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Two poems from the Spanish by Enrique Moya

January 31, 2011 12 comments

translated by Nathan D. Horowitz

 

Ante la tumba de Søren Kierkegaard

1.
Devoto era del azul,
mas al conocer el gris de Copenhague
me consagré al sacerdocio de sus tonos.

Ahora escucho atento las voces
procedentes de la niebla.
Transcribo sus ecos con tinta de agua y memoria.

2.
La tumba de Søren Kierkegaard, vacía de crisantemos
La sombra de un árbol reposa sobre su lápida
Trozos de luz alternan con trozos de sombra
El cielo del camposanto aún está en la nevera.

Los gorriones daneses alternan sus melodías,
saben cuándo es tiempo de requiem
y cuándo, de fanfarria.

En sus Estudios estéticos, el filósofo aconseja:

“El que […] se haya perfeccionado
en el arte de olvidar y en el arte de recordar
podrá jugar a la pelota con la existencia entera”.

Nada tan efímero
como la muerte ante un retoño
bajo el cielo de abril.

3.
Sentado y sin palabras
ante un epitafio.

El mejor poema a la primavera
es permanecer en silencio un instante.

 

At Kierkegaard’s tomb

1.
I was devoted to blue.
But when I met the grey of Copenhagen,
I consecrated myself to the priesthood of its tones.

Now I listen carefully to voices emerging from the fog.
I transcribe their echoes with ink of water mixed with memory.

2.
The tomb of Søren Kierkegaard is empty of chrysanthemums.
The shadow of a tree reposes on its stone.
Pieces of light alternate with pieces of shadow.
The sky above the churchyard is still in an icebox.

The Danish sparrows alternate their melodies:
they know when it’s time for a requiem
and when it’s time for a fanfare.

In his Aesthetic Studies, the philosopher advises:

“When you reach perfection
in the art of forgetting and remembering,
you will be able to play games with all existence.”

Nothing is as ephemeral
as death faced with new shoots under an April sky.

3.
I sit wordlessly
before an epitaph.

The best ode to spring
is a moment of silence.

*

Verano en las tierras de Islandia

1.
En Ódáðahraun el viento bautiza
los puntos cardinales de este desierto hijo de la nada.

El silencio tiene su modo de decir las cosas,
cada pisada posee un eco profundo, expansivo.
Así que más vale entender bien lo que dice
o serás alimento de los fantasmas de la arena.

2.
Vatnajökull tiene forma de eternidad
y su infinito cubre mi mano con su niebla.
Mas intuyo la distancia entre mi alma y el glaciar
por los susurros del hielo,
por el tímido saludo del disco solar.

3.
En Kerlingarfjöll no ayuda echarle un vistazo a la brújula;
hay que orientarse por la sombra de las piedras.
También puedes cerrar los ojos
y dejarte llevar por la ventisca del glaciar.
Todos los caminos llevan a Reykjavík.

4.
La noche está allí
aun cuando nadie la vea.
2.56 am en la bahía de Faxaflói,
y el sol levita
sobre el frío verano de Islandia.

 

Summer in Iceland

1.
In Ódáðahraun
the wind baptizes
the cardinal points of this desert
born of nothingness.

The silence has a way of saying things.
(Each step has a deep echo, expansive.)
So it’s best to understand clearly what it says,
or else you will nourish the ghosts in the sand.

2.
Vatnajökull is shaped like eternity,
and its infinity covers my hand with its fog.
But I intuit the distance between my soul and the glacier
through the whispers of the ice
and the timid greeting of the solar disk.

3.
In Kerlinarfjöll it doesn’t help to glance at the compass.
You have to orient yourself by the shadows of the stones.
You can also close your eyes
and let yourself be guided by the breeze from the glacier.
All roads lead to Reykjavik.

4.
The night is there
even when no-one sees it.
At 2:56 a.m.
in the Bay of Faxaflói
the sun levitates above the cold Icelandic summer.


