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Does Colombia hold the Key for the World Peace?




By Fabio Alberto Ramirez T. MD


On 14 February 1999, at the headquarters of the Colombian Ethnic Medicine Foundation (FCE) outside Bogota, nineteen middle and upper class Colombians, most of us professionals, had a meeting. We wanted to find out from one of the last sages of the Amazon rainforests, from the region of Araracuara, about the knowledge of the world, of oneself, and of the cure for diseases by the use of THE WORD. The sage’s Spanish name was Oscar Roman and he was old. He had said to his disciples that although at the moment his health was perfect, he would soon disappear, so it was crucial to receive his teachings while he was still with us. He arrived with a son and two ‘nephews’. Among the Huitotos ‘uncle’ and ‘nephew’ are terms of respect and refer to members of the community.


The session started at 3pm. A very small amount of ambil (extracted from tobacco) was passed around. It has no hallucinatory powers and is considered to be sacred by the Enokaye – it represents the female, while coca represents the male. Ambil is ‘salty’, which as well as being a metaphor, is a fact. Coca is ‘sweet’ but does not taste sweet when held in ‘mambeo’. ‘Mambeo’ is a word adopted by anthropologists, meaning ‘to hold in the mouth’, whether it is a thing or a word. It also carries the wider meaning of ‘to listen’, for which the Enokaye word is ‘duga’.


The first sensation was a very intense desire to listen. Oscar Roman doesn’t speak Spanish very well, but although he had his mouth full of the sacred coca powder, his words held weight and an immense capacity for evocation. They were unrivalled in comparison with his son, who spoke fluent Spanish. The desire to listen was accompanied by a sense of great urgency – not to miss any allusion, gesture or reference. At the same time, my body had a strong sensation of voluptuousness, sobriety and spiritual transcendence, but the physical sensation is extremely subtle, especially with the coca. If you had been there, you would have asked yourself whether something was really happening physically or whether there was some special attitude that generated all these changes. The metaphors and analogies explained by Oscar made each of us there find specific and deep personal references. If they were analyzed in terms of language, these references were simply local, and limited to the vision of the cosmos of Oscar, a member of an indigenous group and the way he perceived the chaotic nature of the ‘civilized’ world.


Each word that Oscar uttered carried several meanings. Each sentence created new proposals and new definitions - all related to a personal and cosmic reality. For one participant a single word created a whole new worldview, helping her to solve a complex family conflict.


Oscar was the personification of the LOGOS. The words became more majestic with the intervals of silence. We realised that in fact, we never listen, but simply wait until we can express our own preconceived ideas about reality. We are always the victim of some kind of mental torture, in which there is actually no communication.


The distortions of the sacred coca leaf tradition into drug-trafficking is simply the white man’s illusion – that he can refine something sacred and thus master communication, understand the logos, and put a price on it.


The Huitotos know that, and often say with some fear, “the time will come when the sacred will be trampled underfoot and discredited”. Cocaine, and its caricature of communication, is the symbol of an immense source of wealth for the mafia and the people who try to suppress the mafia. The fear in this mental debate is the fear of itself. The basis of repression is the fear of fear itself, and by repressing communication between individuals and groups, institutions and politicians are able to completely control individuals and society. The protection of this lack of communication is the main source of wealth, and the media is paid to successfully confuse the public. Only someone who is confused can be ‘informed’ by the media and then manipulated.


Society, as Octavio Paz said, only tolerates its accomplices. He goes on to say that alcohol is allowed because it never questions anything, and rather deforms communication and consolidates the status quo. For Octavio, we, ‘the mad’ and ‘the deluded’ are the dissidents who threaten the establishment. The individual who is taught by himself and the environment is the least attractive to the superficial society that preaches that fashion is the most desirable aim in life.


Just as Octavio Paz in Labyrinth of Solitude destroyed the cliché that love is always found in marriage, if we continue to ‘talk’ the way we do, peace is not to be found in ‘peace talks’. ‘Talks’ means people listen to each other from the depths of the silence from which we come. And that silence means respect for oneself and for the other.


Perhaps the Enokaye culture holds the mystery of the gift of tongues referred to in the Bible, the opposite of the Tower of Babel. Perhaps those who go to one of their ceremonies will communicate with each other and with themselves. It will not matter whether their native tongue is German, English or Huitoto, or if they all speak at the same time, or if they are all silent. But ambil and coca are not the real healers, not even the fascinating plant which the Enokaye call the ‘tree of wisdom’. It is The Word which searches the soul, the concept of time and personal fears. Plants are simply physical references, and that is why the Enokaye are not concerned that they might be patented somewhere else in the world. They say, “they can take anything they like, but they cannot take away the soul which heals”.


The soul which heals is born step by step as a person becomes a healer. It is born when the healer understands the myth, the core reality which cannot be put into words, and sees its darker and lighter side, and with the shaman who works with the forces of nature. But not even The Word itself has the power to heal – it is the absence of The Word, that nevertheless is not its lack; it is the absolute power of silence; the all-embracing power to move around in time and space; the very denial of speech.


We invite you to participate in one of the most fascinating fields of contemporary Colombia.

sanación con tabaco


Ritual aspects.

Duga is the term for the “Word” of tobacco and coca, meaning the body of beliefs which incorporates the ritual use of these plants, on a daily basis, into the systems of healing, education, spirituality and maintenance of the ecological balance by certain indigenous groups of the Colombian Amazon who refer to themselves as the “people of the center”, that is, of the center of the world: the Witotos, Boras, Andoques, among others.