Ayahuasca with the Shipibos, Peru

Last month I did an Ayahuasca diet with a shaman from the Shipibo tribe near Pucallpa and Yarinacocha in the Peruvian Amazonas. There are many traditions of shamanism and many native people in the Amazonas use this plant since thousands of years but the Shipibos are considered the masters of Ayahuasca. Shipibo shamans use special songs called Icaros to cure people and during the ceremony only songs and sounds are used, no instruments. The shaman or maestro (master of the plant) sings his special songs to all or to an individual person, with certain meanings, for protection and for healing.

Thru coincidences and a lot of good luck I found an older and well-respected shaman called Benjamin Ochavano Mahua in Yarinacocha. He is the curandero (healer) for his tribe, so a lot of native Shipibo people come to his ceremonies when they are sick or posessed by bad spirits. His canadian apprentice, Miguel, who studied with him since 8 years helped me a lot with translating and explaining what was going on, as well as with his infective laugh. I decided to do a dieta with them, which means that I drank Ayahuasca every second day, three times a week, and that I had to follow certain restrictions on food, not eat in a 24h period on the days of the ceremony, no sex, no alcohol and I was not allowed to drink water on the days after the ceremony until noon (which was the hardest part).

Ayahuasca is a thick brown brew of mainly two plants, the vine Ayahuasca, which acts as an MAO-inhibitor, and a leave Chakruna, which contains the psychoactive ingredient DMT. It tastes awful and usually makes people vomit and causes diarrhea, which is not pleasant, but part of the cleaning and healing process. It also gives intense hallucinations, visions, spiritual insights and healing.

We gathered in the wooden house of the shaman in the evening, everyone got a thin mattress and a bucket. I got introduced and the wife of the shaman immediately gave me my Shipibo name: “Yuibuso”. The children, grandchildren and other people went in and out of the hut and the noise of the neighbourhood came in from outside. Ignoring all the chaos around, Benjamin, the maestro, slowly started to whistle and whisper to a plastic bottle full of Ayahuasca. After about half an hour he finished and offered the first cup to Miguel, who tried it.

– “Que tal? (How is it?)”
– “Dulce, mas o menus… (Sweet, more or less…)
– Hahaha (laughing)

I got the second cup, then everyone else who wanted to drink in the circle of about 15 to 20 people. After that the light was turned off and a quiet time of about one hour started, where everybody lied back, relaxed and waited for the effect. At some point the maestro started to sing, starting from a whisper or whistling and progressing into all kinds of sounds and pitches, sometimes very soft and melodious, sometimes very rythmical. Other people joined in or started to sing their own songs and it created a harmonious whole. This was the blessing part of the ceremony, and the song was ment to give blessings and protection to everyone present. After singing like this for maybe one or two hours, Miguel went around and blowed Aqua Florida (something like a watery perfume smelling like flowers) on the top of the head and the hands of everyone. This passes the blessing from the maestro and is a form of cleaning. After this the maestro and Miguel went around and sang to each of the participants individually for a long time. He diagnosed a women next to me with cancer, gave her dietary instructions and offered to prepare a plant medicine for her. Some time around 04:00 AM he was finished and everyone fell asleep; at sunrise he waked us up and we left. I did not feel any effect of the Ayahuasca in the first session, except that I got diarrhea but it was very interesting watching the shaman at work. Also I started to have and remember many dreams during the dieta.

All of the following ceremonies were completely different, but followed this basic pattern. Different shipibos joined the ceremonies and at times we had more than 5 people singing different songs to other people at the same time. The effect of the Ayahuasca varied from very intense with powerful visions to very mild and physical.

The last two weeks I stayed in a little village called San Salvador, where Benjamin built a new healing center with a maloka (a round hut for ceremonies) and tambos (little huts to stay in). I camped there alone in a little part of jungle on his land, chilled out a lot in my hammock and helped a little building the huts and clearing the forest. Most of the nature photos are from there.

It’s hard to put into words and explain all that happened in the visions, and during the whole time of my dieta, but I went thru and cleared many things of my past and healed many relationships. I felt the life, this amazing energy, inside me really strong. I saw trees and plants growing out of me. I peeled off the layers of so called everyday consciousness and saw that what really is lying behind everything is energy and the exchange of energy. I felt the special effects of the Icaros (songs) and how they could direct my visions, for example how they put on layers of protections on me and were bathing me in safety. Another song spun a thin thread around me, like a cocoon of peace and yet another induced the vision of an insect:

I was born inside a flower with millions of petals, which slowly opened to reveal a green insect. A beautiful moment of birth, „ghost in a shell“-like… The insect was born inside there and I could see all parts of the flower, the petals and the insect in great detail. Then I had the vision, the view, of the insect, as it walked around. I was seeing thru it’s eyes. Suddenly the insect turned it’s head, or walked upside-down, and made my view also go upside-down. I had this upside-down view for some time, until I got scared, and let it go. The insect walked away.

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