News Latin America

Sunday 20 May 2018

Canadian killed in Amazon rainforest after being blamed for the death of elderly shaman

Every year thousands of foreign tourists travel to the Peruvian Amazon to experiment with ayahuasca (Nigel Pitman/The Field Museum)
Every year thousands of foreign tourists travel to the Peruvian Amazon to experiment with ayahuasca (Nigel Pitman/The Field Museum)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

A Canadian man has been killed in a remote part of the Amazon rainforest after being blamed for the death of an elderly shaman.

Sebastian Woodroffe was dragged by the neck shortly after the killing of Olivia Arevalo, an octogenarian plant healer from the Shipibo-Konibo tribe of northeastern Peru, the country's attorney general's office said.

Arevalo and Woodroffe (41), who had travelled to Peru to study hallucinogenic medicine, were both killed on Thursday in the indigenous community of Victoria Gracia.

But police did not begin to investigate until a mobile phone video appeared in local media showing a man purported to be Woodroffe begging for mercy while being dragged between thatch-roofed homes. He was then left motionless on the muddy ground.

On Saturday, officials dug up Woodroffe's body from an unmarked grave where he had been hastily buried.

Every year thousands of foreign tourists travel to the Peruvian Amazon to experiment with ayahuasca, a bitter, dark-coloured brew made of a mixture of native plants.

The hallucinogenic cocktail, also known as yage, has been venerated for centuries by indigenous tribes in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia as a cure for all sorts of ailments. But it is also increasingly consumed by Western tourists looking for mind-altering experiences, sometimes with deadly consequences.

Arevalo was a staunch defender of indigenous people's rights in the region. She also practised a traditional form of singing medicine that the Shipibo believe removes negative energies from individuals and groups.

She can be heard singing a traditional plant song on the website of the Temple of the Way of Lights, which describes itself as a plant-shamanic healing centre in the Peruvian Amazon.

In 2015, a Canadian fatally stabbed a fellow tourist from England after the two drank ayahuasca together in a spiritual ceremony a few hours' drive from where Woodroffe was killed.

Woodroffe, from the town of Courtenay on Victoria island in British Columbia, said before going to Peru that he hoped an apprenticeship with a plant healer from the Shipibo tribe would help his goal of changing careers to become an addiction counsellor using hallucinogenic medicine.

"The plant medicine I have the opportunity of learning is far deeper than ingesting a plant and being healed. It is not about getting 'high' either. It is true some of the plants I will be learning about do have a perception-altering effect, but these are a few plants out of thousands I will be working with," he wrote on the Indiegogo crowd-funding website seeking financial help to advance his studies.

"I am in this for the long haul. This is more than a 'job' to me. I want not only for people to recover ... I want to turn them on to the wonders of existence, and have them leave as a renewed friend and lover of this thing we call life," he added.

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