I went with one of the Runa technicians in Napo, Alex, to interview these two cousins, Edwin and Milton Alvarado, at Edwin’s chacra near the community of Nueva Esperanza. After helping them measure out an area to grow more guayusa, we sat on a log and chatted a little bit about guayusa. Both men are active farmers, and Edwin’s family works some in cattle raising as well. Edwin currently has 18 guayusa trees, while Milton has 32 guayusa trees. They are very fun and hard-working men, and it was a pleasure to interview them. Below is a portion of our conversation, along with a photo of the three of us and some of my comments in italics.
Edwin Efraín Alvarado Huatatoca
C- Chris Jarrett
C: When do you drink guayusa?
E: We drink every day. We cook it for two hours. We usually wake up at three in the morning. Since we raise cattle, we get up at three in the morning and drink until it’s time to leave to milk the cows, at four o’clock. When we get back from work we drink too.
One of the primary sources of income for many Kichwa farmers in Napo is cattle raising. Unfortunately, this requires farmers to cut down a significant amount of forest to provide the space necessary for grazing grounds. Runa is helping to reverse this trend by providing an economic incentive for locals to reforest and plant a helpful crop- guayusa.
C: Why is it important to drink guayusa?
E: Sometimes you go out to work and there are flies. If you have drunk a lot of guayusa, they don’t bite.
C: What else does guayusa help with?
E: If snakes are nearby, they won’t bite. It’s good for wasps. It’s good for your health too, for body aches, for colds. Sometimes kids wet their beds; guayusa helps with that too.
M: Some people cook up a lot in a big pot, drink it, and throw it up. Sometimes they don’t feel like eating or have stomachaches. We usually cook a lot for them.
E: Yeah, you cook a lot, put a lot of water in it, and add a lot of guayusa. You drink it all and it gets all the bad stuff out.
C: Are there any other uses for guayusa?
E: People use it as toothpaste. They just gargle it in their mouth, and it helps clean their teeth. I’ve also seen my grandmother cook up a big pot and sit next to it under a blanket when her bones hurt.
These responses exemplify the variety of uses for guayusa that farmers have mentioned to me. For the Kichwa people, guayusa is a multi-purpose plant, helping with just about everything you could imagine.
C: Do you ever talk about dreams when you drink guayusa?
E: Yeah, sometimes we dream that we are harvesting coffee or cacao- that means it’s going to rain heavily. When we dream about a dog, it means that we will find a snake in the fields at work.
C: Do you know anything about the origins of guayusa?
E: Only the elders know. They were probably drinking it even before Atahualpa.
M: Some elders say that a lot of people used to plant a guayusa tree where they built their houses.
E: Yeah, wherever there was guayusa, there was a house. They would build the house and plant guayusa next to it.
Atahaulpa was the Incan emperor at the time the Spanish arrived in Ecuador and is an iconic historical figure for the Kichwa people. There are many communities across the country named after him, and he is frequently mentioned in discussions of indigenous cultural heritage.
C: What impression do you think young people have of guayusa ? Do they still drink it?
E: Here almost everyone drinks it. I mean, young people in the city I’m not sure, but the ones in the country do drink.
M: The thing is, young people in the city don’t have pains like us small farmers. Sometimes when we work, we get tired. Our backs hurt, and guayusa takes the pain away.
C: What do you think of the Runa Foundation’s project?
E: Things are better now. Now that they are buying, we want to plant more. We need the money. The project that they’re developing is good. We want them to help us farmers. We couldn’t grow more before, so now that we have a way out, we want to grow more.
- Chris Jarrett