Savage Memories

Ira Cohen, At the court of the Golden Emperor, the Majoon Traveler and Lady Firefly appear in the Hall of Unconscious Magnetism, 1966-70

The beauty of the singing with its trancelike montage effects, together with the combination of mystery, quiet humor, and above all, the incessant interruptedness that creates the particular quality of the shamanic seance, are guaranteed to provoke not one, but many colliding and conflicting meanings of key words and phrases such asprimer tribu. What he is referring to with this invocation is both the znjieles and also sacha gente-meaning the spirit-people of the forest wilderness. It is the magic of the wild and of savagery which provides the thread connecting time and space, the savagery in the prehistory of Christianity and civilization, connected to the savages in the forests of the lowlands below.

The shaman goes on to say that this first people or first tribe are like the mayores, or our esteemed seniors, masters, and ancestors, who took yagb long before us. It is they whom, he says, he conjures up in his mind when curing and divining. The examples he gives are two lowland shamans who died three or four decades ago-the Siona shaman Patricio and the Coreguaje shaman Miguel Piranga. It is as if by what that other doctor of the soul (psyche), Sigmund Freud, termed the process of condensation and displacement in the work of dreams and in the construction of jokes, that the spirits of such dead lowland shamans, or, rather, their fame and repute, collapse centuries of time into compacted nuggets of magical meaning, empowering highland curing ritual.

Yagé itself, the master remedy, grows only in the lowlands and is (according to my shaman friend from Sibundoy) intrinsically connected with the ancient people. "They lived in the monte and wandered there:' he says, "planting remedies and jag&. You go there and hear someone singing. There is singing there. All, all the visions are there, singing. Singing. Singing his song, the song of yagi, no? And then you exclaim, 'There wanders a kuraka [shaman]!' "

Michael Taussig, History as Sorcery, in Representations, No. 7. (Summer, 1984), pp. 87-109