NO PHOTO’S PLEASE !
Seek No Further – Guinea pigs, Shamans and the Supernatural.
We are traveling to the hilltop Chullpas of Sillustani known for pre-Inkan circular funerary towers built of basalt and frozen in time. They are a product of arrested development, late in their building a group of explorers from Spain made landfall. The stones lay precisely where they had cut and placed. They went to meet this group of people coming into their lands, they never returned to their building project of Sillustani.
While traveling with our personal guide I was able to broach the subject of shamans. She looked me in the eye and said “guinea pigs and shamans are used throughout our culture.” I asked if she would tell me more. The story unfolded that live guinea pigs are placed in cloth bags and placed on various parts of the body.
The struggling and scratching guinea pigs are thought to possess special curative powers. Once again, my eyes grow large and she looks me over and believes I am receptive to her story. “Many, many people in my country use Shamans” I ask, “how many?” she smiles and tells me “ninety percent.” She goes on to tell me the important place that the guinea pig plays throughout Peruvian religious rituals. I thanked her for her frankness and forth coming.
I had a lot to ponder, do I believe that Guinea pigs have super natural powers or natural curative powers? I was reminded that most all world religions have a belief in some pivotal super natural event. I ponder my own upbringing.
A few days later we were back in Peru. It had been a long day and we were tired and in bed. Our friend Marcy was on the phone and wanted to take us to the Shamans Market in downtown Lima. I explained that I was in my pajamas and that we had had a wonderfully full day and needn’t see another market. At her insistence she said “I will be at your hotel in a half an hour and you can go in your pajamas” she hung up and we got dressed!
Marcy assured us that this market was the place where native Andeans living in Lima come for food and healthcare. Marcy smiled at me and said boldly “they have never seen a white guy from Minnesota at this market!”
It was a rambling ride through the depths of the city and it was dark and late when we arrived. A big white circus tent (100 yards long) was ablaze with and smaller 10 x10 tents inside. As we entered the loud and festive atmosphere, all eyes turned toward us. Not a casual glance, but a deliberate watch was placed on us. Most certainly, they were not used to fair skinned Minnesotans. We could sense that they were wondering what we might be doing here?
Our confidence level was not hindered, because our host (Marcy) set forth and began to show us around seemingly unaware of our apprehension. Language is an important device to communicate your standing in Peruvian society. Lima is a large community of perhaps nine million. It was understood that by her command of the language, Marcy was now the premier tour guide in this arena. Her abilities gave us complete access to this entire village of mountain people living in the city.
Each booth space had a curtain dividing it in half. The front half displayed all sorts of glittery and unknown products that might cure you of something. The back half of the booth housed the Shamans.
People were sitting in chairs in front of each tent, awaiting their time with the Shaman. Many, many tents and many, many Shamans.
I had had a conversation with Marcy’s husband about this and I was a bit alarmed when he explained to me that they could very well spit some herbal potion on you to make you better. Early in our vacation I had told him that I didn’t want to go anyplace where someone was going to spit on me…..and here I am?
Marcy explained that I was safe, because you have to pay them if you want to be spat upon and be cured. Well, I can now walk around knowing that I don’t have to worry about somebody else s bodily fluids.
Throughout the year we travel with a wide group of friends. A native American (North American) we know had a incurable debilitating illness and went to South America, the deep rain forest. He had a Shaman blow some unknown substance up his nose, probably dried blowfish and some other psychotropic concoction. Upon his return he seemed a little less sentient.
The Shamans Market tour was a fascinating and curious place, bright lights, tinsel like products everywhere. Friendly smiles and a world class interpreter at our side.
Marcy knew full well that I was a complete skeptic. I place my trust in modern medicine and I view this as aboriginal folk cures, cures that have limited credence in the New England Journal of Medicine. I do understand that the synthesis of herbal products have been of great benefit to society, in scientifically measured and quantified amounts.
No longer being able to contain myself I asked Marcy “If I had appendicitis am I going to show up at this witch doctors tent?” With some sort of compassion and understanding she calms my alarm and tells me this. “Bill, most Andeans trust modern medicine, but when a women loses her boyfriend or lover, they will come to the Shaman.” “The Shaman will either cause her boyfriend to return to her or he will do something bad to him!”
The Shamans Market now seems more understandable to this inexperienced tourist. The bright lights still cause the night visitor to squint as they enter this curious realm of the supernatural.
Billkeitel UnVarnished Essays – Road Notes January 2015