This idea contrasts starkly with the western model of understanding the body as a delicate chemical machine fine tuned to perceive reality.  In this idea external chemical compounds not originally intended for consumption can be introduced into the body to produce errors in perception called “hallucinations”.  Ayahuasca and certain other plants contain these chemical compounds.   Hence ingesting them produces hallucinatory errors. These errors in perception may be frightening or enjoyable but as errors in perception they do not help the person know anything about the external world.   Alternatively, for some westerners, these errors in normal perception may teach us something about the brain and the human psyche of the person ingesting them but they do not tell us anything important about the external world of other species.

     Ayahuasca and certain other plants contain these chemical compounds.   Hence ingesting them produces hallucinatory errors.   These errors in perception may be frightening or enjoyable but as errors in perception they do not help the person know anything about the external world.   Alternatively, for some westerners, these errors in normal perception may teach us something about the brain and the human psyche of the person ingesting them but they do not tell us anything important about the external world of other species.

Banisteriopsis caapi  Kichwa:  Ayahuasca; Shuar: Natem Page 1, 2, 3 , 4 , 5

Tod Swanson, Arizona State University


The importance of Banisteriopsis caapi for the western Amazon cannot be overestimated.  Along with yuca it is among the most import plants in shaping West Amazonian cultural identity.   It gives a distinctive shape to art, music, and ayahuasca medicine.  But perhaps most importantly it shapes relationships between communities as well as between humans and other species.                                            

     According to Runa thinking drinking Ayahuasca allows human beings to communicate with plants.    This idea depends on the assumption that the plants and animals were once human.  At the beginning of this world they retreated to become the species they are now.  In this transformation plants did not lose their linguistic abilities.   Rather the transformation from humans into other species raised curtains of privacy encoding their languages so that the remaining humans could ordinarily no longer understand those who became plants.  Nevertheless, behind the apparently silent leafy surface are people who can speak.  The ayahuasca visions raise this curtain that veiled communication between species.  Ayahuasca opens the persons ears so that they can hear the communication from the vast personal world hidden behind the other plant and animal species as well as behind the rivers and mountains. 


Links:


San Pedro in colonial chronicles and archaeology