This morning the irises in our garden have burst into bloom, and the yard is looking downright tropical. I want to take a few moments to share a memory with you. It was nearly twenty years ago now, and I was sitting in a clearing deep in the Amazon with my friend and mentor, Dr. Bernardo Peixoto, the late, brilliant anthropologist, ecologist, and shaman from the Uru-e-wau-wau people. To me, he was Ipu, a shortened version of his given shamanic name.
Ipu and I were talking about his culture’s belief that we are all shaman. “We are star people, we came from the stars. Our task as shaman is to remind people that there is more to us than we know or remember. At the same time, we must not get too full of ourselves. Being a shaman is like being a plumber”, he said laughing. “It’s not a big deal! Everyone can access the ancestors and spirits. Everyone can work for the healing of trauma, lives, and Pachamama, the Earth. Sometimes though, you need to find someone who is more skilled to aid you.”
We were watching Brazil nut clusters fall from the top of the 150 foot tall tree in the middle of the compound. The village had just a few years before been home to some 2400 people. Now there were fewer than 50. Most of the villagers had been killed or had fled due to the ongoing, government sanctioned, genocide. Now as I write, there is no village.
“When people ask us to help, we must do what we can,” Ipu continued. A pod fell and someone grabbed the football helmet, put it on his head, and ran to pick up the pod. “You know, those pods weigh five pounds, we put on the helmet just in case another falls. It is not good to be hit in the head by a pod.” He laughed again.
“I was trained to care for the body, mind, and spirit,” he continued. “That means I must address political problems, too. Often there is a spiritual component to the challenges we face in life. The shaman helps by aiding the person to come back to balance and to address the spiritual aspects of the problem. We call on the spirits and Ancestors for help in our work, and we invite the Healer who lives in each of us to step forward; we invite the Healer Within to awaken.”
“This place, the Amazon, is the lungs of the world, and the people who live here are the guardians of this place. The Brazilian government does not like me very much because I do the job I was raised to do, to help the people and the jungle. They have often threatened to kill me. It is OK though, we must do what we are called to do.” Ipu sighed and looked deeply saddened. Then the twinkle returning to his eyes and he laughed. “The world is as it is. We are only called to do what we can.”
This week we have heard from Indigenous people in the Amazon that they and the jungle are once again in great danger. Our hearts go out to them.