liana banisteriopsis caapi, as well as to intangibles such as the icaros and plant knowledge itself: “spirit voices were discovered in dreams by our ancestors. (…) If a dreamer wants to sell to another person, the whole family must hear and agree first” (Leach, 2010: 143). That knowledge is not restricted but will be passed down through generations is understood, but there is always a consideration of reimbursement for the group: “when you give this power (of plant knowledge) to a nephew or grandchild, he will be wealthy with food. So everyone must think and discuss what kind of payment they will be happy with in return” (Leach, 2010: 144). The issues therefore arises as to the definition of the ‘family’, and when a person or persons decides to make a sale without this family’s consent. The payment for knowledge ownership is defined as being beneficial to the family, so keeping it for personal gain may cause further social challenges.

In examples of bioprospecting in North America, tribes have been shown to win court cases based on their internal regulations and laws[4]. An internal organisation of sovereignty over cultural property is becoming mandatory. This demands, however, a unification between groups which may be one of the biggest challenges in the Amazon when we consider that throughout the research, groups have not taken responsibility for Neoshamans and their actions, nor shown any sign of creating commercial bonds with other groups. The changes brought about by the commercialisation of ayahuasca demand, on a whole, a new way of thinking from indigenous peoples: a consideration into intellectual property rights[5]. For many, this novel form of considering knowledge as property may signify a a fundamental change in their relationship to ancestral knowledge[6], which may have further unknown effects. These changes may best be undertaken by the group, as they decide how to face the new era.

Finally, this knowledge should be made available to tourists wishing to make intelligent decisions on how to partake in ayahuasca rituals. Ethnobotanical research has long shown certain forms of ayahuasca can have a lethal reaction to chemicals in the human body: “if the tourist has taken other pills, even an antibiotic, yet another toxicity can poison him and even cause a cardiac arrest or other symptoms” (Calderón in Dobkins, 2005: 205). As previously shown, ingredient choices vary depending on the shaman, so the skipping or misinforming of the preparatory diet may have fatal consequences for the tourist. Unfortunately, this can be the case when a shaman has not undergone the traditional apprenticeship, for reasons explained above. Yet throughout the research, shamans have placed the responsibility for ceremonial consequences on the tourist, and not on their fellow shamans. This may be out of a variety of reasons: a lack of kinship between shamans, perhaps due to the magnitude of the Peruvian nation, the lack of technological communication between groups, and the diversity of languages between groups; that traditional shamans do not consider the Neoshamans their ‘fellows’; or that these ceremonies are simply not meant for tourism, and the tourists are ingesting ayahuasca at their own risk. Whatever the reason, the responsibility is placed upon the tourist: “when I asked Pablo if he had any advice for Westerners wanting to learn from ayahuasca, he said that the quality of the shaman was paramount and it was preferable to work with an indigenous one” (Cloudsley in Amaringo: XIV). How a tourist, who is new to the country and is faced with competitors spreading rumours about one another, is meant to ensure the quality of their shaman, he does not say.

In the vicious cycle created by the commercialisation of ayahuasca, we see that more must be undertaken from the indigenous community in terms of responsibility for Neoshamans, control over knowledge ownership and what constitutes traditional ayahuasca authenticity. This must be done not only for the conservation of an integral aspect of their culture, but also for the preservation of tourist lives. A dialogue between indigenous groups and tourists is of great need, and it will benefit greatly from the active participation of the anthropological community.

Bibliography & Footnotes

Amaringo, P., Charing H. G., & Cloudsley P. (2011) “The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo”. Vermont, Inner Traditions.

 

Brown, M. (2003) “Who Owns Native Culture?” Massachusetts, Harvard University Press.

 

Csordas, Thomas J (1994) “’Introduction: the Body as Representation and Being-In-the-World’ in Embodiment and Experience. The Existential Ground of Culture and Self” (ed). Thomas J. Csordas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 1 – 24

 

Dobkins de Rios, M. (2005) “Interview with Guillermo Arrévalo, a Shipibo Urban Shaman, by Roger Rumrril”. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Vol. 37 (2), pp. 203 – 207

 

Hanson, A. (1989) “The Making of the Maori: Culture Invention and its Logic”. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 91, No. 4, pp. 890 – 902

 

Hardin, G. (1968) “The Tragedy of Commons”. American Association for the Advancement of Science, New Series, Vol. 162, No. 3859, pp. 1243 – 1248

 

Harry, D. & Kanehe, L., (2006) “Asserting Tribal Sovereignty over Cultural Property: Moving Towards Protection of Genetic Material and Indigenous Knowledge”. Seattle Journal for Social Justice, Vol. 5, Issue 1, pp. 27 – 66

 

Heath, Deborah (1997) “’Bodies, Antibodies, and Modest Interventions’ in Cyborgs & Citadels: Anthropological Interventions in Emerging Sciences and Technologies” (eds). Gary Lee Downey & Joseph Dumit. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, p. 67 – 82

 

Hobsbawm, E. & Ranger, T. (1997) “The Invention of Tradition”, Chapter 1: “Introduction: Inventing Traditions” by E. Hobsbawm. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Fotiou, E. (2010) “From Medicine Men to Day Trippers: Shamanic Tourism in Iquitos, Peru”. Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 

Leach, J. & Nombo, P. (2010) “Reite Plants: An Ethnobotanical Study in Tok Pisin and English”. Asia-Pacific Environment Monograph 4.

