Amazonian Thinking on How Plants Heal

Throughout the Amazonian region health ministries are establishing collaborations with traditional healers. These collaborations are often mandated by the political reality that native medicine is the medicine of choice for a significant segment of the voting public.  A collaboration assumes a certain overlap or common ground in healing practice.  The medical personnel charged with setting up these collaborations often mistakenly assume that native herbalists work, implicitly at least, with the same principles of chemical interaction as scientific medicine but do so in a more holistic manner.  After all, the argument goes, many scientific miracle drugs come from Amazonian plants.  Native plants contain the same chemical ingredients in a less concentrated form.   Although the active ingredient is less concentrated it may be more beneficial to consume the whole unaltered plant (a “whole medicine” on the analogy of a “whole food”).    In fact native plant medicine works on very different assumptions about how plants interact with the body.

Below are some general principles describing how plant medicines are believed to work within the traditional Amazonian Kichwa and Achuar/Jivaroan communities.   If you look carefully you will see evidence of these beliefs in the video of women harvesting Amarun Caspi:

 Medicinal plants are human-like personas, called runa in the Kichwa language.  (Click for native drawings of these plant runa).  The healing occurs in the context of a relationship between the plant person and  the patient /gardener or medicine gatherer.   The ingestion of the plant facilitates this relationship.
Medicinal plant runa impart the strength of their character to the patient rather than being a chemical remedy for a particular disease. 
This transfer occurs through heightened emotional intimacy or empathy between patient and plant man.   This intimacy is understood by analogy to heterosexual intimacy or to filial piety.  This intimacy is called llaquina in Kichwa.
Relationship between the individual and the plant is not direct but rather mediated by memory of relatives.
The plant must be called or “woken up” because the spirit world is related to our world as night to day/ previous world to present world.   (dream time).   The plant may then come to heal in a dream while the patient or healer is sleeping.  Alternatively the plant man may appear in a night time ayahuasca or brugmansia induced muscui or dream. 
When the plant runa comes he heals through traditional shamanistic techniques of fanning and blowing.
Even if the plant runa is not encountered in the experience of a particular healer the healer or patient acts as thought the plant were present in these ways acting on faith or on the authority of past generations.   

Powerful plant runa impart the strength of their character to the patient rather than being a chemical remedy for a particular disease.  The healing occurs in the context of a personal relationship between patient /gardener or medicine gatherer  and the plant man or plant woman.   The ingestion of the plant facilitates this relationship.  These qualities of the relationship hold for all powerful plants regardless of whether botanists specializing in plant chemistry who characterize them as psychedelic or not.

Ñuka yayaga kasna nigara kaitaga kari upisha

Imashina puñuclla, wañuy kasna tiakpi

cai amurun caspita chuchuwasawan

yanusha upisha kuinanawas nigara

Chiwiga wanuy puñuy tiac anchurin nigara chasna

Ama puñuclla ama wañuy aichawasnigaraTaaslla chilli kira shina ana nigara,  chasna ana

Aichatas mana wañuy, puñuida mana charichingawaKari wawakunata upichina nisha ricsichiwaka sachay

Chi kaitaga upingawa raushaga....

Kaiga ayayuj man nigara paiga runayuj

Chita paita tapusha rimasha

Indi llucshimushcamanda, Indi yaikushkamanda

Ñuka kari,  Ñuka yayaguna

paiguna rimanaun kasna ambi karara sachama  pallangaj risha Yura siquii pactasha

mai challua caspi o

amarun caspi

o balsamo yura

shinaunay pactasha ñaupa punda 

shayarisha paita cuintana nin rimana

Kuna cai tutamandai cirtu shamushkanchi

kai sachama paywa karara apangaj apingaj

Ñucanchi mana yanga apaunchi.

Cirtu nukanchi runa ninchi ungurinchi


Chi raigu paywa karara apamungaj

shamushkanchi kai tutamandai

Shinacpi ñuka rimangaraushkani

Kai amarun caspi yurara


shinacpi, astallai apangaraunchi

nakpi cuyangui ñukanchi upingaj

ñukanchi familiay ciertu ashka ungurinara charinchi

Chiraigu kamba karara apangaj shamushkanchi

Nakpi, manaraj apangarausha

Ciertu takana ninaun muyucta purisha


Kasna takana ninaun

Kamba karara apangraunchi kuna kai tutamandai

Allichingui tukuy....   ima aicha nanay, ikzha nanay

Tukuy ima tunus unguy tiacpi allichinguiKamba karara apasha yanusha upingaj raushkanchi

Aillunaras upinchingaraunchi kamba karara apasha.

Nacpi allichingui

Upikpi kancuita shinzhi shayangaj