Speaking from the Amazon rainforest, Wachiperi healer Victoria Corisepa calls for greater respect and recognition for nature, ayahuasca, and indigenous knowledge.

My name is Victoria Corisepa Dreve, I’m Harakbut, from the Wachiperi indigenous group. The reason why we’re here is very important to me and I’m going to express it this way: The Wachiperi has always been a group of wise men and healers. We call them healers, not shamans. I can’t talk about shamans because we haven’t had that in the Wachiperi culture. We’ve worked more with the plants and the worlds of water and air. The wise men or the healers are connected with the plants and the invisible world.

I will tell you about the powerful medicine ayahuasca because I know it’s important for many people today. But first I would like to tell you more about the native people of the Amazon rainforest, because they are just as important. If you want to learn about ayahuasca, it’s important to learn about the traditional people. We have kept working directly with nature since the beginning.

For my people, the Wachiperi, not just anyone has the gift to be a healer. You had to be chosen in the invisible world of nature. The Wachiperi people have been living together with the natural world in places full of invisible people that we can’t normally see. The plants can see there. They open a window of meaning and they each have purposes, such as diseases they can cure; it’s all seen there.

The scientists have been trying to copy everything from nature. It’s not because the scientists were wise men but because they studied nature. They’ve studied the birds to create the plane, they’ve studied the trees to create solar panels. They’ve studied many things. It has not been simply because they are scientists, but because nature has given them this space, so they can create things in this world. It’s quite embarrassing that nature is not recognized and respected. They don’t respect the medicinal plants. The big scientists don’t go around saying “Thanks to the plants I have created this.” They should promote respect for the world of nature, but they don’t. They say instead: “I’m the maker.” And, oh boy, they depredate and clean away everything that helped them.

ayahuasca-tourism-amazon
– A small river in the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon.

What role do natives play in this? They’ve maintained a connection with nature; they have lived there. Because our ancestors, even before Christ, since the world was created, we natives have lived in nature. But who actually recognizes nowadays that native people have maintained this connection? The government? The foreign countries? We are forgotten to them. We’re not recognized. We are abandoned, marginalized, and with many needs. They say things like “These native people are a bunch of ignorants, they know nothing.” Without recognizing that we’re the first that mastered the medicine. They’ve taken the knowledge from us, the foreigners with their financial power. Because they manage their economy, “with money you can do anything”, they say, but it is not like that. But we keep fighting so we can demonstrate that nature is very important, the medicine is very important, the ayahuasca medicine is very important.

Our culture has been disappearing, due to all the transnational invasions green lit by the government.

We are concerned because people have been extorting our medicine. They’re stealing our medicine. That’s why in our Madre de Dios region, nowadays the communities don’t want to give much information anymore. Because we’ve given a lot of information to anthropologists. And the foreigners come and what do they leave? Nothing. As if they were famous, famous scientists, they have these big centers over there, like a millionaire, but the ones who taught them all these things, how are we doing? The one that transferred the knowledge, the one that helped them write their thesis … they are nowhere to be seen. That saddens us. We are forgotten. Not even the government mentions that the native people are the experts when it comes to medicine. That’s sad.

We’ve worked directly with a spiritual connection with the nature of the plants, direct contact with the spirits of animals and with the spirits in the sky. That has been our tradition, our habit. The Wachiperi drank ayahuasca before, with the Machiguengas, but they just didn’t care much about it then. Because then the Wachiperi worked with terminally ill people, those who were in bed already, with the power of jayapa (toé). It improved a lot of people. It’s called the “dead raiser.” The Wachiperi has worked with plants forever and has always been very respectful of plants.

We’re very respectful with the plants because they’ve been our doctors. There are plant doctors that sometimes summon a person, as we call it, oayorokeri, to get visions and fly away. In order to heal, the initiates had to be in the jungle, alone, connecting with the plants. They’d prepare their food for a month by themselves. And there they’d get the vision about how they could heal. Sometimes my dad would connect with the jaguar. The jaguar gave all its knowledge inside the visions. It would take over him to transfer the knowledge. That’s how they would do it. That’s how they would work.

Our culture has been disappearing, due to all the transnational invasions green lit by the government. It is disrespecting the native people. The government acts like the owner, of all this world, they do whatever they want. That’s why the Wachiperi has been disappearing, and we’re just a few families now, 10 families. But thanks to ayahuasca we’re trying to recover our traditions and medicines and to connect ourselves with our ancestors. The ayahuasca is very important. We respect it a lot. It’s a really wise plant that guides you. It taught me many things and strengthened me a lot.

Ayahuasca has been helping many people from Western countries too. Because, even from the time Westerners are in the womb, they’re disconnected from nature and from the earth. That’s why they have a lot of problems when they’re born. They see the Amazon as a monster, that everything here is dangerous, that everything is bad here, that you need to be careful. When they’re born, they’re like “squared” in a cube, squared in a house, and not very involved with other people.