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Enrique Moya is a Venezuelan-Austrian poet, fiction writer, literary translator, publisher, essayist, and music and literary critic. He has published works in diverse literary genres in newspapers and magazines of Latin America, the USA, Asia and Europe. His collections of poetry include Oval Memory (Eclepsidra Publishing, Caracas, 2000, Bilingual English–Spanish Edition), Café Kafka (Labyrinth Publishing House, Vienna-London, 2005, Bilingual English–Spanish Edition), Theories of the Skin (La Bohemia Publishing House, Buenos Aires, 2006, Bilingual German–Spanish Edition) and Before Soren Kierkegaard’s Tomb (Lilla Torg, Malmö, Sweden 2007, Swedish-Spanish). His poetry has been translated and published into English, German, Italian, Swedish, Turkish, Hindi, Arabic, Rumanian, and other languages. Enrique Moya is director of Latin American – Austrian Literature Forum.

Nathan D. Horowitz teaches English in Vienna, Austria.

A quick visit to Joaquín’s, and a ceremony

October 28, 2009 Comments off

by Nathan Horowitz

from A Field Guide to Psychotropical Rainforest Birds

January 15, 2007

It was the weekend, and my young students had received a solid week of English, so I caught a ride down the river to go see Joaquín at his hut. A visitor was there, Jim Timothy from California. In his early 40s, he was slim and in very good shape. He had a receding hairline and a pencil-thin moustache like John Waters. He boasted of his ability to dance as many hours as boyfriends half his age. He described himself as an urban shaman and an organizer of rave parties with a spiritual focus.

“We always have a chill-out room,” he told me, “where there are always people on ecstasy having mellow conversations and giving each other backrubs. It’s better than having them out on the street drinking and fighting.”

He told me a dream in which he was in a natural history museum. In a dimly-lit corridor in the Egyptian section, he saw a diorama with a sphinx in it. She was alive and looking out at him through the glass. As he looked in her eyes he found that he was simultaneously himself and her, but more her than himself, because he was an emanation of her.

One day when he was a kid in Catholic school, he asked the priest, “We’re supposed to love our enemies, right?”

“That’s right.”

“And the devil is our enemy, so we’re supposed to love the devil, right?”

In another story he tells, he’s way out in the desert on an Indian reservation in the southwestern United States after having eaten peyote. He’s alone, naked, and playing a drum. A cloud of dust appears in the distance, gets closer. It’s from an approaching car. The car keeps getting closer and closer. It’s one of the tribal police cars. It drives up to him and stops. A big Indian cop wearing mirrored sunglasses gets out. Walks slowly up to him and says:

“You know you can’t do this.”

Jim says, “Yes.”

The cop says, “All right,” turns around, gets back in his car and drives away.

“Myths are computer chips,” Jim remarked in another conversation, “concentrated intelligence, survival information for hard times.”

I said, “One of my creative writing professors gave me a book of poems by the Serbian poet Vasko Popa called Homage to the Lame Wolf, named after an old Serbian tribal god. I found these poems astonishing because Popa was really operating from a different frame of reference than the other poets I were reading. The poems really were praise poems to this pagan god. I went to my professor and said this. He leaned back in his chair and said, ‘Vasko Popa knows a lot about wolves.’ I said, ‘Like what?’ My professor said, ‘And his grandmother knew even more.’ I said, ‘Like what?’ My professor said, ‘How to make love to them.’”

Jim replied, “This is a story about someone I don’t know well personally. We have a friend in common. This man works at an aquarium. They released one of their male sea lions back into the ocean. This man drives his car to the beach every Friday and picks up the sea lion and takes him home. He keeps him in the bathtub and feeds him fish, and they make love. On Sunday he returns him to the ocean.”

Joaquín made a ceremony with Jim and me. He chanted over cups of yagé and we drank and settled into hammocks and relaxed. For a long time we were quiet, listening to insects chittering and tweeting, and frogs honking and groaning, a thrilling music of wierdness. My mind took off and crash-landed in a realm of fragrant, burnt language, where mumbo jumbo, gibberish, and gobbledygook reigned.

