Indigenous Guarani gives Powerful Speech at World Ayahuasca Conference, Brazil

November 22, 2016

Amongst the sacred plants of the Amazon, ayahuasca, as it is termed internationally, is arguably the most widely known after tobacco. It has been a source of spiritual learning and healing among many indigenous Amazonian peoples for thousands of years, known to them as a medicine, a teacher and a bridge to the spiritual realm, its plant consciousness connecting the human spirit to that of the forest. Over the last century, the ‘Teacher Plant’ has reached far beyond its Amazonian homeland, becoming popular across the world.

The Second World Ayahuasca Conference took place in Acre, Brazil, ‘one of the world epicentres of ayahuasca’ from October 17-22, 2016. This conference brought together a great variety of ayahuasca traditions and practices, including indigenous Amazonian peoples, representatives of Brazilian ayahuasca churches, such as the Santo Daime and União do Vegetal, scientists, anthropologists and many neo-shamanic practitioners from North America and Europe, amongst others. Its stated aim was to facilitate dialogue and exchange of knowledge and experience among the international ayahuasca community.

17 indigenous peoples from the southern Brazilian regions of Acre and Amazonas were represented at the conference, as well as a few indigenous participants from Peru and Colombia, making a total of 150 indigenous participants. Nevertheless, many expressed objections to the little involvement they had in creating and organising the conference. “We are invited in our own home. We are foreigners in our own land,” Daniel Iberê, a M’bya Guarani from Acre stated.

The conference was organised by ICEERS, the International Centre for Ethnobotanical Education Research & Service, a European foundation that works to bring the ethnobotanical knowledge of indigenous peoples and its healing potential to Western therapy and society in general. An important part of its work is providing advice on legal services and emotional support to those who drink ayahuasca across the world. Their first ‘World Ayahuasca Conference’ was held in Ibiza, Spain, a fact which raised more than a few eyebrows among indigenous Amazonian participants; the focus there had been more on legal and policy issues than cultural questions.

At this year’s conference, with its greater indigenous representation, there were, despite limiting time restrictions, many powerful speeches from indigenous participants. Hushahu Yawanawá told of her year long isolation living deep in the forest, following a strict diet in order to train as a pajé (shaman) and become among the first female shamans of the Yawanawá people. Carlos Llenera, a Shipibo vegetalista, reminded the conference that “healers do not heal, they are just spiritual guides. The real maestros are the plants.” While Benki Piyako, an Ashaninka leader, recalled how Catholics told them that ayahuasca is “the devil’s brew.”

A number of indigenous speakers reminded the conference of the historical injustice and violence against their peoples. However it was the words of Daniel Iberê, a young M’bya Guarani man from Tekohá Jekupé Ajú, Rio Branco, Acre, that spoke most directly to the 500 years of colonial history and its ongoing legacy, giving a clear and needed context to the conference’s discussions. “I came here today to discover those who discovered us more than 500 years ago.” Daniel stated.

“There’s no other way to start this speech but mentioning our everyday struggle; a fight against vanishing; against the vanishing of our cultures…

Every time you drink a glass of Kaapi – we don’t call it ayahuasca – every time we drink a glass of it, it’s a glass of our culture; it’s a glass of our ancestors. It’s not a plant. Not for us… Our healing plants are our relatives.”

Ayahuasca Conference Indigenous Youth Brazil

The historical oppression of these indigenous traditions is made ever more violent by Brazil’s laws that permit the preparation and use of ayahuasca only to the ayahuasca churches, not to indigenous Amazonians. This legal travesty, that denies the original, ancestral users and keepers of this sacred plant, adds to a long history of injustices against Brazil’s indigenous peoples.

“For 500 years, we’ve been searching in embers, in remains left from burnings. Here they had raids, in the south they had bugreiros, which was another way to call those who hunted and killed indigenous people. And before them, there were also bandeirantes [colonial indigenous hunters and killers]. Most of them now have their names on streets and squares, and some call them heroes. However, nothing testifies to our existence on this land. There is no place where it says, ‘that’s Guarani territory’.

Every day you see in the news the naturalization of what is not natural, the naturalization of violence, the naturalization of oblivion. We are denied every day. But there is nothing you can do. No one can take our dignity away.

Do you want to know our culture? So we must look at the heart and see if it’s transparent. If it is not transparent, then a thousand years will pass and still you won’t know anything about us. 500 years have passed and you will know nothing about us, unless we tell you. They killed us and still they know nothing about us. I will tell you – they said development would come, and we looked at it and laughed. They said how we must preserve our forests, and we looked at it and laughed. Because those relatives who came from far away, crossing oceans, they are welcome. But did they preserve what they had there?

