"TOBACCO'S MOTHER IS A SERPENT"
alking to a Tabaquero Ayahuasquero, Narby understood that for Ashaninka natives, Ayahuasca-induced visions were as real as computer screens for our readers.
Narby carried out a long series of interviews with this man and here is the transcription of one of them:
Carlos, the Tabaquero Ayahuasquero, tells him: "My uncle was a Tabaquero. I used to watch him lay out a lot of tobacco, dry it in the sun and cook it, and I would ask myself what it was all about. 'It's tobacco,' my uncle told me, and once the mixture was black, he would start tasting it with a little stick. I thought it was sweet, like Chancaca (sugarcane concentrate). When he took his tobacco, he would counsel everyone, he could tell them 'this is good' or 'this is not good'. I don't know what intellectuals might say now, but at the time Adventist missionaries used to say: 'He is listening to his bats; his Satan.' He had no book to read from, but what he said was true: 'everybody has left these things, everybody now goes to the missionary's house. I can't read but I know how to do these things, I know how to take tobacco and I know all these things.' Then, when he talked to me, I would listen. He used to tell me: 'Listen, nephew, when you become a man, look for a woman to take care of, but before this happens, you must not only learn to write, but also learn these things.'
- Did he mean, learn to consume tobacco?
- Consume tobacco and heal. When somebody came to look for him, my uncle would say: 'Why do you come asking me to heal you if you say that you know God now that you are in the mission and I don't? Why don't you ask the reverend to pray for you, since he says he can heal an ill person through prayer? Why don't you go with him?' But he would heal them anyhow, pull out his coca and started chewing it, and he would sit like we do now. Then he would suck at his tobacco and during those moments I would watch him and wonder what he would do. The first healing session I saw him in, he said: 'Alright, bring me the sick baby.' He has begun, he has palpated him and felt his pulse: 'Oh, I can see, he is really screwed up. The sickness is here.' Then he has begun to suck in that place (to suck loudly). Then he has spit making a noise: ptt! Then once more, then a third time: ptt! 'Alright, it's enough.' He then tells the mother: 'Something has shocked this baby, here is a Piri piri (a medicinal herb) to bathe him in. Then let him rest.' The next day it could be seen that the baby was better. Then I began to like this and I decided to learn. Uf! The first time I took tobacco I was unable to sleep.
- How old were you?
- I was eight years old. I thought it was sweet like Chancaca. But it was so bitter I could not even swallow it. My uncle told me: this is the secret of tobacco. Then he taught me everything. He gave me a gourd with tobacco. Little by little I learned to take it and resist it. Very soon, I did not vomit anymore.
- And was it your uncle who also taught you about Ayahuasca? - No, I learned that later, with my father-in-law.
During this search period, Narby experimented on himself the effects of different treatments with medicinal plants practised by the Ashaninkas. Narby understood that practise is more important than words for a native Ashaninka. "They taught by example and not through explanations."
Many times, as Narby tells, it was not easy to explain how they healed.
But they healed:
- When you have healed someone, as you have healed Sabino the other day, how does tobacco work? If you are the one inhaling the smoke, how can tobacco heal the person who is not smoking?
- I always say that it is tobacco's property to show me real things. I can see things the way they really are. And he drives out all pains.
- Oh, but how has that property been discovered? Does tobacco only grow in the jungle?
- There is a place, for example, in Napiari, where tobacco grows abundantly.
- On the Perene. We have learned about its power through Ayahuasca, that other plant, since it is the mother.
- Which is the mother, tobacco or Ayahuasca?
- And tobacco is its son?
- It is its son.
- Because tobacco is not as strong, right?
- It is less strong.
- You have told me that both tobacco and Ayahuasca contain gods.
- That is so.
- And you have told me that souls love tobacco. Why?
- Because tobacco has its method, its strength. It attracts the maninkari. It is the best contact for a human being's life.
- And those souls, what are they like?
- I know that every living or dead soul is like those radio waves flying around in the air.
- In the air. This means that you can't see them but they are there, like radio waves. Once you turn on the radio, you can receive them. It is the same with souls, with Ayahuasca and tobacco you can see them and hear them.
- And how is it that when the Ayahuasquero sings we hear music that we had never heard before, such beautiful music?
- Well, that attracts the spirits, and as I have always said, when you think it overů (long silence) It is like a tape recorder. You put it there, you start it, it starts singing: hum, hum, hum, hum, hum. And you begin to sing along it. Once you sing, you get to understand it and you can follow its music because you have heard its voice. So music is born, it comes and you can see it. As it happened the other time when Ruperto was singing.
- Tabaquero and Ayahuasquero, are they the same thing?
- The same.
- Well, and I want to know why we see serpents when we take Ayahuasca.
- It's because Ayahuasca's mother is a serpent. Can't you see they have the same shape?
- But I thought that Ayahuasca was tobacco's mother?
- It is so.
- But then, who is the owner of these plants?
- The owners of these plants are really like gods. They are the Maninkari. It is them who help us. Their existence has no end or disease. That is the reason why they tell the Ayahuasquero to put his head in the very dark house: 'If you want me to help you, do it well, then. I give you this power not just for you but for everyone.' Then, clearly, there it is, the force to decide if you want more life by believing in the plant. It is the way. For that reason they say there is a very narrow road that no one can pass, not even with a machete. It is not a straight path, but at least it is a road. I abide by these words, and also where it says that truth is not for sale, that wisdom is for you but it should be shared. In other words, this means that to make money out of this is wrong.
|Essay about the Book "The Cosmic Serpent"|
of Jeremy Narby by Patricia Burgos