Since the beginning of man, there have been ailments that have plagued the human race without concern of who it is inflicting or why they occur. These ailments had to have been combated by some sort of medicine by each culture and their remedies must have been plenty. The plethora of different kinds of medicines and remedies to these ailments among the different kinds of cultures is what we, Team Bloodnut, define as ethnomedicine. Many cultures throughout the world practice some form of ethnomedicine.
A field of anthropological research, ethnomedicine seeks to describe the medical systems and practices utilized in different cultures. It examines the origins of what people believe cause illness, as well as examine the ways in which individual cultures treat such maladies. Team Bloodnut wanted to discover the healing beliefs and practices held by Amazonian shamans. Through the use of a life history interview, we sought to understand the traditions held by a people through the experiences of a man working with a former shaman of the tribe.
Team Bloodnut formed a hypothesis regarding ethnomedicine in today’s modern world. We hypothesized that the remedies and medicines indigenous cultures use to heal the ill are unorthodox from the stand point of western civilization. Western society will view these remedies as barbarian and a total fallacy. We conducted our research through a life history interview, contacting a filmmaker named Matthew Vincent. Possessing an interest in natural medicines, Vincent spent over half a year living in Peru documenting the experiences of an American Shaman’s journey into the depths of Amazonian Shamanism.
Together, they discovered the origins and methods involved in practicing shamanism in relation to this particular cultural group. Matthew trained under the ‘gringo shaman’ Ron Wheelock, learning the techniques and methods required to effectively heal members of the community in which they lived. In order to effectively film his documentary in a realistic manner, Matthew Vincent needed to integrate himself into the rituals, learning their practices and lifestyles.
Researching through a life history interview best utilized our information since it enabled us to capture the personal experience of a man submerging himself into such a specific aspect of a community’s life. Our group set out to understand the origins of Amazonian shamanism. We wished to learn about the beliefs of the roots of illnesses as well as the methods used to treat them. Ethnomedicine seeks to understand what illnesses mean within a culture and how to remedy these ailments. According to Vincent, shamans believe people contract illnesses due to a variety of reasons.
Culturally, the soul brings balance to the physical body and makes it strong. If presumed damaged or corrupt by devious spirits, souls must undergo ritualistic healing in order to return to a healthy state. Physical illness is thought to be a manifestation of corruption within the soul. In order to correct this corruption, patients go through a mixture of ritualistic songs, plant gnosis, and trances. Shamans utilize trances in order to enter different states of consciousness, allowing them to interact with souls and spirits to perform healing to the soul and bring the spirits back to the sick physical body.
One extremely common way to remedy an ailment in Amazonian Shamanism is through the use of ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is an extremely hallucinogenic vine used in brews that are consumed by the Shaman along with the patient so the Shaman can conjure the spirits of the plants used in the brew to foresee any future ailments, cure any immediate ones, and try to prevent any others from manifesting themselves within the patient’s body and or soul. The ayahuasca brew can take any time from a couple of hours to brew, all the way to up to two days, being cooked three times.
Wheelock told Vincent that he has treated people who have visited a psychiatrist for over a year and with one ayahuasca ceremony, the patient feels more rejuvenated and alive than ever before. Ayahuasca can also be used for other uses as well, depending on the ingredients used in the brew. For example, if brewed with shapishico, moonshine, and rainwater, and left to sit together for about nine days, this brew acts as an extremely potent aphrodisiac. Shamans are not only medicine men, but spiritual guides. Shamans can choose from two different paths when immersing themselves in their practices.
They can choose to be curandero or a brujo. A curandero is a healer. He is the medicine man that can heal physical and psychological ailments that one might have. He does this through plant gnosis and conjuring the spirits of the plants to help cure the patient. A brujo, on the other hand, focuses on the dark arts of Shamanism, although he can also heal. In a Shamans training, they are visited by spirits and are given magical darts. These magical darts are a brujo’s weapon of choice when it comes to causing harm or kill another.
He can use those towards anybody in the world as long as he has their name, a mental image of the person, a picture, or some sort of memorabilia that depicts who their target is. A curandero will only use these magical darts, usually, to defend himself. When a curandero sends a magical dart to a brujo, it’s usually with the intention to kill him. After conducting our life history interview, Team Bloodnut came to a conclusion on our hypothesis. We concluded that our hypothesis was correct regarding the differences between western medicines and Amazonian Shamanistic medicines.
Western medicines include all of the technologies, modern medicines, and commodities that these indigenous cultures do not have access to; therefore we are much more technologically advanced. These countries are at a disadvantage when it comes to the commodities and technologies but that doesn’t mean that the quality is any less. These medicine men spend most of their lives learning how to conjure and interact with these spirits of nature so that they can heal in their favor. The way in which they do so shouldn’t be frowned upon.
If these Shamans have found ways to cure, not just treat these illnesses and ailments, then why haven’t we, Western Civilization, adopted these methods? Is it the fear or the skepticism of failure? We think that it’s not so simple. We believe that the reason for these medicines not being accepted into our country is simply so the government won’t lose money and control. Wheelock cured a patient that had been visiting a shrink for over a year. In that time how much money did that psychiatrist earn? From that income how much did the government take from the psychiatrist in taxes?
This is only for one person, too. Some people spend half of their lives, if not longer visiting some kind of medical practitioner or some form of psychedelic help. There will never be a shortage of sick people, so if they are simply just cured with a couple of ayahuasca ceremonies, that’s a pretty significant chunk out of the United States’ money supply. Not only is it a monetary issue, but also a control issue. If these practices were administered in the United States, people would gain insight and enlightenment to its effects.
There is a chemical in ayahuasca that is an intense psychedelic. Dimethyltryptamine is the psychedelic in the ayahuasca that puts the body in the state in which it can be visited by manifesting spirits of the vine. If this psychedelic were to fall into the wrong hands, it could be very harmful to not only to America’s economy, but also to the ones who abuse it. Ergo, ethnomedicine is a sensitive subject because it is not only a way to treat people within a certain country or tribe, but it is also the way of life and the way generations upon generations have practiced these remedies.
Just because different cultures do things differently, it doesn’t mean that one way is right and the other is wrong. If we, as a species and inhabitants of this Earth, all worked together and shared our practices with each other in the field of medicine, maybe we could find cures, not just treatments to malignant diseases such as cancer. Ayahuasca ceremonies are not just a ritual to heal patients that come to Shamans, but also a lifestyle.