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Shamanism

A Forest Feast: Visiting Shaman Heriberto Tchujandama in the Amazon

We invited licensed anthropologist Francesco D'angelo to narrate his experience recording shamanic practices in the Peruvian Amazon.

“Welcome to Chazuta.” The words, written on a sign in the shape of a large ceramic vase, let us know that we’ve finally arrived. We travelled from Lima, in our native Peru, to the city of Tarapoto, in the Northern region of the country. From there, we traversed 53 km to reach this remote village in the Amazonian forest.  

Our final destination, though, is Río Bosque Mágico Chazuta, a family initiative that combines tourism, cacao and chocolate production, reforestation efforts and plant-based medicinal treatments. We’ve come to see the head of the family, Heriberto Tchujandama, who will show us how he uses plants in his medicinal practice, and most importantly, teach us how a balanced relationship with nature is the key to achieving personal balance. 

Learning from his ancestors 

Heriberto began studying to become a healer when he was only 15. Although his parents didn’t encourage his passion for medicinal plants and their properties, his grandparents were happy to initiate him in what has become his specialty. 

Heriberto defines himself as a ‘curandero’ or healer, and explains that he uses medicinal plants to ‘revert the damage in people.’ To become a plant-based healer, you not only have to identify and personally try the local medicinal plants, but most importantly you have to establish a respectful relationship with them. 

How do shamans use plants to heal?

Shaman healers believe that every type of plant has a spirit, called a ‘mother’, and that these spirits reveal themselves to the shamans in various forms and teach them about the curative properties the plants hold. 

Before applying them in any medicine, the ‘curandero’ speaks and sings to the plants, asks them for permission to be cut and tells them how and why he wishes to use them. Once the healer has prepared the plants, a ceremony takes place for the ‘patient’ to either drink or bathe in them. This usually takes place in a quiet place in nature, and involves shamanic chants, called ícaros, and the use of mapacho smoke (a type of tobacco) and cinnamon. 

In shamanism, the healing ceremony is almost as important as the actual plants used in them, because shamans don’t necessarily aim to cure a specific physical disease, but instead take a holistic approach to healing, and help people reconnect with nature and with themselves, restoring their inner balance. 

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