Yagé’s not a bug or a slug, it’s a drug, but it’s way more than that, it’s a bat like a cat. It’s the distillation of the echo of gunflower elves. It’s green water in white rivers of blue oceans in the veins of bamboo. It’s subcutaneous calico lichen, vibrating neon gum that chews itself against the teeth of your mind, it’s an apparition of the face of Pan on a flower tortilla, it’s yellow blades of sunlight magnified by the black earth, orange skeins of spunlight delighting us through the perfect planet, red dreams of the One Light shaking us gently in the midnight morning saying “Hey, old friend, wake up, it’s time to BE, buddy. Time to be.” (Be, be, be, be, be, the verb reverberates off my lips.)

In a memory from my junior year in college, I’m lying on my back beneath a maple tree in October, blue sky above, and the intermittent cold breeze is shaking down the fantastic yellow red orange leaves, spinning against the sky as they fall. And I was thinking, “The tree is a natural clock that tells the time of the season. Each leaf that falls is another season second.”

What are the ramifications of this?

I chant silently, many times, the name of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.

I’m in a sub-aquatic realm of blue and green… there’s something fierce about it… and it has many lizard eyes peering around. What I’m looking at is the fabric of lizard skins, and some gnomes in a workshop are cutting into it with instruments like cookie cutters, taking out lizard-shaped skins and sewing them onto lizard bodies. Of course lizards come into being through biological reproduction, I know that, but the natural process is mirrored by this supernatural one. This is simply how they fabricate lizards. The scene winks out and I’m in darkness again listening to the insect songs. Joaquín is snoring quietly.

I want to get rich selling fake wisdom, now that I know everything is fake. But then even my wealth will be fake, like Monopoly money. Sun, moon, and stars, all artificial—constructed like a stage set by elves attempting to convince us that this so-called reality is real. It’s built by the elves of Maya, by Maya’s elves, by My’selves—…. In this me-istic miasma of cells and selves, this self-same magnetic magma that is the body on yagé again. I’m in one of those places where everything one thinks of is true. So totally, undeniably accurate, and yet elsewhere it could be false. Truths have physical boundaries as much as countries have. I hold still, listening. Here the shamanic universe is infinitely vast and real. Elsewhere, it is not real, and other rules apply. And always, here, the crickets are singing, and my lungs are drinking this rich, clean air like a distillation of life itself.

More than yagé, I’m intoxicated by this divine, fragrant language of nature that keeps breathing within me and without me; I’m drunk on this plant animal language of squawks and whistles and humming and singing. An immense wave of nausea hits me, immediately followed by self-pity as I remember I will die someday, and then compassion as I remember everyone else will die someday too. With tears in my eyes I resign myself to pain, foreshadower of death.

And the crickets play their wordless songs with more intensity now, and I’m not sure whether the music is inside me or outside me, a language that reverberates through me until it’s all that I am…. And I stretch and shift, relieving a pressure in my back, and float once again in the delicate black water of the forest night, my head clear, resigned to nausea and to the lightness of my limbs as if I were the captain of a boat sailing through a calm sky of smoke high above a burning city. I’m cold, and I pull the light blanket up around my shoulders. What are Jim and Joaquín doing? Go slow, my soul. My stomach hurts; I listen. Joaquín is again snoring quietly.

I recall a line from an early explorer’s description of yagé customs: “Transported by the drink, the Indians dreamed a thousand absurdities and believed them as if they were true.” Yes, how compelling these absurdities are! It’s so easy to be transported by them! It’s like you never knew you were a sailboat, and then the wind comes, and off you go! We drink a thousand truths and believe them as if they were dreams. We dream of the myths of man and the dreams we learn to believe in when we’re dreamed into this world—night and day, something and nothing, here and there, now and then. We’re all tiny shoots of the human plant, reified and pulsating.

