by José Stevens, PhD
The Shipibo are an indigenous tribe of approximately thirty-five thousand living in a far-flung area of the upper Amazon basin of Peru. Most reside in the jungle on both sides of the Ucayali River that runs from the Andean mountain range east of Lima. Like most the tribes in the Amazon, they follow a shamanic way of life with great expertise in the fauna and flora of their region. The Shipibo are especially known for their healing practices and icaros, or sacred songs, which they also depict in their textiles and drawings.
One of their creation myths is that the great Anaconda emerged from the river and sang the patterns on her back birthing the Shipibo tribe. They believe that everything has a song, every individual signature of every living thing is a song and that singing its song keeps it healthy and balanced. Every intention, prayer and wish for anything from prosperity to protection can also be expressed as a song, and these songs are the patterns and designs that they paint and embroider into their textiles.
Their healing practices also include a very special form of massage where they move energy in a powerful way for release and realignment of the systems in the body. Working with methods of extraction, they can remove what “should not be there” including congestion, trauma, and old unhealthy patterns. They are also known as the go-to tribe in the Amazon to learn the ancient art of conducting ceremonies for knowledge and healing.
In recent years the Shipibo have attracted people from all over the world to attend these ceremonies, some out of curiosity, and some for learning their healing methods and techniques. Unfortunately, this has created a shift in the economy of this jungle region causing the local ceremonialists to train many westerners instead of giving the local young people the opportunity to learn. Much is involved in the training and most of the youth who are interested do not have the time or the funds to follow this path. They are forced out of their communities to find work to support themselves and their families and often their desire for shamanic training is shelved until later in life if ever. Simply put they just cannot compete with the foreigners.
The respected elder teacher Enrique Flores, whom CSEE has worked with for many years, wants to change this trend by taking on young apprentices from among the Shipibo youth who show interest, promise, and talent in these areas. Enrique is typical of his generation, a healer whose only source of any income is his healing and ceremonial work. All shamanic teachers and elders among the Shipibo take time during the year to do their own practices that keep them connected to their tradition, to the plants, their medicines, and to their song tradition. They regularly “diet” with different power plants, sometimes for a few days and sometimes for as long as a couple of months, in order to keep themselves empowered with the wisdom of their tradition. Pilgrimages of several weeks to work with plants not of their own region is common as well. These days it takes financial support to travel, and if you have apprentices with you, the cost is even greater.
It is a rigorous path they maintain and they can always use the help of organizations such as CSEE which is committed to supporting this change of the current trend that has deprived Shipibo youth the opportunity to participate in their own cultural learning. Initially Enrique has identified three young men who will be apprenticing with him for the next several years. In order to accomplish this CSEE has agreed to raise the funds so they can devote themselves full time to learning all the plant lore, ceremonies, icaros, healing methods, and the full body of knowledge in order to eventually become healers and Curanderos (Shamans) in their tribe.
Enrique is now in his seventies and his time to train and teach all that he knows is precious. It is our hope that he will be able to take on even more apprentices including some of the young women of the tribe who show interest as well. Our intention is to raise these funds for Enrique’s apprentice program for training, supplies, food, and travel expenses so they can learn the plants of the entire region and learn from other respected teachers in other remote villages, some a couple of days of travel by river. We would be most grateful for any contributions to this important and necessary program either through one time or monthly contributions. Please consider this program in your donation plans.
Jose has studied extensively with Enrique and his family in the Amazon.
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