Discussion with Benjamín Ochavano, Peru 2002

Howard G Charing & Peter Cloudsley interviewed Shipibo Ayahuasca Shaman Benjamin Ochavano during the Amazon Rainforest of Peru, who is in his mid seventies to discuss how Ayahuasca can help those Westerners who are seeking personal growth and who have embarked on the great journey of self discovery and exploration. ayahuasca The uses of powerful hallucinogenic plants such as Ayahuasca have been developed by indigenous peoples and early civilizations over thousands of years, and their effects are highly dependent upon the context of the ceremony, the chants and the essential personality of the shaman, all of which can vary with surprising results.

Diverse urban uses have emerged recently and a few of these are spreading, while some traditional shamans travel the world, thus Ayahuasca is gaining recognition in Western civilization. But what really is the potential of these ancestral plants, and how can we get the most out of them?
I first started taking ayahuasca at the age of 10, with my father, who was also a shaman. When I was 15, he took me into the selva to do plant diets, nobody would see us for a whole year, we had no contact with women, nothing. We lived in a simple tambo sleeping on leaves with just a sheet over us. We dieted plants: ayauma, puchatekicaspi, pucarobona, huairacaspi, verenaquu.

I would take each plant for 2 months before moving on to the next, a whole year without women! The only fish allowed is boquichico – a vegetarian fish and mushed plantains made into a thick drink called pururuco in Shipibo, or chapo without sugar.

Then I had about a year’s rest before going again with my uncle, Jose Sánchez, for another year and 7 months of dieting on the little Rio Pisqui. He taught me a lot and gave me chonta, cascabel, hergon, nacanaca, cayucayu. He was a chontero, a kind of shaman who works with darts (from the spiritual world) – so called because real darts and arrows for hunting are made from the black splintery bamboo called chonta. A chontero can send darts with positive effects like knowledge and power too, and he knows how to suck and remove poisoned darts which have caused illness or evil spells.

To finish off he gave me chullachaqui caspi. Then I began living with my wife and working as a curandero in Juancito on the Ucayali. Later I went to Pucallpa where I still live some of the time when I’m not in my community of Paoyhan, where my Ani Sheati project is.

The most important planta maestra is Ayauma chullachaqui. Then Pucalo puno (Quechua) the bark of a tree which grows to 40 or 50 meters. This is one of a number of plants that is consumed together with tobacco and is so strong, you only need to take it two times. It requires a diet of 6 month. You drink it while in the morning, then lie down, you are in an altered state for a whole day afterwards.

Another plant is Catahua whose resin is cooked with tobacco. You must be sure that no one sees you while you take it. It puts you into a sleep of powerful dreams.

Ajosquiro is from a tree which grows to 20m, with a penetrating aroma like garlic. It gives you mental strength, it is very healing and makes you strong. It takes away lazy feelings, gives you courage and self esteem, but can be used to explore the negative side as well as the positive. You can be alone while in the wilderness yet feel within the company of many. It puts you into the psycho-magical world which we have inherited from our ancestors, the great morayos (=shamans in Shipibo) so you can gain knowledge of how to heal with plants.

The word ‘shaman’ is recent from the Amazon, (coming from Asia via the Western world while in the last 10-20 years). My father was known as a moraya or banco, or in Spanish curandero. A curandero could specialize in being a good chontero or a shitanero who does harm to people.

Virjilio Salvan, who is dead now, dead now introduced me to a plant which he said was better than any other plant – Palo Borrador, maestro de todos los palos (master of all plants). You smoke it in a pipe for 8 days, blowing the smoke over your body. On the eighth day a man appears, as real as we are, a Shipibo. He was a chaycuni – an enchanted being in traditional dress… cushma, or woven tunic, chaquira necklace, and so on, and he said to me ‘Benjamin, why have you smoked my tree?’
‘Because I want to learn’ I said. ‘Ever since I was little I wanted to be a Moraya’

‘You must diet and smoke my tree for 3 months, no more’ he said. ‘And you can eat whatever fish you like…it won’t matter’ … and he listed all the fish I could eat. ‘But you must not sleep with any woman other than your wife’ he said. And I’ve followed this advice until today.

Three nights later, sounds could be heard from under the ground and big holes opened up and the wind blew. Then everyone, all the family began to fly. And from that day I was a moraya.
Today I still fast on Sundays.

What do you think about Westerners coming to take plants within the Amazon?

It is a good thing for them to come and learn, for us to share and for there to be an interchange. This is what I would like to do in my community of Paoyhan. But the Ecuadorians stole our outboard motor.

How could the plants of the Amazon help people of the West?

It can open up the mind so we can find ways to help each other. It can help them find more self-realization in life. If a person is very shy for example it can help warm their hearts, give them strength and courage.

You have a different system in your countries, when we travel there we feel underrated just as when you come here you have to get accustomed to being here. When we get to know each other and become like brothers, solutions emerge. To get rid of vices and drug addictions, for example, there are plants which can easily heal people.