I would like to talk to you about the beautiful words of my people, about stories of my people. However, at this moment, it’s more important to speak of how my people, how we are being massacred.

I apologize. My words have become harsh. That’s because these sparks, this last slaughter, the most recent burning, they are still alive in our memories. That’s where we must begin. My relatives die every day. There are more deaths here than in Iraq. We have all heard about Iraq, but no one has heard about my dead relatives. And I am not talking just about knives and gunshots; I am talking about cultural death. This is the imposition of oblivion: when they tell you “you do not exist!” or “You are only what I want you to be!” Like a painting. Like a photograph fixed on the wall that you see and think: “But it’s static.” We are not static. We live and we bleed. And we are not afraid of going to the other place [death], because there are more of our relatives there than those who are unrelated to us.

As I speak to you, at this exact moment, a meeting is being held to discuss the recognition of ayahuasca as a cultural heritage. And once more, we will only know their conclusions. I wonder what has been done to our sacred culture. Do not forget it. Ro repy! [Guarani term] We are watching! We are demanding! Do not forget it!

We are calm, we are quiet in silence, but our hearts spew fire! Do not forget it!”

Daniel also spoke of many indigenous relatives who did not go to the conference, some because they didn’t want to, some because they could not and “those who didn’t come as a way of protest”. He railed against the quota designated for indigenous people, saying “If my relatives are not welcome in a place, then I am not welcome either.”

Important questions were asked by various indigenous participants about what they would take back to their communities and what the purpose of their attendance at this conference was. The call for recognition was repeated throughout the conference:

“We want to share our knowledge, but we also want it to be clear that the knowledge comes from the native peoples.”

At the closing of the conference, both the Indigenous Peoples of Acre and the Ayahuasca Churches who were represented made concluding statements delivered in the final plenary. The ‘Open Letter from the Indigenous Peoples of Acre, Brazil’, affirmed their willingness to build a common future and to collaborate in the discussions about ayahuasca use for all humanity. Nevertheless, they called for respect for the diversity of use by indigenous peoples, and insisted on their participation, consultation and recognition as the original holders of ayahuasca.

As there could be no definitive decision, especially about important issues such as the registering of ayahuasca as a world heritage, without proper consultation of all indigenous ayahuasqueros, it was proposed to hold an indigenous congress. This will try to decide collectively and inclusively on the actions that native Amazonian peoples wish to take in engaging with the ever-growing ayahuasca universe.


Jaye Renold


Daniel’s speech in full

Mba’éichapa! Puama!

Cheréra Iberê.

Good Day!

My name is Iberê. I am from the M’bya people. M’bya, Guarani. M’bya means “human”; translation: “human people.” Before being a M’bya, we were Tapejara: “walking people.”

I appreciate this invitation. And today – like yesterday, like the day before yesterday – I was wondering if I would or would not come to this second conference. I also heard there was a first conference. In a conference, you verify something. I’d like to think about what we will be verifying here. But I would like to not be here also for another reason, for many other reasons.

One of them is that I am not the most appropriate person to speak about the culture of my people. I would like this person to be Che Ramói – Ramói Ete, my grandfather. However, he is not here. I would like this person to be my Che Ru, my father. However, he is not here. He could not enter here. I came here today to find something out and to look in the eyes of each one of you human beings. And also to discover those who discovered us more than 500 years ago.

We were invited in our own home. We are foreigners in our own land. I also saw my speech title and I thought it was a joke from my relatives: “The Introduction of Ayahuasca Among Guarani People.” It’s like it started yesterday. But I must tell you a story. Before this land had a lord, before it had a master, a name, before it was called America, we were walking just like every Tapejara, searching for our Yvy Mara-eÿ, our land, without a certain destiny; we were walking throughout this continent.

You will hear Guarani words – some others speak Tupy, they are co-sisters, – from the south until right up there. How can you learn? I tell you: We had our Peabiru, some say Tape Abiru. They are our original paths, our ancestral paths. Some of them were still marked; some others only the shaman, the Karaí [nomadic healers], dreamed about and could see that “This is the way.” So it was necessary to know the strength of the dreams. And it’s thanks to dreams that we resist! We fight through dreams! And there’s no other way to start this speech but mentioning our everyday struggle; a fight against vanishing; against the vanishing of our cultures.

I’d like to say that every time you drink a glass of Kaapi… We don’t call it ayahuasca. We have our own old names… Every time we drink a glass of it, it’s a glass of our culture; it’s a glass of our ancestors. And it’s not a plant, it’s not a plant. Not for us. We like to think that we are free! We like to think that, as we are human, we have brothers. So they are our brothers, they are our relatives, who did not come before and did not come later. They were made when Nhanderu Vuçu [Guarani deity] created the world. Nhanderu Vuçu put everything in the world and made our healing plants. And our healing plants are our relatives.

