For the Amazonian indigenous peoples, health and healing are closely linked to the spiritual world. Although much of this knowledge has lost it’s value, the Matsigenka people still maintain knowledge linked to traditional medicine. These practices not only strengthen the sense of identity, but also reinforce the connection with their territory.
The use of medicinal plants continues to be an important alternative to facilitate greater access to health and treat various diseases. Specialized knowledge in the use of leaves, roots, bark, flowers, seeds, resins, infusions or powders to treat physical ailments is attributed to community healers, who have been initiated into this practice through special rituals.
Ethnobotanical knowledge is not only limited to the treatment of physical ailments, but also includes other aspects of a spiritual nature, such as frights, hauntings, cures or interpersonal conflicts, seeking to improve the overall health of the people.
Medicinal Plant Workshop hosted by Xapiri Ground in 2022: This creative workshop involved a plant walk led by one of the elders Lola and the primary students of the community. By first identifying the plant in its natural habitat, the children would retrieve a sample of the corresponding leaf, serving as each plant's signature. We then went back to the drawing board and taught the children the method of making "impressions" of each leaf using colored pencils and bond paper.
The Matsigenkas use Seri or tobacco, it is a medicinal plant and serves to strengthen the respiratory and immune system, and fight colds. It is also used to protect the hunter from snake bites.
The preparation of Seri consists of two stages, one of collection and the other of elaboration. First, a bark called Seritaki is collected and burned and sieved to obtain an ash. Then, tobacco leaves collected from the garden are dried over a fire. They are then pulverized in a pot using a wooden mortar and pestle, while a chant is sung to accompany the preparation. This chant is important for the Matsigenka, as it guarantees the power and potency of the tobacco or Seri.
Once the ideal texture of the powder is achieved, it is mixed with the ash and stored in a giant snail shell called Pompori in Matsigenka. Finally, the tobacco powder is inhaled through a pipe or Seritonki, which is an L-shaped tube made from the leg bones of a bird called Paujil, secured with a tough resin and hand-spun cotton thread.
Tobacco exchange is mainly performed among men, and the usual procedure consists of blowing several times into both nostrils, which causes a feeling of drunkenness or energetic intensity. Furthermore, the tobacco exchange is not limited to just the physical act of blowing the Seri, but also involves sharing experiences, wisdom and spiritual connection. It is a moment of meaningful exchange that strengthens community ties and the transmission of knowledge. Through this ritual, the importance of reciprocity and community in the healing and strengthening process is recognized.
Ayahuasca also known as kamaranpi or kasantonitsa (Liana of the Guacamayo) in Matsigenka, is a hallucinogenic drink prepared by combining two plants: the ayahuasca vine or liana and a plant called chacruna. This drink is used in healing rituals by the seripigari or shamans.
In the Matsigenka cosmovision, the seripigari maintain direct contact with the world of the saankariite, which are the spirits of plants and animals. In the treatment of diseases, the collaboration of the healer's auxiliary spirits is considered fundamental, since the healer himself has no power (Sever, 2012).