 

Linnekin, J. (1991) “Cultural Invention and the Dilemma of Authenticity”. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 93, No 2, pp. 446 – 449.

 

MacCannell, D. (1973) “Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings”. University of Chicago Press, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 79, No. 3, pp. 589 – 603

 

Mauss, Marcel (1992) “’Techniques of the Body’ in Incorporations” (eds). Jonathan Crary & Sanford Kwinter. New York: Zone, p. 455 – 477

 

Schultes, R. E., Hofmann, A. & Rätsch, C. (2001) “Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic Powers”. Vermont, Healing Arts Press. Pp. 124 – 139

[1] The biography Wizard of the Upper Amazon: the Story of Manuel Córdova-Ríos by Frank Bruce Lamb depicts the path of the ayahuasca apprenticeship, as well as the encyclopedic knowledge which a shaman must master before being able to cal himself an ayahuasqero.

[2] In his book “Reite Plants: an Ethnobotanical Study in Tok Pisin and English”, anthropologist J. Leach explains why they published a book that would become an object whose idea could be used without infringing on the author and Reite copyright. He clearly debated the issues of whether such knowledge should be compiled and made available to a wider public. This shows the anthropologist’s hesitation of ethnobotany being used as a tool for theft, and shows a wider hesitation and scepticism of freely passing on knowledge.

[3] An example: “In 1991 Costa Rica’s National Biodiversity Institute (INBio) signed a contract with the pharmaceutical giant Merck that allowed the latter to search for medically useful compounds in exchange for immediate compensation, transfer of sophisticated equipment, training of Costa Rican scientists, and participation in any future royalties” (Brown, 2003: 100)

[4] “Under the United States Supreme Court’s 1981 decision in Montana v. United States (…), the Court held that tribes retain inherent sovereign power to exercise civil jurisdiction over non-Indians in two circumstances. First, ‘a tribe may regulate through taxation, licensing, or other means, the activities of nonmembers who enter consensual relationships with the Tribe or its members, through commercial dealing, contracts, leases or other arrangements’. Second, ‘a tribe may also retain inherent power to exercise civil authority over the conduct of non-Indians on fee lands within the reservation when that conduct threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, the economic security, or the health or welfare of the tribe’.” (Harry, 2006: 40)

[5] And the knowledge that once this expires, the knowledge will enter the public domain and will thereafter no longer belong to a certain group: “While the offer of some benefit back may be appealing, the tribes should consider that there could be some unanticipated impacts from benefit-sharing arrangements. For example, once IPR (Intellectual Property Right) protection expires, the protected subject matter goes into public domain. Once released into the public domain, the Indigenous knowledge is no longer considered tribal property, and, consequently, the tribe loses the ability to control its use because it is considered public knowledge” (Harry, 2006: 53)

[6] “(The action of participating in the commercialization of their Indigenous knowledge) is likely to sever the historic relationship the tribe previously had with aspects of its cultural heritage because ‘to sell it is necessarily to bring the relationship to an end’” (Harry, 2006: 53)

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2 Responses to “The Politics of Plant Magic: a Discussion of Knowledge Production and Knowledge Ownership in Peruvian Ayahuasca Tourism”

  1. Alessa April 8, 2018 at 9:12 am #

    Thanks for sharing, Ritti. Are there also issues of cultural appropriation related to Aya tourism? I feel that you’ve alluded to it a couple of times, but obviously it’s somewhat secondary to the other issues discussed. Excellent paper.

    The question of who owns culture is of interest, and was an unexpected link to some of my own areas of research.

  2. Fine April 21, 2018 at 3:47 am #

    Shipibo-Konibo shamans usually accept anyone who is willing to pay as their apprentice (outside members of their own family). They might even suggest to a foreigner that he would make a great shaman, just to keep the person hooked. Indigenous shamans often don’t feel responsible for their ‘patients’ , as mentioned in the article, and when problems occur, it becomes very obvious that the indigenous community holds different values than the average tourist. But with no government or greater public in the country feeling responsible for them, who could blame them? When a family manages to improve their economic situation, they usually send their kids to professional training or even university, the younger generation clearly doesn’t aim at making a quick buck as a shaman, but on integrating society on a more conventional way (and still honoring their indigenous roots in most cases). Offering Ayahuasca as a means to an income is probably not a sustainable choice anyways.

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