Each one of our people has their own ways to say “relatives.” For the relative Huni Kui – it’s txai – that means that I recognize them as my relative. We also say rëtara, relative. The plants, which are called plants, are our relatives. Our relatives are not just our family members; they are the whole community. And not only the community; they are all humankind. And not only humankind, they include every animal, every rock, the air that flows and reminds us of our origins.

We came here to discover those who discovered us. However, I have a question. How could more than a thousand different languages disappear to leave just over six? For 500 years, we’ve been searching in sparks, in remains left from burnings. Here they had raids, in the south they had Bugreiros, which was another way to call those who hunted and killed indigenous people. And before them, there were also “bandeirantes” [colonial indigenous hunters and killers]. Most of them now have their names on streets and squares, and some call them heroes. However, nothing testifies to our existence on this land. There is no place where it says, ‘that’s Guarani territory’ that’s a place owned by Jaminawa people. Those Jaminawa relatives continue to walk in cities, here in Rio Branco. I saw one of them the other day – “Why don’t you come back to your homes?” This relative looked at me and smiled: “Because home is here! Here was also Jaminawa land.” So what? Must we come back or go away? They came. And they stayed here.

I wish it were not me telling you this. I am too young. I don’t know anything. I would like you to hear this from the older ones, but most of them were killed. Remember Kaiowá Guarani. Every day you see in the news the naturalization of what is not natural, the naturalization of violence, the naturalization of oblivion. We are denied every day. But there is nothing you can do. No one can take our dignity away. We like to think we are free. And you will never hear from us that we are someone’s leaders. Guarani people like to think they are autonomous. They like to think they think for themselves through their own ways. And if it’s not the same way, we look, we get up and we follow our own way.

In our culture, we have the guardian of the Opy [house of prayer], or Opy Gua, or Opy Guasu, and many kinds of shaman. Each one of them has a function, but it doesn’t mean that someone who is not a shaman doesn’t know how to make the wind blow. It doesn’t mean that who is not a shaman doesn’t know beautiful words. My people have three different languages. One language, everyone speaks. Another language is the language spoken by Opy Gua, the Karaí, the shaman. And the third language is the language of silence. We keep our silence.

Do you want to know our culture? So we must look at the heart and see if it’s transparent. If it is not transparent, then a thousand years will pass and still you won’t know anything about us. 500 years have passed and you will know nothing about us, unless we tell you. They killed us and still they know nothing about us. I will tell you – they said development would come, and we looked at it and laughed. They said how we must preserve our forests, and we looked at it and laughed. Because those relatives who came from far away, crossing oceans, they are welcome. But did they preserve what they had there?

I would like to talk to you about the beautiful words of my people, about stories of my people. However, at this moment, it’s more important to speak of how my people, how we are being massacred. Today, at this conference, we saw what we don’t like to see, which is a quota for indigenous people. If my relatives are not welcome in a place, then I am not welcome either.

I apologize. My words have become harsh. That’s because these sparks, this last slaughter, the most recent burning, they are still alive in our memories. That’s where we must begin. My relatives die every day. There are more deaths here than in Iraq. We have all heard about Iraq, but no one has heard about my dead relatives. And I am not talking just about knives and gunshots; I am talking about cultural death. This is the imposition of oblivion: when they tell you “you do not exist!” or “You are only what I want you to be!” Like a painting. Like a photograph fixed on the wall that you see and think: “But it’s static.” We are not static. We live and we bleed. And we are not afraid of going to the other place [death], because there are more of our relatives there than those who are unrelated to us.

As I speak to you, at this exact moment, a meeting is being held to discuss the recognition of ayahuasca as a cultural heritage. And once more, we will only know their conclusions. I wonder what has been done to our sacred culture. Do not forget it. Ro repy! We are watching! We are demanding! Do not forget it! We are calm, we are quiet in silence, but our hearts spew fire! Do not forget it!

To finish my speech, I would just like to remind you about the presence of relatives who are here and also those who didn’t come because they didn’t want to, those who didn’t come because they could not and those who didn’t come as a way of protest. They are relatives who have our skin and our blood. However, there are relatives who do not need our skin or our blood in order to be our relatives. I am talking about Txai Macedo, who wrote wise words. I am talking about relative Jairo, who works in Funai [National Indigenous Foundation, a Brazilian government agency] and didn’t want to come here today. And I am also talking about everyone who decided to imagine their own worlds in an autonomous, free and self-managed way, just like we always have done.

Thank you very much!

Yayoecha kuri!

Tupã ndiveño!

Hasta Siempre!

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