Inés Muñoz, the Spanish ‘conquistador’ who first cited ayahuasca… in 1533

The influential Anglo-Saxon historiography places the first contact between the white man and ayahuasca somewhere between the 19th and mid-20th centuries, that is, during the career of two great scientists: the English naturalist Richard Spruce (1817-1890) and his namesake, the American Richard Evans Schultes (1915-2001), who some consider to be the first white man to take the sacred drink of the Incas and the Amazonian peoples, specifically from the hand of the taita Salvador Chindoy.

However, it is doubtful, to say the least, that the thousands of Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors, missionaries and settlers who lived with, subdued and tried to Christianise the ‘Indians’ did not get to know ayahuasca and other indigenous remedies centuries before the aforementioned scientists.

In fact, the first mention of ayahuasca dates only 40 years after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors on the American continent, and only seven years after the first encounter between the Spanish and the Incas (in 1526). The chronicler is Inés Muñoz de Ribera, a Seville-born woman who was married to Francisco Pizarro’s brother, and the mention of ayahuasca is dated 1533, a few months before the execution of Atahualpa, which would seal the beginning of the end of the Inca Empire.

Muñoz writes in his diary on 25 March 1533:

“Doctor Montilla, who has visited us, will try to take to Spain a vine that the natives call “dead man’s rope”, it has an extraordinary soothing and hallucinating power, it is used by sorcerers for their magical and religious rites, he believes it will be highly appreciated by the doctors”.

The “dead man’s rope” is none other than ayahuasca, but we know nothing more about Dr. Montilla and his intention to bring the drink to Spain. The diary also does not clarify whether the author ever tried the mixture, although it seems unlikely, for at least two reasons: 1. The consciousness-altering indigenous remedies were considered “diabolical” by the Spaniards and 2. The “set & setting” was not the most appropriate for that first contact: her brother-in-law, Francisco Pizarro, had kidnapped Atahualpa, while the Inca had just defeated his brother Huáscar in a civil war.

A few months later, in July 1533, Inés describes the capture and execution of Atahualpa by Pizarro with fear and crudeness:

27 July 1533: “The Magnicide. It is a terrible day, Atahualpa is baptised and then executed in Cajamarca. We have all been affected by this event, we don’t comment on it. Everyone chews on their conscience”.

Links:

‘Salvador Chindoy, el chamán que abrió los secretos de la ayahuasca al hombre blanco’, Plantaforma, 15 de junio de 2022.

‘El encuentro de dos mundos. El diario de Inés Muñoz, año 1533’, Instituto de Los Andes.

‘El diario de Inés Muñoz. El encuentro de dos mundos’, Jaime Ariansen Céspedes.

‘Inés Muñoz de Ribera’, Wikipedia.

‘Un “infernal brebaje” llamado “ayaguasca”: La primera descripción de la ayahuasca por un misionero jesuita’, Plantaforma, 5 de agosto de 2021.

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