Dozens of gnomes march past me in the darkness carrying strange tools. Fireworks explode behind them. Transported by the drink, I’m borne into a 4th of July memory from when I was a kid. It’s 1974, I’m six years old, my mom and stepfather take me to the fireworks display at Veterans Park. They greet an aquaintance, Stacy, then move to an open space and spread out the secondhand quilt on which old automobiles are printed. My mom remarks about Stacy, “She’s high as a kite.” The display begins. I love the huge firecrackers booming in the drunken velvety summer sky, the whistling-screaming yellowy-white fireworks that corkscrew as they fall, the huge green plantlike ones that hold still in the high air with their smoke lit up by their fire, and the blue starlike ones that seem like love messages from outer space, while the spectators lie on blankets underneath, saying Oooooo! Ahhhhh! In 1996, I breathe deeply, living in two times, appreciating the old familiar glorious beauty.

Nausea.

Eagles and stars whirl around my vision, arrows and olive branches, stars and stripes, red, white and blue. This is part of my design. We’re woven into each other. This is part of my totem pole. America the beautiful.

Nausea, increasing the beauty of the visions. My eyes run with tears, red, white and blue.

Nearby, in his hammock, my fellow American Jim Timothy clears his throat and sings, his voice ringing out like a bell in the darkness:

The creator is our savior,
Hey ney yo wey,
The creator is our savior,
Hey ney yo wey.

Take care of us, take care of us,
Hey ney yo wey,
Take care of us, take care of us,
Hey ney yo wey.

The creator is our savior,
Hey ney yo wey,
The creator is our savior,
Hey ney yo wey.

Take pity on us, take pity on us,
Hey ney yo wey,
Take pity on us, take pity on us,
Hey ney yo wey.

The creator is our savior,
Hey ney yo wey,
The creator is our savior,
Hey ney yo wey.

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Nathan Horowitz has three bright blue noses, six bright yellow tongues, 45 small, perfectly-shaped jet black ears, 95 hands, most of which are sleeping, and a long, long, long yellow and black stripy tail that wraps twice around the earth.

Categories: Words of Power Tags:

Ekphrasis 6: Emma Kidd + Nathan Horowitz

March 26, 2007 5 comments

Bobbing whales

by Emma Kidd

*

the conference

promotional material

the logo of the company
is a cloud
whose constituent particles
are oceans.

day one

in the afternoon
i look out the window
at the ocean
and see dozens of killer whales.
they begin transforming
leaving the water:
giraffes, bison, elephants, wolves,
fur still black/white.
a woman appears in the room with us,
dressed in black and white;
her skin matches theirs.

day two

i have no memory
of day two.

day three

three of us participants
are standing in the surf
turning into orcas.
our bodies grow, the shape changes,
our heads, even our teeth change,
our hands fan out
and the flesh grows together,
our tails grow out
and split into flukes.
the orcas are out there in the water
inviting us in,
egging us on.
now they’re laughing like mad,
because no matter what our skill
in growing fins and tails,
we’re still standing there on our legs.

closing ceremony

were plankton really
singing gregorian chants?

i’ll be back
next year.

by Nathan Horowitz

Categories: Ekphrasis Tags: ,

Gripped by Sunlight: The Education of a Secoya Shaman

September 15, 2006 7 comments

Fernando Incuyabeno

By Fernando Payaguaje

English translation by Nathan Horowitz, from the Spanish translation by Alfredo Payaguaje, Jorge Lucitande, and Marcelino Lucitande

Fernando Payaguaje (c.1915-1994) was the last shaman-chief of the Ecuadorian Secoya tribe, a group which today numbers about 400. The Secoyas and several other tribes represent the remnants of a once-vast indigenous nation whose population was reduced by about 98% when, beginning in the 1700s and ending in the early 1900s, outsiders brought waves of diseases into the area. During Payaguaje’s life, the Secoyas’ society went through great changes as they were forced to end their nomadism and settle in villages, where missionaries from the United States taught them to read and write and nearly eradicated their practice of shamanism. Today, educated and organized, they seek to preserve the best of the past while taking advantage of the opportunities of the present.

