Secrets of the Amazon Shamans
By Michael Peter Langevin
Indigenous peoples of the Amazon jungle are disappearing faster than the jungle itself. It is not easy to generalize about these people living in the Amazon. Like our entire planet, the Amazon is a land whose people are undergoing rapid transformation.
In 1700 there were estimated to be in excess of 100,000 native people living tribally in their traditional ways. In 2006 there were estimated to be 10,000 or less living tribally.
Multitudes of people of every nationality have moved into the Amazon for a multitude of reasons — some for mining, oil, cattle ranching and plantation maintenance, yet many only move there because they can buy, or even in some countries, homestead a piece of land.
These newcomers are amazingly often turning to the local ancient tribal knowledge and ways of living as reliable guides to coexisting with the Amazon jungle. All Amazon residents are not shamans, or healers, or even believers in the old ways. Yet there are many who are and live magically.
Much of the ancient knowledge of the indigenous people handed down for generations is being lost. The lungs of our planet are being deforested and the guardians raped and tortured, yet to travel there and meet these people, one only has to be impressed with their joy and ability to adapt, accept and live from their open hearts.
The very first time I visited the Amazon in Peru, was in 1974 and I was overwhelmed by how heart centered, generous and sincere the Amazon people were compared to Europeans and North Americans. I have returned often since and travel widely.
Latin American people vary from country to country, and region to region. However in many ways they are predominately more connected to the earth and nature. They view the world more as a magical miracle-filled place, value other people and each moment of their lives, and are willing and able to work with whatever they can get to make the most of their circumstances.
There is a realness and a non-speakable knowing in the Amazon, bizarre and
uncomfortable, however when appreciated, it is enriching and more life affirming
than any other world view I have ever encountered. I’ve been blessed to be
exposed to many powerful, wise and knowledgeable people who practice what we
would call magic or Shamanism.
What follows was one especially wild experience I had.
The Roundhouse, Snuff and little people
The villagers greeted my family and escorted us to the village’s main structure where most of the people live and work. When we entered this Roraima-Amazonas-Yanomami tribe’s roundhouse, I was struck by the circular dwelling about half the size of a football field. In the center, the roof was cut away and you could look up and see the sky. The rain, insects, and everything else would come in and out as they pleased.
Certainly, this was not your average dwelling. There were women all around in red dresses with black seed necklaces. The men wore a variety of shorts, pants, waistbands, or the traditional penis-holding waist ties. It was just before sunset and most of the people lay about or sat in hammocks. The men were sitting, quietly carving different works in wood. There were children all about, most of them playing in the dirt.
The Roraima-Amazonas-Yanomami are one of the largest surviving tribal groups in the Amazon. This group is well known for their fierce competitive nature, and take their revenge on those who have attacked them. This factor and their isolation in the northeast sector of the Amazon may be why they have maintained their independence and population numbers.
A small, elderly man came towards me and took me by the hand. Our interpreter let me know this was Ijaraka, the roundhouse’s head Shaman. Ijaraka said he knew why I had come, which was amazing because besides meeting them and learning their unique healing ways I was unsure why we had come.
He brought us to his portion of the roundhouse, where he reached up into the thatched rafters and by a wall, he took down a long bamboo tube. Ijaraka was probably in his eighties, with an ancient face and an infectious smile. Being in his presence just made you want to please him. He wore only one of those penis-holding waist belts and had sticks protruding from his elongated ears.
We had gotten used to some strange folks, however, Ijaraka was extremely unique. He sat down and poured a reddish-grey powder out of a small bag and onto a banana leaf. He offered it to me and said, “Yopo” — the Spanish word for snuff.
All at once I was getting uncomfortable. I had heard about the hallucinogenic snuff these people use, but had not expected it would be offered to me. I attempted to decline, but Ijaraka had decided that I had come for knowledge and here was an opportunity for some.
I looked at my wife. She just laughed and said, “Here we go again, you have it written in your aura that you want to try the most intense experiences you can find. Well, go ahead but try not to get too crazy.” An understanding wife is truly the best partner a man can have!
The Yanomamo Indians who live on the Brazil-Venezuela borders use this hallucinogenic snuff called Yopo or epena. To them snuff is the ultimate medical tool, allowing them direct access to the spirit world where they believe all healing originates.
Ijaraka poured the powder into the bamboo tube and placed the end in my right nostril. Then he blew hard, so hard in fact that I lost my balance and fell over backwards. As I picked myself up, I felt very hot, especially in my nose, sinuses, and head. Then the heat seemed to begin spreading all over my body. My nose was running profusely and the crown of my head began to bang as if I had a tequila hangover.
Meanwhile, Ijaraka refilled the tube with more of this heavy-duty snuff. I tried to say no thanks, but before I could stop him, he put it up to my left nostril and blew again. Once again, I was literally blown off my feet. This time, it felt like he had blown the snuff straight into my heart and the base of my spine — right into my very essence.
My heart was beating so fast that it scared me more than just a little. My head hurt so bad I was unable to think. I saw someone blowing the Yoko into Ijaraka’s nose. At that point, my vision started getting weird. I could only see out of the corner of my eyes and there were little Amazonian Indian-like people floating all around me, dancing and diving in and out of my chest.
