Colombia: Indigenous elders fight back over ayahuasca use
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Colombia: Indigenous elders fight back over ayahuasca use

Indigenous leaders in the town of Cofán in Colombia’s Putumayo department, have issued a document in response to a Youtube video into medicinal plant use.

The plant in question, “yagé”, or ayahuasca, has its antecedents shrouded far in the mists of time. From deep in the Amazon jungle, indigenous peoples native peoples used the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and a shrub called chacruna (Psychotria viridis) to create a potent mind-bending elixir.

Colombian and Peruvian tribes call yagé “the teaching plant,” and continue to use it today. Its active hallucinogenic agent, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), has been outlawed in many countries, but not in various parts of the Amazon, recognized by officials as a fundamental part of culture.

The plant’s exact properties are not yet known, still, ayahuasca is popular for its healing properties, after the body passes a purging stage during treatment.

The root of the media uproar, behind the plant’s use, lies in Spain.

“Contradicting and violating our town’s values,”

Alberto José Varela is a 45 year-old from Santa Fe, Argentina. He published the Youtube video for his site, “Ayahuasca Internacional” after spending 14 months in a Spanish jail. Varela was stopped and found with 40 kilos of the plant on his person.

The Argentine is accused by Cofán’s indigenous authorities of offering his ayahuasca knowledge in exchange for large monetary sums.

“He is giving people yagé without considering the risks. He promises them that they will get to know the jungle and the ritual behind it, but instead he takes people to a house that he has bought on the outskirts of   (a town in the Putumayo department). Furthermore, he promises them that he owns a school where he trains shamans in three to six months. He’s making a laughing stock of our town.” Lorenzo Morales, Cofán’s governor told El Espectador.

“He has been taking foreigners to Mocoa, Putumayo (…) charging them high fees, which he has turned into a lucrative business. He is contradicting and violating our town’s values.” Added the elder Querubín Queta, while signing the four page document against the Argentine.


Querubín Queta

“I’m very surprised with the outcome of this situation,” Varela commented from Madrid, Spain.

“We have learned to work in a professional manner with yagé. We operate in 10 countries and have more than 200,000 fans. If you are interested you can come and try the plant, which we do in a responsible manner, not like many indigenous people who get drunk and don’t take care of people while they are drinking the elixir.  I will take legal action as soon as I return to Bogotá.”

As ayahuasca “rituals” continue to gain popularity across Colombia, hopefully some recognition will be granted to Cofán and its residents, increasing respectful use of this powerful plant.

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