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Achuar drinking horn

Achuar drinking horn
(Canelos Quichua–made)

ca. 1950
Clay, paint, varnish
41 x 15 x 14 cm
Exchange with Ralph C. Altman

Shamanism is an important aspect of historical and present-day culture among the Shuar of the Amazon headwaters and the Achuar of the neighboring lowlands. In Shuar spiritual beliefs, uwishin, or shamans, are thought to possess magic and to be able to manipulate tsentsak—invisible, animate darts that will act when directed to.

By accumulating tsentsak, the Shuar believe they can protect themselves from, as well as attack, their enemies. The ability to control tsentsak can be attained by ingesting natem (typically Banisteriopsis caapi, a jungle vine of the family Malpighiaceae). Natem is used to prepare ayahuasca, a medicinal decoction and plant teacher whose use is still practiced as a religious sacrament among the Shuar. One takes ayahuasca in the presence of a shaman, from the shaman’s hand or from a sacred cup.

Visions and dreams experienced during the sacrament are considered prophetic. For example, an adult male will typically rely on a vision to develop a hunting strategy and will look for corresponding omens throughout the hunt. There are several types of visions. Kuntuknar are positive visions of events that involve everyday things, such as the rainforest, family, waterfalls, animals, et cetera. Mesekramprar are visions designed to warn about impending disaster, such as disease, a raid by an enemy, or inclement weather—events that are believed to be inflicted by a shaman from an enemy tribe. During penke karamprar, the soul visits the soul of a deceased friend or relative. These visions can be positive or negative experiences, depending on whether the person died a peaceful or an unhappy death.

—Juan Carlos Jintiach (Shuar), president of the Shuar Nation, and Richard Tsakimp (Shuar), traditional healer

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