Saturday, March 14, 2009


Peru is the land of Ayahuasca. (Ah-ya-waash-kaw) Being a student of anthropology since childhood, I have always been fascinated by primitive or indigenous peoples, especially those of the Americas. Over the years, I have intertwined both socially and religiously with numerous indigenous peoples of both North and South America. Two of my most memorable experiences have been with members of the Cheyenne Nation in West Central Oklahoma, and with the Shuar Indians of Eastern Peru.

I have never smoked marijuana or taken any hard drugs such as heroin, meth, or powdered cocaine. My experience with drugs has been limited to tobacco and alcohol as a younger man. I heard people speak of how marijuana caused them to relax and be mellow; hell, I never wanted to be “chill out.” I have always wanted to burn my candle at both ends just to see what I might have missed if I had been rubbernecking in the slow lane. Once I was associated with some members of the Wycliffe Bible Translators School, I was trying to learn some indigenous Native American languages. They had numerous teachers from different tribes, but two elderly Cheyenne women took a liken to me and tutored me in particular. Both had been hired as a teacher by the Wycliffe Bible Translators to teach their (Cheyenne) native language. We became close friends, and I spend many hours with the two wonder ladies after classes talking about ‘The People’ as they called themselves, and listening to their fascinating stories. One of the women named Minnie, told me stories about her father who at 16 years old had fought as a Dog Soldier at the Battle of Little Big Horn against General George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Calvary. Both of these women were members of the Southern Cheyenne Indian tribe, and both lived at the time near Lawton and Fort Sill in Comanche County, Oklahoma. They were wonderful women whom I grew to love.

I was living in an apartment just off campus and late one Friday evening Minnie Bearbow, Jeannette Howling Crane, her husband, and some others visited my apartment. Minnie said that I was going to be adopted by her, and Jeannette's grandson. The two Cheyenne Grandmothers cleansed me in a ceremonial ritual. I was sweated so to say, as the smoke from smoldering green Juniper branch [leaves] were ceremoniously rubbed over my skin. There were numerous songs, and I was told always to keep a piece of green in my house refereeing to a plant, flower, branch of a tree, etc. to ward off evil. “Death does not like green things,” I was told. I was given a new name, and then I participated in another religious ceremony where hallucinogenic drugs were used. The husband of Jeanette Howling Crane, who was considered a healer fed me a small dried bud of Peyote Cactus during a night of stories and celebration.

Outside of the Peyote Cactus, bud the most powerful, hallucinogenic I had ever taken until I accepted the brew of Ayahuasca from a Shuar Shaman in Peru. A Peruvian woman who refers to me as her sons arbitrated my relationship with the Shuar Indian Shaman. In the community, she is known as a “Bruja” (brew-ha) or witch. That is not a bad name as she processes powers that I sometime find hard to explain. She has a vast knowledge of leaves, plants, trees, and other medicinal herbs that abound in the Amazon jungle around Iquitos, Peru. She also had led me on a journey into the world that I had never experienced, stories and sometimes-secret rituals that most locals and especially outsiders will never experience. In another story here, I relate how a necklace strung with teeth from the Pink Amazonian Dolphin almost killed me. When the subject of Ayahuasca came up, she said she was not able to perform the ritual, but knew of a Shuar Shaman that she trusted.

Shuar Indians, are one of the four sub-groups that make up the Jivaroan tribes that formerly inhabited the Amazon Rain Forest of Eastern Ecuador, and Northwestern Peru. The other three sub-dialects or groups were the Ashuar, Huambisa, and the Aguaruna. Of these four sub-groups of the Jivaroan tribes, the Shuar were more commonly referred to as the notorious headhunter of South America. They are the “Jivaro Indians“ of legends. Their notoriety for shrinking the heads of the people they killed, and their ferocity in battle have made them larger than life in modern history. They were intensely warlike and protective of their territories, unwilling to subordinate themselves to the Inca rulers, or any other tribes. They successfully revolted against the Spanish Conquistadors that conquered most all of South America.

As a young man, I owned two of the finest shrunken heads that I have ever seen now or before. They came from Eastern Ecuador, and had long flowing black hair and were superb examples of the Jivaro skills of shrinking human heads. In the mid-1970’s, I talked at length with a man of great power who had taken over 36 heads in his earlier more violent life. He had found the Lord Jesus Christ via the Wycliffe Bible Translators, and had given his life to Jesus Christ leaving the old ways behind. He was, however, fond of talking about the old ways and through an interpreter explained the intricacies of removing a human head and the process used in shrinking it. That also is for another story.

