Every year, thousands of westerners travel to the capital of Peruvian rainforest, in their quest to experience the powerful visionary remedy. In this way, an indigenous practice, condemned to disappearance by missionaries and bureaucrats, lives a new golden age. From the traditional healer who takes care of the locals, to the comfortable spiritual retreat centres frequented by foreigners, this book will immerse you in the thrilling world of Iquitos shamanism and the profound transformations that so-called “ayahuasca tourism” is provoking in traditional practices. And Monster Vorāx: the ecological implications of the increasing demand, and the disturbances that substantial incomes are producing in local societies.
The ayahuasca boom has generated a prosperous business of harvesting, planting, processing and exportation in Iquitos. Although ayahuasca drinkers often claim to experience an ecological awakening, their epiphany results in the eradication of the vine in large areas of the Amazon rainforest: yet another blow to biodiversity.
A Cash Crop shows how a once abundant and commercially worthless plant species has become an increasingly scarce and expensive product of mass consumption. The book gives voice to people like: Abraham Guevara, owner of a small plantation that provides the vine to middlemen in Iquitos; Ronald Wheelock, for a long time the world’s most productive cook; Elizabeth Bardales, owner of a thriving business for processing medicinal plants; and Javier da Silva, a healer whose garden suffers an invasion of the vine. And many more.
Is ayahuasca a visionary plant? That is what they say, but everything is up for debate.
Benigno Dahua, the village curandero, wants to set up his lodge to host tourists.
Javier da Silva knows what it is when ayahuasca invades a garden. “It’s like a plague”, he says.
The Amazon rainforest has been and continues to be ransacked. Is Banisteriopsis a new example?
Francisco Montes, owner of the Sachamama lodge, where a huge specimen of ayahuasca grows.
Alan Shoemaker, one of the pioneers of the ayahuasca movement in Iquitos.
Bowie van der Kroon has been processing and exporting medicinal plants for fifteen years.
Abraham Guevara has a small ayahuasca plantation and complains about middlemen.
Ron Wheelock, the gringo shaman, one of the most productive cooks in Iquitos.
Colombian-American doctor Joe Tafur has a bold theory about how ayahuasca works.
Forestry engineer Elizabeth Bardales has modernized the processing of ayahuasca.
The lodges of Iquitos employ many people of the surrounding villages.
The great demand for ayahuasca is entailing its eradication from extensive areas of the rainforest.
Elocario lives in a town near a lodge, which buys ayahuasca from him at a good price.
In Iquitos and its surroundings there are more than 50 lodges that offer “traditional” treatments to tourists.
The ayahuasquero Lucho Panduro, who has no qualms about talking about the habitual shamanic wars.
Several books and articles have contributed to my understanding of ayahuasca shamanism and the profound transformations that are taking place.
First I would like to mention the outstanding monograph Singing to the Plants, by Stephan Beyer (The University of New Mexico Press). It is an exhaustive and enjoyable book that I have used to shed light on my own findings. Two other essential reference works are the doctoral theses of Marlene Dobkin de Ríos, The Use of Hallucinogenic Susbtances in Peruvian Amazon Folk Healing, and Luis Eduardo Luna’s Vegetalismo.
Works by Beatriz Caiuby Labate are also essential in understanding the world of ayahuasca in the context of its internationalization. Labate has co-edited several volumes that compile articles of different authors. In The Internationalization of Ayahuasca (LIT-Verlag), co-edited with Henrik Jungaberle, I would like to highlight the article by Bernd Brabec de Mori, Tracing Hallucinations: Contributing to a Critical Ethnohistory of Ayahuasca Usage in the Peruvian Amazon, that questions the supposed millenarian usage of ayahuasca throughout the Amazonia. Also coedited by Labate, in this case with Clancy Cavnar, is the volume Ayahuasca Shamanism in the Amazon and Beyond. Among all the articles included, I would like to mention Françoise Barbira Freedman’s Shamans’ Network in Western Amazonia, Evgenia Foutiou’s On the Uneasiness of Tourism, and Labate’s The Internationalization of Peruvian Vegetalismo.
Also, about the origin of ayahuasca usage and its expansion I would like to mention Gayle Highpine’s Unraveling the Mystery of the Origin of Ayahuasca, Peter Gow’s Shamanism and History in the Western Amazonia, and Glenn Shepard’s Will the Real Shaman Please Stand Up?
Finally, in order to understand the dynamics of societies that occupy the Amazon forest, my bedside book is Sociedades Bosquesinas by Swiss anthropologist Jürg Gasché, an essential work.