Chapter 7


1990-09-15, Puyo

             Fumé, Belas y Soplado

     Shamanic cleansing, immersed in mystery.
     Dark nights, moonglow exposed on the winds
     between clouds.
     In the old stilt-supported shack,
     firelight steals between boards,
     illuminating stones and bones.
     Within, the air is filled with sacred aroma.
     And the old man's chanting, 
     the sweet sound, the forgotten tongue, 
     carried in the mists, invoking spirits lying
     dormant inside forest covered hills.

                             -- Steven

The day I met Don Emilio he asked me, Espera Trajiste? "Are you not feeling well, do you wish to be cleansed, do you need to be healed?"

Startled by the suddenness, I agreed. Having observed and experienced a Limpia, or Purification Ritual, in Quito, and with a Shaman up in the mountains, I had some idea of what was to come.

However, performing a Purification in an urban city, and being immersed in one in the primally deep jungle, are two different things! I was unprepared for what followed.

I was visiting him for the first time, at his home, a one-room rough-hewn wooden hut with a large porch, on stilts, by the side of the Rio Puyo in the small colony of Union Base.

Waiting outside on the porch, admiring intricate silk-like webs spun by a multitude of fat bellied spiders inhabiting the dwelling, and watching children play and bathe in the river by an old cable-bridge, I felt anxiety at not knowing what was to come.

The Curandero offered me a cup of Chicha and stepped inside the small room to prepare the fixin's.

Don Emilio sat on a wooden crate in the cluttered space that is his bedroom and sanctum sanctorum, and motioned me to sit on one opposite him. There was a third crate, off to the side, which he converted to a Mesa with ritual objects and totems.

He wore a thin silver necklace studded with hand-carved figures, another red bead necklace and a third, thick, dog-chain necklace supporting a Maltese Cross swinging around his chest.

Around his brow hung a leather head-band, studded with beads, stones, teeth and metal figurines. Two long strips of leather hung down below his shoulders.

I could feel the fast breaths of excitement expanding my lungs and with that the wings of an amusing thought flying around my head. "This is even weirder than the movies!"

Breathing slowly, composing himself, a look of concentration on his face, the Curandero tells me to stand, takes my wrists gently in his hands and listens to my pulse with his thumbs for a long time, nodding slowly.

Lighting a cigarette slowly as we sit, he looks over at the Mesa filled with ornaments, studying the tools he will select.

The ceremonial table contains three hand-sized smooth black river stones, a smaller one, a large bottle of Cologne, a smaller bottle of the same, a small plant brush, cigarettes and a small jaw-bone behind a large one. On top of the jaw-bones balancing on the teeth is a human thigh bone. Both Cologne bottles have mixtures of cologne, alcohol, and medicinal herbs.

With the cigarette glowing in one hand, he begins to chant and to blow smoke toward the table, over the totems. Pouring a capful from the small bottle, he blows smoke into the cap, handing it to me with instructions to drink.

Closing my eyes, holding my breath and tipping the cap up, I swallow. The herbs reduce the cologne taste somewhat, but it still feels strange to drink a liquid with an aroma usually associated with aftershave.

He refills the cap, blows more smoke, whispering; "Salud", does likewise. We next do the same with the large bottle.

Is this more an alcoholic binge than a cleansing?

Sitting back, the Curandero takes a mouthful of the liquid, holding it as he tips his head far back, then with an unannounced lunge sprays the clear drink towards me, covering my face, shirt and arms.

The suddenness and the liquid soaking me are a shock, an awakening into something strange. Maybe it's just the uniqueness that is so alien and unexpected, still, the quality of 'normal' Reality is shifting. If there is a purpose to be served by the unexpected then it is fulfilled.

Emilio motions me to rub it in, and then instructs me to remove my shirt. He sprays me again.

Picking up a small boomerang-shaped stone from the table, the medicine man spits on it, blows more smoke, then places the covered object in my mouth, curving around the inside of my teeth.

Again he sprays the top of my hair, rubbing the liquid in with his hands, down my hair, face, arms and back.

Placing his thumbs at the top of my cranium, he presses deep into the center of my crown, I can feel the pressure like a shaft ramming down my spine. Then putting his mouth between the thumbs, he begins to suck.

My head is getting lighter, I'm thinking maybe it is the Jockey Club Cologne, and wondering how my stomach will feel tomorrow. I notice that the sensation of lightness is slowly drifting down through my body like a settling fog.

Picking up a large flat stone, Don Emilio places this between my palms, instructing me to press, prayer-fashion, then sprays the stone and my hands with another mouthful of Traigo.

Putting his mouth now to my fingertips, he begins to alternatively lick, then blow into my fingers, toward the stone. Then lick around the back of my hands. Finishing this, he motions me to rub the stone over my body, head to foot.

The Curandero takes the stone, holding it in his palm. Sitting back with a concentrated look, he studies its landscape for awhile. Touching a point on the stone with his finger, nodding, looking at me with a smile of satisfaction. Bonito, muy Bonito! "Beautiful!"

Taking another swig, motioning to me to open my mouth, he sprays and tells me to swallow. Then blows smoke in my mouth; that too I must swallow.

Holding out his hand for the stone I had been keeping on my tongue, he urged me to spit it out. A satisfied look seeps from his ernest eyes. Studying the moistness, and the reflections of the surface, exclaiming Bonito Cuerpo! with a smile.

Every once in a while Emilio would sit back and chant, then move on to another totem. Each time there is a different tone and texture to the fabric of the purification.

I don't know what's occurring from a rational side and oddly find myself fully in the flow from another perspective. It doesn't make any sense and yet it makes absolute sense.

Again the spray over my body. Now with the human bone I rub the liquid in. Next with the straw plant. Taking up a pile of aromatic leaves, like a brush, spraying into that, he chants while shaking it above my head and shoulders.

Now and again he waves the leaves quickly behind him shouting; Chunga, Chunga, Chunga!

Then, brushing my body as I stand, again Chunga, Chunga, Chunga!

We sit down. Him nodding and chanting. Looking at me with a beatific smile, he intones enthusiastically, Terminando! "It's done!"

After a silent moment filling all the corners in the room, looking me deep in the eyes, the Shaman whispers, Mañana, Tomar Ayahuasca. "Tomorrow the Ayahuasca!"

Copyright 1994 Steven Gilman

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