Most indigenous peoples of the Amazon hold Ayahuasca in the highest regard, feeling that it a sacred plant, and show deep respect in its use. They believe the plant is imbued with a spirit that is alive, and one that can speak to them when they drink the Ayahuasca drink. These people are not seeking to use the Ayahuasca as a recreational drug, or for mystical arousal, but more to enlighten the spiritual being within themselves. They do not use the drink to find their inner-selves or trip out on an interpersonal kaleidoscope. Any Shaman, who is worth his salt knows that Ayahuasca has a higher calling as it is the matrix that brings the soul closer to what every man is seeking knowledge of his surrounding. Knowledge of his being in relationship to the animals of the forest, the human being he is in contact with daily, and what ails us all in our minds the fight between good and evil. It is to be taken in a spiritual moment when the truths of your inner self will be revealed. Only then can the fears and the desires that cloud our subconscious finally be set free.

My adopted Mother send out the word that she wanted the help of the trusted Shaman. She held him in deep respect for his knowledge of the Ayahuasca. These men are sometimes referred to as Ayahuasqueros, or Curanderos as well as the more common name of Shaman.

The man came to my mother’s house, and all of the people who were there had to leave. Only my mother and one other female member of the family were allowed to stay in the room with me. The old man began with a series of short chants, all the time smoking a rather large cigarette, and occasionally he would blow the stout smelling smoke in my face. Even with his moving around and the occasional chant, the cigarette burnt with a long ash but did not drop off. Finally, he gently offered me the cigarette all the time holding it between his fingers. I took a long draw, almost choking on the pungent smoke. He looked once more at the long ash, dropped it at my feet, and instructed me to grind the ash into the dirt floor.

“You will live long,” He said in Spanish.

Before the ceremony had begun, I removed my street clothes and wearing only a pair of bathing trunks, a T-shirt, and sandals that I had with me. I sat on a woven grass mat that had been spread on the room’s dirt floor. It began to grow dark inside the house, the last burning rays of the sun were being drowned by the lushness of the jungle. The only light in the room was from a wick-lamp that sat on a small table. The fumes its burning wick gave off smelled of kerosene and helped to ward off the hordes of mosquitoes that would inevitably arrive once the sun was fully set. A younger man entered the room and set a clear plastic pitcher on a small four-legged stool, and left the room without saying a word. The Shuar Shaman poured a drink, and handed me the dark brew in a plastic drinking glass, and indicated for me to drink it all. The taste of the Ayahuasca was earth, slightly bitter to my taste and it was strenuous to swallow. I flinched slightly and gagged at the taste. The only thought that went through my head at that moment was “What the hell have I done.” Here I am in the middle of the Amazon jungle sitting almost naked in a room that is a lifetime from any form of modern medical help drinking something that is made from plants that are also used to make one of the most deadly poison on earth; Curare!

I tried to smile; the Shaman began singing a monotones chant. My stomach churned, I felt nauseated, there was bitterness in my mouth, and an acidity in my stomach that caused me to lay on my side hoping for some relief. I did not want to close my eyes as the room began to spin like when you over indulgent alcohol. I had thoughts of dying from the actions that I had just taken by drinking the narcotic concoction. I felt lethargic, more nauseous, yet there was inclusiveness in my widening experience. My heart seemed to become less intense or vigorous as I felt its beating slacken inside my chest. My head appears to be faint, with a tingling sensation almost as if it were asleep. The sensation you get when you lay on your arm or leg wrong, and it goes to sleep. I could feel the blood draining from my head; it trickled and gurgled like a kitchen drain. My recollections of time, space, and reality were slowly vanishing.

Time seemed to no longer have any relevance as the narcotic coursed through my bloodstream activating even more of my senses. I was conscious of a numbness growing on my face, the outer layer of my skin, and into my fingers, but the sensation was one of pleasure. I was a sensation like someone gently running their fingertips over my body. The room seemed to draw dark, and I saw sparkling of tiny lights floating like firefly across the floor. My guts began to burn with acidity; pain came in spasms. I felt the sensation you have just before falling into that deep form of REM-sleep. I started to float above myself but jerked violently as I dreamt I was falling off the edge of a bed from the sensation. I looked down to see my body coiled up in a fetal position with three darkened figures sitting around me. This was the beginning of my hallucinogenic experience that produced a series of phantasmagoric phenomena that manifested from sheer beauty to screaming terror, and then to unimaginable tranquility and peace.

