In November of ’99 I made a trip to the headwaters of the Amazon in Ecuador’s Northern Oriente as part of my series on indigenous people and their spiritual mediators—the people we in the west refer to as Shamans. I traveled with a three man film crew working for the Discovery Channel. My intention was to meet with one of the well respected shamans of the Huaoriani Tribe, a 64 year old man named Mengatohue. Our guide was Mengatohue’s grandson, Moi, a 35 year old Huaoriani warrior who had learned Spanish and had managed to unite the very independent Huaoriani people in their fight against the Oil Companies that threatened their territory.
Once in the Amazon we met up with Moi who introduced us to the Huaoriani in the very remote village of Bameno. For a tribe that are known by their neighbors as ‘Savages’ and are feared for their brutality and fierceness in battle I must say that I did not see any aggression or disharmony between people in the tribe. In fact, I was taken by their fun loving nature and the affection they showed each other. During our stay we accompanied a few of the men on one of their hunts. I was amazed at the sensitivity and knowledge these men had about their environment. They could hear, see, and smell things I couldn’t. It made me realize how much my senses have been deadened by spending so much time in my head. Armed with blowguns they were able to track and bring down monkeys that were almost 100ft up in the canopy.
Mengatohue became a shaman by taking more and more powerful doses of Auyasca (a plant hallucinogen) until he bonded with his spirit allies. He was very young when he started this dangerous process—the initiate can go crazy. Today, every five to seven days Mengatohue goes into trance and his main spirit (the Jaguar) enters his body and gives him guidance in healing patients, and leading his community. Here are some clips taken from the Discovery Channel series.