The real world

My preparation was long because I was a brave drinker. I drank up whole gardens of yage1 before having visions, but in the end, I was able to graduate even though I was young.2

After drinking, the first thing you notice is light. The mind opens like the dawn of a splendid day, everything is gripped by sunlight, and colors shine with great intensity. Next you see butterflies flying in that luminous air. The first time I saw them come near, I thought they were persons. I thought they were the angels I’d heard others speak of, but no. Only later can you contemplate those angels walking through the air. At the beginning, you see only butterflies, beautiful birds… you can also hear sounds resounding, very lovely, or the murmur of celestial beings. The drinker can become proud, saying “I have acquired the visions,” and it’s true, but they’re only the first levels. I didn’t say anything because I wanted to see more.

Afterwards, if you have a good teacher, you can reach, little by little, the truth, and the most complete possible knowledge of reality.3 The guide should bring us first to the celestial spirits, and later teach about the multitude of devils that exist, since the graduate has to know about everything. If the teacher introduces the student first to the world of devils, he’ll never be able to make his way out of there, much less reach the sky; everything’s finished; he’ll never be able to direct the ceremony.

Customs for the yage ceremony

In the old days, the Secoyas would adorn themselves to go to the yage house. They combed their hair, they painted their faces with freshly picked achiote, highlighting those designs with curí, achiote cooked and mixed with other aromatic herbs. They made long stripes in the same way. All these designs had no greater meaning; they were just designs. They dyed their lips black and, with cooked achiote, adorned their feet, calves, arms and hands. They dressed in new tunics and decorated their hammocks, and they wore flowers and fragrant plants on their bodies. At the end they put on feathers, crowns and necklaces.

At around four in the afternoon they would perform these preparations and leave their houses dressed like this, if they lived near the yage house. But if they lived far away, they would set out dressed normally, and then, a short distance away from the yage house, they would adorn themselves. No participant entered the house unadorned. Once inside, they would hang up their hammocks and remain in them from the beginning of the ceremony at dusk until it ended at dawn. In the morning, breakfast was served, and then the guests would return to their homes, where they would bathe to remove their designs.

Families who had someone sick would bring him to the yage house. He’d lie in his hammock in a corner of the house. Then, at a given moment, the shaman would give him prepared water,4 fan him with leaves,5 and, finally, say to his father,

“Your son is going to get well. That sickness will not come back.”

When the son was all better, the father would thank the healer, and would pay him with a hammock, because everyone was aware of the suffering he had to pass through to graduate. That’s the reason to pay him. Sometimes, if someone falls ill suddenly, he can be healed in his own home. The healer smokes tobacco and blows the smoke on the patient. If he’s a good healer, he knows immediately what illness he is faced with. Occasionally, if he has no yage prepared or is in a hurry, he can drink hard liquor, although the drunkenness is not the same. It’s necessary to be careful with the quantity: with a small glass, you can cure, but if you drink more, the drunkenness comes on and you can’t do anything at all, much less have visions. Liquor is very different.

There are diverse yages and various ways of using them. One customary way is to cook yage on one side and on the other side uhahai.6 That is scraped from the plant, wrapped in a leaf, and, when the yage itself is cooking, you put it in the pot and keep it there a long time. Afterwards you keep boiling the yage at least half a day or more until it’s very thick. It should be bitter, concentrated, because that way the visions acquire more potency. You take out the plant matter and let the brew cool and take it home.

Uhahai should not be cooked. You take off bark with a knife and put it in a bowl of water and leave it out in the sun. After a while you can drink it because it inebriates.

Despite being very strong, pehí7 is easy to prepare, although it should stay on the fire a long time. You cook it in a large clay pot. A long time later you take out the plant matter and cook it down until it looks more like a food than a drink. Its smell, appearance and taste are very disagreeable.

People who are accustomed to drinking yage are not gripped by the drunkenness, but drink it as tranquilly as if they were drinking chucula.8 The person who directs the singing never drinks pehí — though he has drunk it previously — to learn to sing, because it softens the body and the voice. After drinking it, you’re not afraid to sing because you’ve acquired all the knowledge. If the graduate is young, he’ll drink standing up, walking with the cup in his hand through the open space of the house, proud, drinking and singing, because the drunkenness cannot defeat him. Because it’s not he who’s drinking anymore, but the angels.

Yage is drunk in darkness, without lighting a lamp; the only light comes from the flames or the coals of the fire.

