Health in Living with the Joy of Nature
In order to live well, every community needs a shaman with inherited knowledge. This knowledge comes to us from the origin of times. Back in the olden times of our ancestors, we learned to relate with all the other living beings through concentration. This is what we call “managing the world,” and it is an obligatory task of every shaman; it is what allows us to live well with other living beings.
From the sacred space of the mambeadero, every evening the shaman sits on his stool to meditate, and this is how he connects with the “elementals” or spiritual beings that live in the forest, around his maloca. Every living thing has an “owner,” a guardian spirit that cares for it. Elementals are the spiritual owners of the terrestrial animal world, of the water world, of the world of diseases, of the world of evil thoughts. There are many levels in the world of spirits, and the shaman must visit all of them in order to procure good health for his people. There he greets them and offers coca to them; coca is spiritual payment for the elementals who participate in healing the world. This is how shamans enter into communication with the spirit world and conduct this vital relationship between the community and the spiritual beings that govern the rainforest.
Through his meditations, the shaman counsels the spirits and pacifies them, so that bad situations do not occur on the Earth. He participates with the spirits in managing the world. Together they work to arrange things for the well-being of community of all the living beings. After these arrangements, the environment is healed and Nature releases its joy upon the forest, for its grandchildren to live well. The shaman also gives counsel to the elementals of disease, so that our world does not become polluted. Finally, he counsels the elemental of revenge, so as to avoid the gossiping, quarreling, and fighting among people. When this is done, he begins to liven up the world with the energy of chanting and dancing, so that people are freed from boredom in their everyday world. Joy and well-being are infused into the people; this is why we live happily and peacefully, with nothing to bother our life. Lastly he burns the sacred incense around the maloca, and then everything begins to change for the better.
We say that we are sharing life with all other living beings, because it is the same life we received from Ameru and Inerukana, our ancestral Mother and Father. We respect diversity and different forms of life in nature, because they are the origins of our quality of life, they are an integral part of our own life. Diversity is part of ourselves, and we are part of diversity.
Each and every tree has an owner, a spiritual owner. Spiritual owners occupy the land by sectors; within each sector there is a particular living energy, which is a source of vitality for the trees that live in that sector. Animals have spiritual owners as well, who care for them as their own children or people. There are multiple kinds of spiritual owners and elementals in the rainforest, such as Jarechina, Keramua, Dayaana, Jechachari, among many others. All these form part of a category called Ejawá Minaná, or the “owners of the forest,” and their place is within the forest. There is a higher category of guardian spirits, called Lainurii Yani Ñakajela, or the “power that heals the children” of a particular sector. These are found above the forest, looking down upon the world and caring for it. Spiritual owners are managing all the aspects of natural life in their sector of the rainforest: seasons, climate, harvests, and animals.
This is why we must always ask permission from the spiritual owners of each sector when we need to use something that is growing or living there. When we fell and burn the trees in order to cultivate our food, or when we gather wild fruit from the forest palms, or when we hunt and fish to feed our families and guests, whenever we take something from the forest, we must act respectfully toward the vital energy that is governed by the spirits of each natural space. This is a world of metaphors, we cannot see guardian spirits or spiritual owners; we see them in the form of plants or animals. Shamans and people with special powers do see the full metaphor, they see the elementals of each sector and communicate with them, they work jointly to bring health to the world.
The job of a shaman is to explain to these special powers in meditation why we need to take their fruit or their children, and to pay for what we want to take away (mainly with coca and tobacco). If this order is violated by someone, if a tree is harvested or cut without permission, the spiritual owner feels his fruit are being taken and he will cause diarrhea, fever, or problems in that person’s body or family. Illness may come as environmental disorder, as alterations of the climate and the orderly passing of natural seasons, which in turn cause crops to go bad and people to become ill and sad. If this traditional order is respected, spirits will allow people to take what they need from the forest, and they will allow people’s crops to grow beautifully, and there will be abundance, enough food for everyone to be well-fed and healthy, and families will grow, and there will be enough people to dance and life will be joyful.
This is how managing the world has been brought through generations by our forefathers. This is the essence of our peace, which is still alive although much knowledge has been lost and many people do not practice it anymore.
Nowadays we are becoming more and more ignorant. I mean to say that even though we know that Nature is alive, and the source of our own vital energy, even though we have witnessed the living force of the forest which is part of our life and where we belong, we are destroying it. We are taking its life without permission, and this is bringing sadness and illness to our life. We need to be conscious that the forest is the source of living medicine, not only to cure our illnesses, but also to strengthen our total health and prevent disease from attacking us. Now we have the challenge of teaching the knowledge of our ancestors, not only to our own children but to all the children in the world, so that people can remember that nature is alive and must be respected if we want to lead a healthful life.
Turipi is a member of the Upichía or Matapí tribal people of the Colombian Amazon, and a healer who carries on the traditional knowledge inherited from his ancestors. He lives with a group of relatives near the Araracuara Canyon on the Caquetá River.
This article was translated from the Spanish version by Nicolas Bermúdez-Vélez.