Wayusentsa means “river of wayus Wayus, also called guayusa, is a special tea families drink together each morning as they share their dreams from the night before. The Achuar see dreams as messages from Arutam, the spirit of the forest; they plan the rest of their day by interpreting the previous night’s dreams during the guayusa ceremony. ”
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In order to live in harmony, we must first embrace the power of the forest.
Rafael Taish Yunkar
Shaman of the Wayusentsa Community
Rafael Taish Yunkar is the shaman of the Wayusentsa community. His brother, Entsakua, and his nephew, Tiyua Uyunkar, are also Achuar shamans, and he says his parents were powerful shamans, too. Rafael and Entsakua lost their father at a young age, and their brother Mashian, father of Tiyua, was killed in a war. Though the brothers live in different communities, they feel very close to one another.
The Achuar people live in constant dialogue with the Amazon. To ensure that the fragile balance of the forest is not disturbed, they fish infrequently, allowing the fish population in the area to replenish itself before returning for more.
The Achuar use a unique method to catch fish: barbasco, or poison fishing.
First, they must seek out the barbasco liana plant in the forest. It is not always easy to find.
Meanwhile, other members of the tribe build a dam downstream, where the poisoned fish will collect.
Next, they must crush the barbasco so it will easily dissolve in the water.
When the plant is crushed, they set it in a basket, which they then lower into the river. The poison begins to spread, temporarily eliminating the oxygen from the water. The fish in the affected area are stunned.
The Achuars easily spear the immobilized fish caught by the dam, and take them home for cooking.
Communicating with Arutam
The Achuar communicate with Arutam, the spirit of the forest, through a ceremony that involves drinking natem, also called ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic medicinal plant.
The participant drinks natem in the evening and begins to experience dreams and visions. The shaman oversees the ceremony and takes care of them, as the plant can have harsh effects on the body and often induces vomiting. The following morning, when the effects have worn off, the participant tells the shaman about the visions they experienced while in this altered state of consciousness. The shaman then interprets the visions and helps the participant understand their meaning.
Natem is also taken during a coming-of-age ceremony. When a father feels that his son is ready for the next stage in life, they venture into the forest for a few days, and build a hut near a sacred space, such as a waterfall or a kapok tree. There, they rinse their mouths with tobacco during the day and drink natem at night, and sometimes consume an additional hallucinogenic drink called floripondio. Floripondio is reserved for those who are particularly troubled or looking to have a strong transformative experience. The child gains insight about his life by discussing his experiences in the forest with the shaman after returning home.
For girls, this initiation ceremony takes place in the garden, or chakra — the sacred space for women.
Building a Home
My father taught me how to build the roof of the house that I have showed you. My father learnt it from hisfather. I am going to teach my kids.
The basket, or canasta, is important for the community. We must go deep into the forest to look for the material we use to weave it. It takes 3 hours to create a big basket.
I’m teaching my kids, so when they get married, they will know how to make it.
The Achuar communicate not only with the spirit of the forest, but with the creatures and plants living within it.
Once, when I was in the forest with my rifle, I turned around and saw a jaguar. I had probably tread on his territory. I looked at him, and he looked at me. I didn’t want to do anything to him, because he was beautiful, but he wanted to hurt me, so I shot him. That is why I tell my kids to watch themselves when they go hunt.