Ethical concerns and reflections

Ethical concerns of the gathering

This event has been a long time coming. The Natural Medicine Gathering is born out of CYRAE’s longstanding wish to create an annual event that is organised by local healers and local allies (with the help of some foreigners, for instance writing this and doing outreach generally) on their own principles: the gathering, the ceremonies will be in the formats that they themselves traditionally use – they have extensive experience with large ceremonies including numerous shamans of different tradtions working together in the same space – although English speaking facilitation, translation, and interpretation will be available to ensure people with a limited Spanish vocabulary can also participate.

Want to say a few things in Kichwa? Download Gayle and Elias’s wonderful little phrasebook.

The gathering does not seek to put individual healers on a piedestal for foreigners to worship and finance to make their own accessory. Instead, CYRAE want to show the world that they work together, that they have a collective vision and mission and that they want and need support to continue their work, which is above all in local communities, who need their natural medicine practices more than you do (since you can easily find and purchase them elsewhere!). Moreover, they also perform another crucial task locally, namely conflict resolution: when there is a conflict in a community (theft, violence or worse), the conflicting parties bring their case to CYRAE’s office and they talk through the various perspectives and opinions and possibilities for resolution. CYRAE is a “council of those who know” and it is that role that the event can help fortify.

However, Sachabambi writes thoughtfully in the Ayahuasca Forums:

Wow, finally starting to open the door wide for Ayahuasca tourism in Napo. 😕 Maybe it was inevitable, or maybe not….
The Iquitos Ayahuasca tourism industry had its jumpstart with a conference like this, and has never looked back.
I wonder if you have really thought about the ramifications of doing this? I would be interested in knowing your thoughts and reflections about the pros and cons, the thought processes that led you to the conclusion that jumpstarting Ayahuasca tourism in Napo would be a purely good thing?

CYRAE shares her concerns and so do we, the foreigners who have agreed to help organise this event. What is special about this event, what distinguishes it from other large events inviting foreigners, is that it is organised by an association of healers which was formed already over two decades ago in order to defend their practices from erosion and witch hunts fomented by the oil industry in cahoots with the catholic church. All the money made will directly benefit the organisation. There are no middle men or highly paid superstars. Presenters do not get flights paid and everyone pays for their participation in ceremonies.

The gathering is meant to be a knowledge membrane, a social interface and a cultural bridge: we ask those attending to be thoughtful, reflective and to respect local sensitivities: come to learn, to share and exchange and leave nothing but your footprints and joyous memories in the souls of others.

Yet, a disclaimer is in order: the purely good might not exist, human reality is ambiguous and we’re faced with a big challenge and when the gathering is over, the work begins: cleaning up, reflecting, integrating and consulting with implicated parties and communities who potentially feel they had been left out – and together find ways to include them in future events (or share some benefit with them in one way or another). This is not only about individual healing, but collective, community healing and (re)valorisation of traditional, natural medicinal practices as well establishing a network of indigenous projects in the region. Not least for those reasons, the communities where we plan the ceremonies are welcoming the event.

Some people might ask you to help them build lodges, buy a few hectares of pristine forest by the river and build a few chozas (huts) to start your very own, private planet saving retreat centre. In the heat of the moment, in an ayahuasca fuelled romance with the beautiful surroundings, this is quite a lure. However, all things have two handles, beware of the wrong one. Enlighten yourself on local history and tradition, get to know the people you fancy working with, get to know everyone else around them, and realise that injecting cash in a largely cash devoid reality is no small thing: it causes envy, jealousy and inevitably conflict with potentially mortal consequences. Keep your money in your pocket until you know where you are and what you are doing and who you are dealing with and why. Money is rarely a good foundation for a relationship. Complex things have a sensitive dependence on initial conditions…

If you fancy some in-depth reading about these issues, including a political economy and history perspective on the region, have a look at this PhD thesis “The Protection of Traditional Knowledge in the Ecuadorian Amazon: A Critical Ethnography of Capital Expansion“, which is based on extensive research and two years of working, living and travelling with Napo Runa.

We also invite you to listen to Jeronimo’s talk (a shorter version can be found below), which made a lasting impression and which expressed some of the sentiments that eventually led him to join ICEERS:

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