Saturday, September 22, 2018

Sapo/Kambo: Similarities and differencies in use

Someone asked me about the difference between the frog medicines Sapo and Kambo. They are the same medicine, but used differently by different indigenous groups. This was my response, after which he had a follow up question that I also answered.

Kambo and Sapo are the same medicines, but generally applied differently. Sapo, utilized by the Matses/Mayoruna indigenous group (which includes the Matis, Marubo, Matsis, and perhaps others) is moistened with saliva--from a strong person with a good heart--to impart that person's spirit into your blood stream along with the medicine. It is taken as a rule before meals or a couple of hours after them, with no special preparation. The burns for sapo tend to be fairly large, about half the size of a cigarette, and made from tamishi, a jungle vine.
   Kambo is moistened with water as a rule, with the recipient drinking 1-2 liters of water before the session to help produce vomiting to eliminate bile. The burns are quite small, often made with the end of an incense stick or something equivalent.
   Kambo is not generally considered successful unless there is vomiting.
   With sapo there might be an urge to vomit, but most people don't, or if they do, it's just the elimination of bitter orange bile.

The person writing to me then asked why there were different ways to utilize the medicine. This is what I answered:

Different indigenous groups do things differently. In Brazil, kambo style was used. In Peru, where most of the Matses are, and where I first discovered sapo (I didn't discover it, the indigenous did. I just happened to be the first person ever to publish an article about using it) they have their own style. In Brazil, among the Katukina and Yaminawa and others, they have a different style. It might have to do with the fact that the Matses, when I ran into them in 1985, were still primarily hunter/gatherers, so they needed the medicine to work a certain way, (which involved a complete body clean up to aid in hunting, long walks with little food, steadiness of hand when shooting bow and arrow), while the Brazilian groups were more agrarians and fishermen, so maybe they needed the medicine to clean out infections in the stomach, so used the medicine in a way that focused on that. All speculation, but in my experience, the indigenous generally do what is needed for them and no more. So my explanation makes sense--though I cannot swear it is right, just an hypothesis.

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