Sunday, August 21, 2011

Last Note on Ayahuasca Dieta

Not to bore you guys, but once again the question of the dieta, the diet, has come up on a board on which I occasionally post. I was trying to stay out of it but it's just too juicy a topic for me to keep my hands off. So this was my response to a topic with the title of "Are there any of you out there who reject the traditional dieta?" or somesuch.
My entry:
At the Shamanism Conference in Iquitos last month, I raised some eyebrows--to say the least--when I flippantly answered a question about the dieta with something like, "the dieta was invented by white people 10 years ago."
I was flippant, but I don't think I was wrong.
I don't think most curanderos I know, among the older ones, ever adhered to any dieta as we know it. Not for the purpose of association with ayahuasca, anyway. Nearly every one ate a decent meal after they had cooked the medicine in the heat all day and before they served and drank it. I never saw one turn down a cup of coffee with milk and sugar just prior to the ceremony, nor salt if I happened to have it.
BUTTTTT, here's how I see it--and I recognize that it's my way of seeing it. And I might be seeing it through odd glasses since I never heard the term dieta until about 2002, when Hamilton, from Blue Morpho, said he couldn't shake my hand because he was on a dieta and forbidden to have contact with other humans. For him, I'm sure that was the right thing to do. And maybe others have been doing dietas for hundreds of hears. It's just that I find it odd because in the first 17-18 years of drinking the medicine it never came up.
Still, I think I can explain a lot of it to you.
Let's look at the primary things people discuss when talking dieta: no salt, no chile peppers, no pork, no sex.
SALT: In the jungle, prior to Fujimori, in the mid 1990s, supplying every tiny village in Peru's jungle a community metal boat, motor and 40 gallons of gasoline every month to ensure that people could get their goods to market, most river travel by locals from villages to towns was by dugout canoe. Once there was a community boat--a peque-peque with a 9hp motor--time to get from say, Aucayacu to Genero Jerrera, was cut from 5 hours to 2. The return upstream was cut from 6 hours to 3.
Subsequently, things people had rarely had were accessible.
In addition, in 2004-2007 or so, the Chinese brought in inexpensive peque-peque motors. So where there had pretty much only been a Briggs and Stratton available, and that was $1,300 US or so--out of the reach of nearly everybody--suddenly there were $250 motors available. A decent peque-peque motor can be had now for $180 (I just bought a 5 hp last month for a friend, so I know the price).
What does that mean?
Well, it means people go to town frequently. It means they bother to catch the large catfish, like zungaru and don seillo and can get them to town for sale in just a couple of hours. Prior to the availability of Fujimori's boats or cheap Chinese products, it was 11-12 hours to get to town and back. Which meant no fish would make it fresh. They had to be salted. So if you went to town to buy salt, you rarely used it on your food. No. It was what afforded you the ability to bring your fish, and hunted meat, to market to earn money for batteries, flashlights, an occasional shirt, a new machete. So salt was a very tightly held commodity despite it not costing very much.
CHILE PEPPERS: Chile Peppers in the jungle take a very particular type of soil to grow in. Not many places can produce them, hence, a kilo of charapitas (the primary jungle chile, the little yellow hot one) goes wholesale for 30-40 soles, and retails out at more than 100 soles when sold by the half-sol.
So nobody had chile peppers to begin with, and if you did you certainly didn't waste them when they brought in a week's pay (basic pay in Iquitos for working stiffs is still about 12 sols a day, though 20 sols is minimum wage and just a little less than police and teachers get). Pay on the river, for helping out building a house or whatever remains about 5 sols. So no one who grew charapitas would waste them on themselves and no one who didn't could afford them. So no chile peppers.
PORK: Essentially, the same as chile peppers but in spades. Pigs grow to be a couple of hundred pounds, even in the jungle. If you have pigs, you can't just eat some of it. You got to eat the whole thing. So when you raise them, you raise them for sale, not for food. So of course you don't eat pork in the jungle. BUT the dieta generally says nothing about eating sajino or wangana, the two peccaries in the jungle, and those are definitely pork. And majas, while a rodent, is the most pork like meat you'll ever find. All of these are staples of everyone who can trap or otherwise kill them, including every ayahuasquero and curandero I ever knew.
SEX: Well, I'm not sure how to explain this one, except to say that since all the curanderos I know have multiple girlfriends, wives and lots of kids--yes, there are exceptions, but not many of them out on the river--I'm not sure anyone pays attention to this. I do know that during intense periods with the medicine it never crossed my mind to have sex. That was a distraction. I mean, if you are going to be sleeping with your arms around a tree, getting bitten by all the bugs, bats, insects and everything else that protects that tree--in order to get to know it you have to get past those protectors--well, the last thing on your mind is sex. But I know of few people who've ever really slept with the plants to get to know them. Most just drink their essence and call it a day. But I do think sex is distracting and I also think that Ayahuasca has a very human trait of jealousy.
Now if what I'm saying is right, how did the dieta idea come up? Well, I think--and I've seen some videos from the 1980s and 1990s that show this--that gringos ask leading questions and then get answers and believe them to be correct answers. "When you were studying to be a curandero, did you eat pork?"
"No."
"When you were studying to be a curandero, did you....."
And so forth. What the questioner didn't ask was whether the person did those things when they were not studying to be a curandero. Because in most cases the answer would also have been "no".
I don't mean to downplay the importance of concentration in learning the medicine. I don't think you can be flip about it at all. But I don't know that what white people call dieta is anything that traditional people did specifically for ayahuasca: I think it was just part of living. Most curanderos, after all, were just fishermen or farmers who fished. They ate--and still do if they live on the river--boiled or grilled fish and plantains several times a day. It's their comfort food and it's their real staple. They'll eat rice if you give it to them but they wouldn't choose it over a good boiled plantain more than once out of the several meals they eat daily.
Even my team, my fantastic team, while they love my jungle guacamole and stir fried veggies, want plantain and fish at least 4-5 times daily. They typically go through 4 razimos--full arms of platanos with roughly 80 platanos each--in 6 days. So they really like them.
I don't think there is anything wrong with doing a dieta, mind you, I just don't think it's traditional. I think the white guys made it up asking leading questions.
On the other hand, most curanderos have told me that they have spent quiet time in the jungle, alone for weeks for the most part, unless someone was making them food, and that part of things I think is vital. Won't make you a curandero--that's something you're born capable of or not--but will help you get the most out of the medicine.
As noted at top: This is just my opinion and I totally respect those who are gonna say I'm full of it.