That’s the big reason why people are coming to the Amazon to drink ayahuasca. They lack love.

They start in the womb isolated. Many persons from the power countries don’t get involved with many people and they grow up under intense work and under the economy. They work and go home. It’s an economy. But they struggle to perceive what’s a friend, what’s a friendship; they’re practically under their parents, who might say that everything around them is bad, and that everything they do as parents is good. That’s the big reason why people are coming to the Amazon to drink ayahuasca. They lack love. They’re missing that kindness, that hug, and connecting like that, putting their feet on the ground, because in their country it’s just cement. They’ve disconnected themselves from this earth. They don’t have soil under their feet, so there can’t be a good relationship with nature. We’ve helped many visitors open their minds and their hearts.

For many international visitors seeking healing in the Amazon, it’s important for them to get involved with other human beings. It’s important for them to receive a hug. It’s important to just say “hi, how are you?” and sharing, living together. We’ve had many visitors that hadn’t even seen their mom for 2 to 3 years. They work, they go home; they work, they go home. They don’t care that much about human relationships. They care about the economic factor. That’s their priority, not the human relationships which are really important for a human being in order to keep living in this world.

That’s the problem that the foreigners carry, they’re quite stressed out. With the stress, with all these things, they absorb a lot of diseases. It’s precisely because they’re disconnected from the nature of the earth. Not because they were sick. Some of them haven’t laughed with a cousin or with their mom or shared anything deep before. They can be desperate, because there’s a lot of financial needs pushing them to live in those power countries. It requires a lot of money. You don’t even see water, you have to buy everything. In big countries, in big cities, that’s what we’ve seen. And that, thanks to the ayahuasca, many people have been cured, they’ve opened their minds, their hearts. They even leave gratefully, “Yes, now I’m going to change”,”As soon as I arrive I’m going to visit my mom, I’m going to visit my brother,” and that type of thing. They felt happy because in reality, the ayahuasca made them see that what’s important is the human resources, that it’s important to hug someone, that it’s important to share the little you have with others.

But the bad thing I’m seeing is that when ayahuasca is getting popular it’s getting extorted for economic benefits. Some people don’t think that ayahuasca is a master plant, a sacred plant, they don’t take that into account. There are many shamans or healers. There are many of them, but in essence, there are just a few that keep that true value of the ayahuasca, the respect. That it’s a master plant, that it’s a sacred plant; there are just a few that take that into account.

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They commercialize ayahuasca as if they were selling Coca-Cola on the street.

That is my point of view of ayahuasca. As I was saying, there are just a few persons that think the plant itself is sacred. That the master plant is also wise, that you must respect the plant. There are just a few persons. And a few masters too. Many other people just see this as a commercial practice. They’re not taking it seriously. They see it all as fun. They think that ayahuasca is just for flying and they are misusing it. They treat it like consuming marijuana. That’s how they extort it. What I also see that there are a lot of people who don’t even know how to cook it. And they just cook it like they were cooking lunch. Then they just commercialize it as if they were selling Coca-Cola on the street. I’ve seen those things with ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca helps foreigners get connected and to reconnect to what’s been lost, such as their ancestors. Many cultures have been lost due to the construction of buildings and the creation of companies. Everything they’ve done in this ground is just cement, and there’s nothing to produce in other countries, not even a forest. And that’s what’s missing nowadays. Some ayahuasca healers are just looking for the money, they would say “I’m a shaman; I cure,” but at the end they don’t help at all. I do like my work to connect, to help others, to change this world, which is so important. Because as the days go by this world is also living with climate change. And for that we need to tell the people that the earth is very important; the world is very important.

And that’s why we work in healing foreigners. We share what we’ve lived with our culture, with all our medicines, our habits, our stories; we help the people from abroad. They see how we eat, they see what we share: healthy food from the earth itself. It’s really important for people to get better so they are able to change this world. They need to learn no matter how small we are, whether we have money or not, we are very important in this world. Very important. Let’s just not say indigenous peoples are worthless. And that’s part of our focus. The grandma ayahuasca takes people beyond themselves and improves them. There’s a lot of people that get better thanks to ayahuasca.

Translation from Spanish to English by Maria Riega and Jessica Bertram. Cover image includes a photo of Vicky provided with permission by Shawn Hanna.

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Maestra Vicky Corisepa

Victoria Corisepa was born and raised on the Upper Madre de Dios River in the Southeastern Peruvian Amazon. She works as a tabaquera, following in the tradition taught to her by her Wachiperi father. Many years ago, with the help of ayahuasca, and to the surprise of medical doctors, she not only overcame a life-threatening illness, but also learned to appreciate her indigenous Harakbut-Wachiperi heritage. Victoria is the founder and owner of Parign Hak - Grandma’s Home, a family-run retreat center that works to empower the Harakbut people through programs of respectful cultural exchange with the participants, as well as through ayahuasca ceremonies where local community members can address issues stemming from transgenerational trauma.
Maestra Vicky Corisepa

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