The temptation of violence

You’re reclining in the hammock, but, at the same time, you’re in another world, seeing the truth of everything that exists; only the body remains behind. The angels come and offer you a flute. You play it; it’s not the healer who teaches you, but the angels themselves that make us sing when we’re inebriated. How beautiful it is to see the totality of the animals, even the ones that live beneath the water! How could it not be lovely to distinguish even the people who live in the interior of the earth? You can see everything! That’s why it’s exciting to drink yage.

But it’s not easy. When I drank thick yage, the strong stuff, I was able to see the sun, the rainbow, everything. That vision ended and I felt my heart as hot as a newly fired clay pot. I felt the heat inside, burning me, and although I wasn’t working, I sweated all day. Visions continuously assaulted me. From time to time I bathed. I felt myself capable of bewitching and killing people, though I never did it, because my father’s advice restrained me.

“If you use that power now,” he said, “you can kill people, but you’ll never get beyond being a witch.”

In those days I was devoting myself to drinking yage. I would go visit Cuyabeno and then return home to listen to my father’s warnings.

“When you feel a little drunk,” he would say, “you should suppress the anger that comes to you. Then you won’t become violent or hurt anyone.”

“No, I’ll be able to restrain myself.”

For days I endured this heat inside. I felt like I was drowning in my own sweat. It’s a dangerous time; you have to prepare for it. You can’t even look directly at people, only listen to them.

“Now I’ll bring a different kind of yage,” my father said. “It’s the moment to try it.”

We brewed it very thick. When we drank it, he extracted those magical darts I had inside.9 I stopped sweating and became like an innocent child. That’s how my father drew the violence out of me so I could heal and not harm. At that point I went up a level.

Pehí reduces you to ashes

After meeting all the spirits of yage, you drink thick pehí to perceive the innermost aspects of reality and fine-tune your voice to sing well in the ceremony.

To drink pehí, you scrape the bark like with yoco, and you wash the roots well and peel them. You toast this material and then put it in a pot to boil. Later you let it cool down, discard the plant matter and cook it down further until it’s so thick you can almost chew it.

Meanwhile, the yage is cooking in another pot a certain distance away. During the ceremony, the director will abstain from drinking pehí, but he will offer it to those who want to see. The fact is, it’s frightening to drink pehí that thick. It smells terrible and tastes worse. It’s so bad that you immediately throw it up. That, you have to do right back in the gourd you drank it from so you can drink it again. If you vomit the pehí on the ground, you don’t get visions, the only thing you can see is an immense land in which you seem to be buried. The pehí is so pasty that you can’t swallow it easily; you have to push it down your throat with your fingers. This makes you disgusted, ashamed, and afraid.

Sometimes they mix tarayage,10 waiyage11 and pehí so that the result is very concentrated. When you drink it, the drunkenness hits you before you finish the gourd. You feel burns all over your body, as if you’re being hit with burning logs. Then the body catches on fire and is reduced to ashes. When the flesh is destroyed, only then does the soul emerge and begin to see. At that moment the most fantastic visions begin.

I drank pehí when I was very young, at an age when some people were afraid of drinking even the weakest brew. On that occasion, three graduates accompanied me. They didn’t drink. They gave me a big gourdful. I drank it and was immediately struck blind. They gave me water to get rid of the bitterness in my throat and helped me lie down in the hammock. I felt a terrible drunkenness and continued not to be able to see. They lit a tobacco for me and I took it, but I was unable to smoke it, and I threw it away, still blind. Despite everything, I withstood the fear without crying out. I held still, waiting for the visions.

My drinking companion had to drink sitting down, and not even that way could he drink more than four swallows. The gourd was still full when he stood up, frightened.

“I can’t take any more, I’m drunk already!”

“You have to finish it.”

But he started to cry and put the gourd down. Then he lay in his hammock and stayed that way for hours. Later on he got up and walked around the yage house as if he had gone insane. At dawn he went outside, saying, “I’m going visiting.” But his whole body shook with spasms and he stayed that way, as if insane, until late in the afternoon.