6 comments:

phoenix said...

I love this post. As Jesus said, "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." Blessings to you Peter.

Géraldine Correia said...

Hello, I just read your book and congratulations! It's very interesting. I've been doing Ayahuasca for 4 years now and did a couple of diets, a 6 month one and a 1 year and a half one. I'm starting my next diet roght now and hope to carry it till June 2012. I missed you by a few days at Nihue Rao and heard of your comments. You seem to have a logical point, though. I do believe the diet allows you to sharpen your visions and help connect you to the knowledge of the plant on a deepest level. The restrictions turn it into your priority day and night... We get dreams, songs and insights. But i'm interested in your point of view and the food restrictions you quote make sense. I suspect the intention to learn is very important. Anyway, thanks for having this blog and sharing!
Geraldine

spiraldance said...

http://books.google.com/books?id=VzWaaDtgZEAC&q=diet#v=snippet&q=diet&f=false

Wizard of the Upper Amazon
By Manuel Córdova-Ríos, Frank Bruce Lamb

Seach diet of this 1971 Amazon ayahuasca book - it gets a lot of focus. It's not Westernization but intense training details.

fulllotus said...

http://books.google.com/books?id=NVN9AAAAMAAJ&q=diet#search_anchor

Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff

The shaman and the jaguar:
a study of narcotic drugs among the Indians of Colombia

Temple University Press, 1975

similar special diet restrictions

fulllotus said...

"For example, among the Jivaro, the longer one is able to observe the restrictions of the dieta, the
more powerful he becomes. Only if an apprenticing shaman is able to abstain from sexual
intercourse and other restricted activities for five months will he have the ability to either cure or
kill. However, to be truly proficient in the shamanic arts one must observe a strict diet for a full
year (Harner 1973:20; Chaumeil 1979:43)."

CHARLATANS, SEEKERS, AND SHAMANS: THE AYAHUASCA BOOM IN WESTERN
PERUVIAN AMAZONIA
By
Joshua E. Homan

www.neip.info/html/objects/_downloadblob.php?cod_blob=1144

masters thesis 2011

Richie Benaud said...

Great note. thank you for sharing.

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