Then Ijaraka put the pipe back to my nose two more times. After the fourth blast, my vision became normal and I could hear and smell acutely. Many of the people had stopped what they were doing and were now gathered around me, broad smiles painting their faces.
I smiled back and the act of smiling seemed to explode my head and set my throat on fire. I grabbed my head to make sure it was still attached to my shoulders. It was then that another older man began massaging my shoulders, neck, and head. This second Shaman, Lantrel, was radiating healing energies into me. My pain vanished and I felt wonderful.
Like superman, I was hyper-aware of everything. There were many bugs in the roundhouse. I felt completely connected to all of the insects and all the people. I realized why the world was troubled. No one could see it as clearly as I could at that moment. No one could see all the subtle wonders these people knew intimately.
I also felt a deep connection to the fierce energy and reputation of the Roraima-Amazonas-Yanomami people. They had a fearless willingness to fight to the death for what they knew in their hearts was important. I was sure I could help the world to be set right, if only I could share these incredible insights.
Walking to the center of the roundhouse, I looked up through the opening at the sky. I saw birds fly by and rain clouds pass overhead. This was the answer. To be connected and aware of all existence, however small or large.
I walked back and sat down by Ijaraka. I asked about the little people that kept popping into my sight. Ijaraka replied, “They are Hekura, the spirits of the forest. Usually they live in the jungle and the chests of Shamans. But some are interested in living in your chest and traveling with you.”
I said that I loved the Hekura and that they were welcome to stay in my chest. He laughed and told me this was a great honor that many Shaman never receive. I was told to talk with them and to use their magic often. I promised Ijaraka I would.
Now many people were snorting the pipe. It was all making perfect sense — there was a healing about to take place. A young girl was suffering from a rather crouplike cough. The shamans gave her some snuff, and then took some themselves. Soon after, they began singing and waving their hands over her.
Lantel, who had lessened my headache, grasped her throat and began to massage it. The other people who had done the snuff were gathered around, singing or humming healing songs. Others were dancing and some attacking the Hekura, a few by swinging machetes. It seemed to me like an amazingly well-orchestrated Amazon ballet telling a mysterious story. At some point in the midst of all this, I received a few more blasts of the Yopo which caused me to pass out.
Too much of a good thing, I suppose. As I often had on this trip, I awoke in a hammock as the sun was rising. My family was asleep in hammocks all around me. I had slept for about eight hours, then arose slowly, still feeling wonderful, smart, and strong, but no longer high or altered.
Hekura is what the Roraima-Amazonas-Yanomami call their little magical helpers who live in the jungle. They are able to see them only after inhaling their snuff, which is the primary reason why they use it. Epena is the name of this snuff, which is made from Amazon flora and is highly hallucinogenic. Ijaraka told me the next day that snuff is from Amazon trees called nyakwana, which turns out to be a relative of the nutmeg family.
He showed me how he cuts strips off the bark and peels them off the tree, making sure to leave enough bark for the tree to continue growing. Then the inner bark is scraped off and boiled in a pot containing the smallest possible amount of water. Remaining bark is held over the fire until red sap sizzles out into the pot. When no more can be dripped out, the other two plants are added — Amaasi to make it smell better, and Mashohara to make the snuff stronger.
The mixture is then heated until all the moisture is completely cooked out. The crusty, reddish-grey substance is then crushed into a powder and put into a small pouch for later use. There is a second snuff shared that night and is also frequently used by the Roraima-Amazonas-Yanomami people. This snuff helps in improving and hypersensitizing one’s hearing. It is called hisiomi and is made by drying and crushing a member of the legume family. Taken together, these snuffs give the user a unique perspective of reality.
My book, “Secrets of The Amazon Shamans,” has more detailed stories of the Amazon jungle taken from some of my return trips, and includes many techniques on how to use the spiritual beliefs and rituals of the Amazon Shamans to improve your life and the world. This article was meant to give some insights into the people of the Amazon and their magic.
I have worked hard to keep my promises made to the Inca Gods and Godessess on my first visit to South America in 1974. I have adopted two children from Latin America. I continue working to find new ways to bring forth much of the Amazonian and Latin American spirituality, knowledge and heart-centered culture which I believe can save our world, if we will allow it to.
“Secrets of the Amazon Shamans” is another step in assisting people to focus
their imaginations and lives on co-creating a positive Golden Age on Earth in
spite of the political and economic trials that surround us today.
See Michael Peter Langevin at the Learning Light Foundation, 1212 E Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, CA, August 19, 7-9 p.m. Tel: (714) 533-2311. The Bodhi Tree, 8585 Melrose Ave., W. LA, CA, August 20, 3-5 p.m. Tel: (310) 659-4428.
Michael Peter Langevin is CEO of CSI Media Corp., which publishes Magical Blend, Natural Beauty & Health and Transitions Magazines. His books “Secrets of the Ancient Incas,” “Secrets of the Amazon Shamans,” and “Spiritual Business” are available at www.michaelpeterlangevin.com, in bookstores and Amazon.com. He is one of the featured speakers of the 2012: Your Choice Symposium sponsored by Magical Blend Magazine and TOSA, to be held in Santa Fe, NM September 29-October 1, 2006.
Return to the July/August Index page