Nixiwaka Biraci Yawanawa, the leader of the Yawanawa people in the Amazon, delivered a passionate speech at the Psychedelic Science conference in Denver, Colorado, which was organized by MAPS, a key player in the ‘Psychedelic Renaissance.’ His speech echoed the sentiments found in the 1854 speech by Chief Seattleof the Suquamish tribe to the first governor of Washington Territory. He emphasized the urgent need to consider the environment and indigenous perspectives in the context of the ongoing Psychedelic Renaissance.
“When you pollute the last river, when you cut down the last forest, we will also be out of this Earth”.
Nixiwaka Yawanawa did not miss the opportunity to remind that the so-called ‘Psychedelic Renaissance,’ in which MAPS is one of the main actors, is taking place without listening to indigenous peoples, “the true guardians of many medicinal plants, of sacred plants”.
When we talk about mental illnesses, anxiety, depression, and suicide, we usually focus on modern Western societies, considering them as afflictions of our time caused by an increasingly disconnected lifestyle from nature. However, indigenous peoples in the Amazon suffer from extremely high levels of alcoholism, and their suicide rate is three times the national average, as denounced by the artist and activist Daiara Tukano, from the Tukano (or Yé’pá Mahsã) people, during the opening of the 7th Colloquium ‘Shamanism, Science, and Knowledge’ held last week in Tarragona.
“It seems incredible to me that there are so many research projects for mental health, but I have a request because I know that we need that attention in our communities. Indigenous peoples are the most marginalized. If you want to investigate how to treat suicide, depression, come and research with us… the suicide rate among indigenous peoples is 300% higher than any other social report,” explained Daiara Tukano via videoconference from her community in the state of Vaupés, on the border between Colombia and Brazil.
“For me, the Amazon is the last frontier, a mysterious universe where the power of nature can be felt like nowhere else on Earth. Here, there is a forest that stretches to infinity and contains a tenth of all existing plant and animal species. It is the world’s largest natural laboratory,” writes Sebastião Salgado in the foreword to his new book ‘Amazonia’, which has just been published by Taschen.
Gustavo Preto, President of Colombia, delivered one of the most courageous, forceful and emotional speeches ever heard at the United Nations Assembly last September 20th. Petro spoke to the representatives of the world’s nations, but with special emphasis on the United States, promoter and guarantor of the “failed” war on drugs, a disaster that has been dragging on for 40 years and has political, social and environmental consequences in Colombia, his country, and also throughout Latin America.
The war on drugs, said the Colombian president, is, together with greed for oil and coal, co-responsible for the destruction of the Amazon rainforest: “As in a paradoxical crossroads, the rainforest that we are trying to save is at the same time being destroyed”.
Petro is not the first Latin American leader to point the finger squarely at the war on drugs as responsible for the violence in Colombia, but also in Mexico, Brazil and Peru. The difference lies in the fact that, unlike, for example, Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, he does so from his presidential post and not after leaving office.
The journalist, novelist and documentary filmmaker Alfonso Domingo(Madrid, 1959) tried ayahuasca for the first time in the late 1980s in the Amazon. He had a transformative experience, which was followed by a phase of proselytising, trying to convince others to try this marvellous mixture. Now his attitude is very different: the abuses and “spurious uses” that are being made of the sacred drink have made him adopt a much more discreet attitude, close to mutism, with regard to ayahuasca. In transit, he has published a book about his experiences in the Amazon, ‘La serpiente líquida’ (Punto de Vista Editores, 2018) and a documentary of the same name. In them, ayahuasca is not the protagonist, although it is a constant thread running through Domingo’s story, as if it were the snake of the title.
We chatted with Domingo about master plants, extractivist capitalism, the first steps of ayahuasca in Spain… and about Alfonso Graña, the Galician adventurer who was chieftain of the Shuar Indians in the 1930s and about whom we will talk soon.