Sharamentsa means “place of the scarlet macaw The Achuar have spirit animals that reveal themselves to each member during the coming-of-age natem ceremony. One might see a vision of a macaw, a monkey, or even an ant... but most hope to see a mighty jaguar. Each animal represents a different earthly manifestation of Arutam, the spirit of the forest. ”
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I tell the people in the community not to cut the trees, because this tree asked me not to. All the time, the forest and trees live inside of me.
Shaman of the Sharamentsa Community
Entsakua Yunkar, shaman of the Sharamentsa community, lost his father at a young age. He says that growing up as an orphan deepened his relationship with nature, which helped him feel less alone. Today, he feels like the father of the community. His brother, Refael Taish Yunkar, and his nephew, Tiyua Uyunkar, are also Achuar shamans.
A Silent Weapon
The blowgun is a vital weapon for the Achuar. Its silence and long range make it ideal for hunting all kinds of animals, such as monkeys and peccaries (pig-like hoofed animals common to the region).
To kill a larger animal, the tip of the dart must be dipped in poison. The Sharamentsa community uses a poison called curare for its poison darts. Curare is made from a mix of toxic plants, using an ancient traditional recipe.
Before shooting the dart, Ramon winds cotton produced from the sacred kopak tree around the shaft. This adds balance and improves aim.
Depending on the strength and capacity of the hunter’s lungs, the blowgun can shoot darts up to 100 meters.
Shamans have a central role in Achuar life — but it is far from enviable. One doesn’t choose to become a shaman; they experience a spiritual calling and nurture a special connection to Arutam. The vocation sometimes runs in the family; Entsakua’s brothers were both shamans, and his nephew Tiyua is one as well.
Trained by their predecessors, shamans serve as spiritual guides, preside over mystical ceremonies, and communicate with the spirits of the forest. While they are praised for their power to heal and bring good fortune, they are often blamed for troubles and calamities. One of Entsakua’s brothers was killed by people who feared his powers. Many shamans carry rifles at all times for self-protection.
When I was an orphan, I went into the forest alone for 5 days. On the first day, I saw nothing. On the second day, nothing. The third day, nothing. Then, on the fourth day, I saw the power of Arutam. All of my warrior ancestors came to speak to me.They told me I would be a shaman.
Shaman of the Sharamentsa Community
To make the crown, you have to find toucans. The black feathers are from the curassow bird. When I take natem, this color gives me power. All these materials I wear are my powers.
You can see this as a belt or a crown, but for me, it has a different meaning. Only hard workers and good hunters can wear this belt. The red seeds are trees, and the white is the bone of a turkey. Finding a turkey in the forest is not easy, so having many bones means I am a good hunter.
The Achuar paint their faces for special occasions, including the welcoming of visitors. They believe that the paint protects them from evil spirits in the forest and helps connect them to Arutam.
Painting an animal on one’s face helps them embody that animal’s characteristics and energy.
The big trees are my grandparents. They speak to me. I feel very sad when I think about what might happen in the future; they could all disappear, my knowledge could disappear.I speak with my children about this and teach them the medicinal plants. I’ve already begun teaching my son to be a shaman.