Subject: meráya shaman
Culture: Shipibo and related cultures
Setting: tribal warfare, Upper Amazon mid 19th-mid 20thc.
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Pantone 2006 online
"Prior to the 1960's, the Shipibos were actively involved in warfare with outsiders and sometimes with other Shipibos. According to Michael J. Harner in his essay 'Common Themes in South American Indian Yage Experiences,' anthropologists have studied the Shipibo Indians of the Ucayali region of eastern Peru and have reported that a common function of Ayahuasca-taking is to reap revenge on their enemies. He reports that Shipibo shamans believe that taking Ayahuasca permits the shaman's soul to leave his body in the form of a bird which then can fly to a distant enemy at night. This bird then changes back into the shaman's human form so he can destroy the sleeping enemy. ... [O]ften a shaman, taking the drink, believes he acquires giant snakes which are to be his special demons to be used in protecting himself against other shamans in supernatural battles. The Shipibo shamans, under the influence of the drug, believe they imprison other persons' souls with supernatural boats whose demon crews are lead by a yellow jaguar and a black puma."
"Over the passage of time, there came to light the existence of certain very famous shamans known as Merayas, a title which denotes no ordinary shaman. Merayas are those who have reached the very peak of shamanic achievement, they have achieved the ability to harmonize fully their auras with the beings of nature and are thus able to see these supernatural beings who live in the interior of the forest, and the great aquatic and cosmic spaces. They are able to travel, fully aware, in each of the four worlds known to the Shipibo culture. Furthermore, the Merayas are able to change their physical form into an animal, such as a puma, an eagle, an anaconda or a jaguar – into an object, such as a rock – or become temporarily invisible. How this was achieved is unknown; perhaps by some form of mass hypnosis. Heberto’s grandfather, Don Guillermo (Yosi Ocha), is widely believed to have been the last of the Merayas.
"All shamans are unique and special healers, capable (to different degrees) of interacting in two different worlds – on the spiritual plane as much as the material one. It is important that those who decide to make forays into the practice of shamanism must have a demonstrable vocation for service to others, to save lives, and not be susceptible to the black arts. They must protect themselves using their arcanas (spiritual protectors) as shields against the evil spirits who delight in harming people.
"Surprising tales are told about shamans who assume the form of birds or nocturnal beasts by night and travel to different places for various reasons, but generally to heal a patient’s ailments. Very often, the person visited by such a shaman is only aware of the healing process in the dream state. Others are temporarily hypnotized so that the spirits summoned by the shaman may operate on the patient’s body. They are neither awake nor asleep, but in an intermediary level where they may be aware of the spirits healing them: and the following day, their sickness is healed. In other words – healing at a distance.
"Part of the process of acquiring such knowledge in Shipibo shamanism and becoming a force for healing requires the frequent use of the many benefits and teaching properties of Ayahuasca, because its effects enable people to visualize spiritually many different astral beings, such as the Mother of the Rivers and the Plains and the energies of the Sun and the Moon, as well as other luminous entities, and with the guidance of these, to correct mental and spiritual imbalances, and to diagnose a person’s ailments.""
* Anawalt 2007 p485
"The Montaña craft tradition was influenced by long contact with the prehispanic Andean high cultures. As a result, some of the region's tribes wore such enveloping clothing as poncho/tunics -- commonly called cushmas -- and wraparound dresses, skirts, and kilts, all woven on the pre-Columbian backstrap loom, which originated in the highlands. The majority of these Montaña textiles shared a common feature with ancient Andean weavings: each piece was individually woven to shape; there was no tradition of cutting down or altering the original size of a loomed rectangle of cloth. In the case of the cushma, two large rectangular pieces were stitched together. The garment's geometric linear decorations were then painted in dark tones of brown, ochre or black over a light background. Other geometric designs -- obviously inherited from an ancient decorative tradition -- were said to represent serpents, the alignment of certain stars and other concepts related to the Shipibo people's beliefs."
* Lamb 1974 p14 (describing an Amahuaca shaman/chief)
"[W]hereas every other Indian in sight was naked, he wore a simple sleeveless garment of coarse white cotton that came almost to his bony knees."
* Lamb 1974 p81-82
"An important part of preparation for the raiding expedition was the painting of black decorations on the body .... The fruit of the huito tree was used, and it produced a blue-black stain that lasted for several weeks. Paint on the body consisted of various designs of wavy, jagged or broken lines alone or in combination, or spots arranged in different ways. The women were artists at applying body paint. On the face a wide band was started, covering the area between the nose and chin, and extended to each ear, tapering to a point at the ear. In addition various narrow lines and small dots were used to embellish the basic design. It gave the face an awesome appearance when seen unexpectedly at close range but had a camouflaging effect viewed from a distance."