For our final installment in the Conversations, we invite you into the home of Vicente Andi for some Kichwa story-telling. Grab your steaming pilche of guayusa and imagine you're sitting around a fire in the pre-dawn light...
For this interview, the newest technician on the Runa team in Napo, Patricio Andi, broughtanother Napo intern, Kelsey, and me to meet his father-in-law. When we arrived at his house, his wife was already boiling up a pot of hot guayusa for us. Vicente is a 68-year-old man with eleven children and a deep understanding of the cultural heritage of the Kichwa people. He spoke to us in Kichwa and Patricio summarized in Spanish what he had explained to us. After the interview, like most of the farmers I have interviewed, he took us outside to see the trees and plants outside his house. It was there that he acted out the story of guayusa’s discovery for us (see picture). Below you can read two of the fascinating stories that he told us.
The Story of Guayusa’s Discovery
Told by Vicente in Kichwa and translated to Spanish by Patricio
Guayusa was used long before the Spanish and Incan conquests. A long time ago, guayusa was unknown to anyone. At that time, the jungle was very aggressive towards people, and people were always tired and couldn’t do anything. They were sleepy all the time and had no strength. This was the biggest problem facing the first people in the Amazon. One day a man went into the forest, sat down next to a tree, and fell asleep. All of a sudden, the guayusa leaves called his attention, telling him, “take my leaves and eat them.” Again, they told him, “eat the leaves.” So the man got up and looked around, wondering, “who’s talking to me?” Once again, the guayusa tree said, “take my leaves and chew them.” The man then realized it was the tree that was talking to him, so he grabbed a leaf and chewed it. He ate the leaf and immediately felt relieved, no longer sleepy, feeling energized and strong.
After experiencing the effects of the guayusa leaf, he harvested the rest of the leaves and took them to his family. He first shared the leaves with his family, then told all the neighbors about his experience and urged them to consume it so they would not feel lazy or tired but have lots of energy. From this moment on, the Kichwa people began to chew the guayusa leaf, and later decided to cook it.
The Story of the Community of San Pedro de Ushpayaku (Kilipamba)
This was the story of Vicente’s community, a rich narrative about the subtle, yet powerfully significant resistance of a small town in the face of exploitation and slavery brought upon the Kichwa people by the Spanish.
When the Spanish arrived, they brought lots of tools, such as machetes, axes, pots, clothing, and guns. They would give these items to indigenous families and make them pay for them. In this way, the families became indebted to the Spanish. In this area, if a family didn’t pay the Spanish for the items given to them, the Spanish would come and capture them and punish them. They would hit them with sticks and then force them into difficult slave labor. As a result, many of Vicente’s family members and elders died. Since they could never pay, they always received this punishment. So the families from this area, which used to be called Kilipamba, began to organize themselves. They started to say, “we cannot die like our ancestors and our grandfathers. We have to find a way to prevent the Spanish from coming here, capturing us, and punishing us.”
When the final day of their diet arrived, they began to prepare for the ceremony by making clay pots. They placed these pots all around their houses and put a special liquid inside called “vinillo.” Once the pots were in place, the shamans began an ayahuasca ceremony, and the women started serving chicha. They played the drums, drank chicha and sang. During this process, the pots full of vinillo began to spill, and the people did not realize that the waters were slowly covering the town. They continued to drink chicha, sing, and dance. The water continued to rise.
At this time, a man from Archidona, who was married to a girl in the community, came to see what was happening. When he saw the community being consumed by the water, he ran to alert the people, but they were already slowly sinking. His wife comes and says, “I’m leaving with my parents, my mother, my brothers, my uncles, and all of my family. I’m not going to stay and suffer. If I stay, the Spanish will punish and enslave me.” Since the waters were already above the houses, she swam closer to her husband, and he said, “If you love me, come with me. If not, you can go.” He was unable to convince her to come with him, so she disappeared with her family, the dogs, the pigs, and everything. The husband then watched as everything disappeared under the water.
So when the Spanish arrived, all they found was a lake. Since there was no one in sight, and all they saw was water, they left. But the people did not die. They became spirits that can still be heard today.