Jungle Medicine

My involvement with the Indichuri clan of the Quechuan native community in the upper Amazon in Ecuador is the result of my world view.  Almost every new project I take on is looked at from a global perspective.  So it was with the formation of the International Creche Festival which brought nativity sets to Bellingham from native and ethnic communities around the world.  One of the second prize winners for one year was a member of a native community in Ecuador.  His prize was a ten-day trip to Bellingham, all expenses paid. 

The following year Mary Ann and I went on a trip to Ecuador and while there I went with our host, Dr. Gustavo Perez Ramirez, on a trip to the upper Amazon village of Puyo to meet the prior year’s winner of the Creche Festival, Edmundo Vargas.  Edmundo had us get into an immense cayuca (canoe made from a large tree) and took us down the Rio Puyo to its’ junction with the Rio Pastaza where his family village was situated.  There Gustavo and I met Jorge Vargas, who was not only Edmundo’s father but also head of the tribe and curandero (medicine man) serving a large swath of the jungle. With him we discussed many of the issues facing the survival of the community.  It seems the younger generation all want to leave the Amazon village and live in Quito or even go to Europe or the US for employment.  They have been introduced to ‘things’ and want money to buy such leaving the community empty of young members.   

Jorge Vargas (head of the community) was at a loss of how to hold the community together.  He thought that perhaps the community could work up their traditional dances and, with jungle costumes, tour the US and earn money performing in many venues in the US.  I pointed out that the costs would be enormous and their dances were not what I would call ‘performance’ dances.  The idea was dropped.  That morning Jorge had led Dr. Gustavo Perez Ramirez and me through a series of trails in the neighboring jungle and as we walked he showed us plants, roots, flowers and all sorts of items in the jungle that he used for medicines.  As we sat in our hammocks conjuring up ways to save the tribe I suggested that the community could host seminars on jungle medicine for foreign medical persons.  Jorge protested that he was not a teacher but I countered saying that we would work up a list of questions for him to answer on a given topic and then he would take the group out into the jungle to locate the material for the medicines.  And that is what we did. 

The rest of the story can best be told in this article published in the Bellingham Herald.   [link: 3.19.2,  3.19.3]