Young people should drink pehí to culminate their initiation; it’s the only way to reach the celestial visions. Yage is not sufficient.

With yage, it’s like a school. Until you finish studying, you don’t know everything. Only people who drink pehí to the end know the ultimate visions of the world. I was intoxicated for a night and a day, during which time I was able to see all the devils in existence. In the same way I saw all the jaguars.
__________

1 Pronounced “ya-HEY.” A hallucinogenic medicine, also known as ayahuasca, common to tribes in the western Amazon rainforest. (Footnote by Nathan Horowitz — hereafter, NH)

2 The importance of graduating while young should not pass unremarked on. In the first place, we have already spoken about the difficulties experienced in the process; because it’s necessary to make a hearty effort to drink (“You were born male, but you’re acting like a woman, going fishing instead of drinking yage!”), this speaks for the young man’s moral quality. But furthermore, the Secoyas agree that developing the habit of drinking yage early leads to more numerous and superior visions. (Footnote by Miguel Angel Cabodevilla, editor of the Spanish edition — hereafter MAC)

3 All the drinkers insist on this: drinking is not a vice, because it’s disagreeable and risky; what they wish is to see, to control the world of the deadly spirits, to approach the happy kingdom of the celestial beings; in sum, to attain knowledge. To reach the truth, because what our eyes see is only an appearance. “If we don’t drink, we don’t see, we don’t dream; if we don’t see that other world, we’ll die off, there will be a catastrophe.” (Testimony of Cornelio Ocoguaje in Ganteya Bain, El pueblo secoya, Alvaro Wheeler, Bogota 1987, p. 274.) (MAC)

4 I.e., water that had been chanted over. (NH)

5 The leaf fan, mamecoco in the Secoya language, is a common tool of shamanic practice among ayahuasca-drinking tribes. Other names for essentially the same thing include shacapa and wairapanga. (NH)

6 Brunfelsia grandiflorae. (NH)

7 Brugmanisa sp., a stronger hallucinogen related to datura and thornapple. (NH)

8 An everyday beverage for Secoyas, made of ripe plantains boiled and mashed in water. (NH)

9 Witchcraft is seen and experienced as arrows, darts, spines, of different materials, which the sorcerer fires at his victim, conveying sicknesses or death. In the exercise described here, the master teaches the initiate to dominate as much his anger as his pride in feeling himself powerful, since both vices would be dangerous for his community; and so the master brings him to a higher level where the celestial beings purify him of his violence. (MAC)

10 Literally “bone yage,” so-called because of its knobby appearance. (NH) To stimulate visions or healing rituals, the Secoyas drink three basic types of plants. First, yage, the most well-known, used across a wide area of the Amazon, and perhaps more familiar by the Quichua term ayahuasca. … Second, pehi (peji), known in Quichua as guando (or huantuj, etc.), called in Spanish floripondio or borrachera…. Third, uhahai (ujajai), from the Secoya uja, prayers to drive away dangers, and jai, many or great. … In Quichua it is known as chirihuayusa. During his tales, Fernando recalls some of the characteristics of such potions, about which he is recognized as an expert; a more detailed description of their qualities is beyond the reach of these pages. (MAC)

11 Wai: meat. (NH)

Excerpts selected by Nathan Horowitz from his full-length translation, The Yage Drinker, which will be published in December 2006 by CICAME, Pompeya, Ecuador.

Fernando Payaguaje’s autobiography, edited by Miguel Angel Cabodevilla, was originally published in Spanish as El bebedor de yajé (CICAME, 1994).

Interested readers can find photographs closely related to the material in this article in the work of Richard Evans Schultes, the late Harvard professor and explorer who is considered the father of ethnobotany. Schultes was about the same age as Fernando Payaguaje, and was working in nearly the same environment. A recent book of his excellent black-and-white photographs, The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journeys of Richard Evans Schultes contains images of healers, typical plant life and Amazonian landscapes taken on his explorations between 1941 and 1953; excerpts and selected photographs from this book can be viewed at HerbalGram: The Journal of the American Botanical Council; and a more extensive gallery of Schultes’ photos is here.