Wednesday 22 October 2014

Shaman 'has no remorse over death'

Published 02/05/2014 | 02:47

A Colombian shaman is showing no remorse and taking no responsibility for the death of a British teenager who drank a hallucinogen during a tribal ritual.

Guillermo Mavisoy says it is common to vomit and become ill while consuming yage.

But he says he has never seen anyone die during the decades he has been serving the herbal concoction made from the namesake vine and other plants native to the Amazon rainforest.

"When it's time to die, you die," Mr Mavisoy said in rudimentary Spanish in a taped interview at his home on a tribal reservation in the southern Colombian jungles.

"You can take the safest pill in the world and you can die. It doesn't matter if you have lots of money when the time has come."

Henry Miller's body was found last week dumped near Mr Mavisoy's modest home after he and other foreigners attended a ceremony led by the shaman.

The a uthorities have yet to determine the cause of death but say the 19-year-old from Bristol fell ill during the ritual.

Mr Mavisoy says he ordered two family members to rush Mr Miller to the hospital on a motorcycle but when the teen died en route the men panicked and left the body on the side of a dirt road.

The two men and Mr Mavisoy have been questioned in connection with a manslaughter investigation but no charges have been filed.

Yage, also known as ayahuasca, has been venerated for centuries by indigenous tribes in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia as a miracle cure for all sorts of ailments.

It was popularised in the West in the 1960s in The Yage Letters, a collection of correspondence and writings by William Burroughs, describing to fellow beat writer Allen Ginsberg his search for mind-altering experiences in the Amazon using the strange brew.

Mr Mavisoy says he does not seek out foreigners, but they find their way to his small ranch outside Mocoa, the capital of Putumayo province.

The going rate for an all-night session is about 25 dollars (£14.80) according to Filip Goemaere, owner of the Mocoa hostel where Mr Miller and the other backpackers stayed.

"Indigenous tribes say they're not commercialising yage but almost every day tourists go to try it," said Mr Goemaere, who estimates about a third of his guests ask about the psychedelic brew even though he does not promote its consumption.

The Associated Press obtained video footage from police taken during the ceremony where Mr Miller fell ill.

In the grainy video, Mr Mavisoy is dressed in traditional garb and stomps his feet while blowing on a wind instrument. Tribesman stir yage in a giant pot placed over a fire. Mr Miller is seen addressing a camera but there is no audio.

Next to Mr Mavisoy's home is an open-walled, dirt-floored wooden shack equipped with hammocks where foreigners lounge.

A hand-painted mural with images of an Indian, a tiger, an eagle and coca leaves decorate a triangular area on the face of the building.

Mr Mavisoy, who has led healing sessions in other countries, says yage does not kill, but rather cleans the spirit and then the body of the person imbibing it.

Peter von Puttkamer, a Los Angeles-based documentary filmmaker who has traced yage's discovery in the 1940s by a Harvard ethnobotanist, says many foreigners do not have sufficient respect for what tribes in the Amazon consider a sacred healing medicine.

"It can be quite a dark, frightening experience to go on it," he told the Associated Press.

"It's a mind-altering experience that can possibly alter your perception forever."

Mr Miller died on April 23 and at the time the Foreign Office said it was p roviding consular assistance to his family.

Press Association

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