Monday, April 02, 2012

Ayahuasca Question I Answered for Someone

This morning on a forum where I occasionally post, someone posed the question of what ayahuasca--the remarkable medicine of the Amazon--was cooked in prior to the introduction of metal pots in that part of the world. So here was my answer, to which I added in a second post. Might be of interest. Hope so.

AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY CLAUDIA!!!!!! I hope it's a great year!

I can't swear that ayahuasca was cooked in them, but certainly clay pots were a standard in Amazonia for cooking until quite recently. The AuchiƱo (spelling) still use black clay "pans" over fire to cook their ibu coca; the Matses used--and some still do--clay pots over fire to cook down the inner bark of the macambo tree to make their nu-nu; my ex-wife always preferred black clay pots to cook rice in--over a gas fire in New York--to stainless steel. They crack and don't last long, but it only takes a few minutes for people like the Matses or my ex to make a new one--and a bit of time to get it sun-fired to be able to withstand the heat from fire--so I imagine that those same clay pots would have been utilized for making ayahuasca. The trick with clay pots, when I've seen them used, is that they are generally raised a few inches above direct contact with the flames to prevent cracking during cooking. And they last longest when cooked over red hot coals rather than actual flame.

TO THAT, I added this in a second post:
Just a side note: There is very little evidence of anything historical in a place like northwest Amazonia because there really is no stone on the Ucayali or upper Amazon. Even the stones used to sharpen machetes on the river come down from Yurimaguas and the Andean foothills on large rafts to be sold on the river. And while snuff materials in the mountains may last, traditionally for the Matses you just hollow out a reed, use it for a day or two; it cracks, you toss it and hollow out another.
For Westerners with a sense of permanence that might seem like a pain in the neck--having to replace everything from clay pots to houses to bows/arrows/blowguns/rafts/canoes with regularity, but in a place like much of the Amazon, it really gave people the freedom to move about to look for better hunting areas, more arable areas and so forth. When Papa Viejo and his several wives moved off the Aucayacu maybe 20 years ago, he simply set fire to his houses, left everything but a couple of machetes, an axe, his shotgun, a few metal pots and some clothing, and he and his wives and kids walked back to the Brazilian side to build a new camp. These days, with too many permanent and semi-permanent goods like lots of metal pots, small motors, gas cans, sometimes radios and even occasional television sets with satellite reception, well, those people cannot just pick up and leave anymore. The things they've come to accept and depend on have become an anchor and have forced many people, both mestizos and indigenous alike, to settle down and become dependent on an agrarian lifestyle, rather than a lifestyle that might have included some hunting/fishing/gathering and movement when the time was right.

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