I flew over the tops of the jungle in swooping dips and rolling spirals, skimming the tops of huge trees. I felt the air rushing through my hair that was long and dark like the people who looked up at me from the ground. I hung in the clouds and sat with my feet on the edge of one and looked at the land below passing underneath my perch. I saw a beautiful waterfall that crashed in slow motion into a deep emerald-blue pool. The next thing I remember was the cold spray on my skin as I flew so close to the falling water. The water crashed down on the face of the mountain not making any noise. I found myself climbing higher and higher in the sky until I was soaring with two large Condors. They took me to the snow-capped mountains and showing me beautiful valleys and an ancient city of pure gold hidden in the jungle. We flew over a beautiful pyramid, and circled it numerous times, before taking turns plunging towards the top of the tower in death defining tumbles before each of us landed gently on its top. One of the Condors said I could never tell anyone where the city of gold was, but I could come anytime I wanted and visit. The other Condor warned me of my faith if I every told anyone and said it was time to foretell what was to come.

Instantly I felt sheer terror as I fell uncontrollably end over end. I wanted it to be a dream, but I knew that this was not a dream as I plunged into a lagoon of dark water that smelled of sewage. I fought to reach the surface of the water. I choked on the taste as I struggled for air. Suddenly I saw something with a giant green head and red horns coming directly towards me; it was a huge snake. I thought if I do not move he would not see me, even though he was only a few feet in front of me and looking directly into my eyes. I felt helpless and began to scream for help. I remember vomiting. I choked on my vomit as it was not liquid, but a bundle of even smaller snakes which started to unwind and entwined themselves into separate balls. I recoiled but was not able to stand or get off the floor where I lay. I became paralyzed with fear not fully understanding where I was or what was going on. I think my eyes were dilated, as everyone in the room was blurry; I saw my mother as she reached forward to wipe my face.

I lapsed as the big snake told me to look at the squirming bundle of smaller snakes; I felt a calmness come over me. The snakes began to unwind, and their heads took on the faces of people whom I had known. Some were strangers, and I asked the snake who they were. The big snake indicated that those smaller snakes on the far side of the room away from me were my enemies and that I should never trust these people no matter what they promised or offered. He said they would harm you, betray you, use you, and abhor you for your gifts. Then drawing the remaining snake together within its coils I heard it speak again; these are your friend. Some of them you know and some you do not know. All of them will come and go into your life, and some will lay down their lives for you and you for them.

The smaller snakes on the far side of the room were vipers that snapped hissed, and bite at each other. The big snake with the orange strips over its head opened his mouth, and the vipers withered before fading into ashes; he consumed them. The other snakes nearest me that had been inside the giant snakes coils morphed into beautiful lights that glowed and flashed in fantastic patterns. I wanted to hold the lights in my hands, but they all had disappeared. I looked back, and I was alone floating above myself one more, and all the snakes were gone; my nausea increased.

I vomited once more and then rolled over on my back and watched as vivid colors, fantastic sights, and extraordinarily shapes raced before me. I felt something close to me and then I could feel its breath on my skin. A magnificent and beautiful Jaguar stood close to me, yet I was not afraid. "Come with me." she said, and we were instantly walking through the jungle where she showed me many things. We ran, jumped, and played hid and seek. I could jump over huge logs, and dart off the side of trees and disappear into the thickets. Finally, I said that I was exhausted and the two of us lay down in the grass alongside a clear mountain stream. “You are the kind man,” she said licking my face. Instantly once more I was lying on the woven grass mat in the room, she next to me, we both fell into a deep sleep.

That was the last of the truly bizarre dreams that I had. I awoke about eight o’clock the following morning by myself still lying on the grass mat. It seemed that I had vomited my weight. I became nauseated at the smell of vomit and urine; it was unpleasant, to say the least. I rolled over on my side and tried to push myself to my feet. I lost my balance, I felt shaky, my head was light, my chest, and guts hurt, and when I looked at my arms and legs, they seemed ashen. My hands shook and when I tried to stand I stumbled hitting the wall causing my mother to come rushing into the room. She put her arm around my shoulders, and she helped me to an area where the family bathed under a shed in the back of the house. A 55-gallon barrel that was full of cold rainwater awaited me. A bar of soap lay next to it on a small shelf. My mother helps me to a small hardwood stool where I sat down. She pulled my foul smelling T-shirt and bathing trunks off, and taking a large washcloth began washing my body clean.

Putting on dry clean clothes, I still felt faint. I sat at the kitchen table and tried to sip some Inca Cola, but found the taste unpleasant even though it is one of my favorite drinks. I ate a few spoons of rice and gagged down a piece of cold chicken I had trouble sitting upright; I make my way to the bed with help, and lying down I fell into a deep sleep. I dreamt of many things; it was all pleasant.

That evening I awoke with a ravenous appetite and extremely thirsty. I seemed as if I could not drink enough fluids to satisfy my thirst. We decided to get something to eat. I was still weak, but as I rode with my Peruvian mother and my adopted Peruvian brothers.   The air seemed to smell fresher, the sky was bluer, the Amazon River looked more magnificent, and as we traveled down the boulevard that was lined with beautiful Palm trees, I hear many new and strange voices.

Newt Livesay

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