Shaman Maria Juana smiles after performing a cleansing ritual at San Clemente in Ecuador.
Jacobs Learns Traditions and Beliefs of the Pueblo Caranqui People
Our bus moved swiftly down the narrow highway that weaved through the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. I learned a long time ago not to watch a bus driven in developing countries, passing uphill or on curves is not unusual. Somehow it all works.
We were on our way to the San Clemente project to visit the Pueblo Caranqui people in the Otavalan region. They comprise one of the indigenous Andean communities in South America.
My journey to understand one of the cultures that calls the Amazon home began as a participant on a tour organized by The Pachamama Alliance. This organization is dedicated to protecting and educating western cultures about the traditional communities of South America.
In my group of 18 were two familiar faces, Tom and Evelyn McKnight from Fremont, who joined me for this part of my long journey.
Tom and Evelyn McKnight go on a walk through the forest in Ecuador to learn about traditional use of plants by the Pueblo Caranqui community.
In San Clemente, we were greeted by Manuel Guatemal, the leader of this project designed to introduce visitors to their traditions.
"In the year 2000 we had a wake-up call, because the banking system collapsed in Ecuador," Guatemal said.
Like most of the few remaining indigenous cultures in South America, the Pueblo Caranqui is a dream culture, which means dream interpretations are applied when making life choices.
"I dreamed of moving to the mountains with my family and animals and leaving the modern society behind," Guatemal said. "But a new dream emerged to create a project that would preserve our traditions and culture."
The Pueblo Caranqui people noticed the environmental destruction happening to the land. They became aware that maybe their traditions and relationship to the land might offer a different result. Thus, the San Clemente project was created.
For the next couple of days, we learned about the traditions and beliefs of the Pueblo Caranqui people. They took us for walks in the forest to show us how they use various plants to treat ailments. They explained how they relate to the sun and the rhythm of the seasons to plant and make choices about life.
I specifically noticed the genuine smiles of the people.
"When plowing the fields, the woman leads the cows as the man runs the plow behind. If they work well together, this means they are a happy couple and will be successful," Guatemal said.
With a divorce rate over 50 percent in the United States, an image popped into my mind of a lot of crooked fields back home.
Along with the educational talks was a visit with a shaman whose name was Maria Juana. She is the sweet shaman because she gave us orange Fanta and cookies when she was finished.
With the assistance of her family she performed a cleansing, or removal of bad energy from the body.
They shook branches and leaves and chanted several times "corazon, corazon, corazon," which translates to heart, heart, heart.
The one specific message meant for me from the shaman: "You had a blockage in your head, or dark energy which was holding you back. The blockage is now gone. Maybe sometimes you have been thinking too much."
I thought to myself in a twisted moment of humor, "I'll have to think about that."
Actually, I knew what the shaman was talking about was true. As the ritual was performed, I felt a knot above my left eye that felt impenetrable or irritated during the cleansing. At the end of the ritual, I noticed where the knot once had been there now was a void.
I sipped my orange Fanta and gobbled down my sweet cookie.
Before leaving, Maria Juana gave me hug and a smile that would rival any saint. It felt like a layer was pulled back that once covered my heart.
As we walked away, Tom McKnight leaned over and asked me, "Have you ever had an experience like that?"
"No, that was a first for me."
But in my book, anything that helps take down the walls around the heart is a good thing.
As we departed, the community gave each of us a scarf that was woven in the colors of a rainbow. A symbol of hope for a better future.
Next we head toward the heart of the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador.
Members of the Pueblo Caranqui community demonstrate traditional plowing in San Clemente Ecuador.