Drinking yagé to resist capitalist violence
Recently, I have been living among the Siona and have seen how they are able to resist and contest, relying on collective yagé encounters, the plans of an multinational oil company that intended to pursue oil exploration in their territories. As we shall show here, the ability to “see” and “heal” associated with yagé is not only used to help individuals, but also to benefit groups, organizations, and territories.
As the Siona people told me, the taitas master the art of cooking and drinking yagé, usually called “the remedy,” in order to “see and do things with space.” Through yagé, taitas can “open and study space,” “clean it” or “harmonize it” and, if necessary, “close it” to someone. Taitas “open the space” to their apprentices, so they can “see.” Spirits of dead shamans can “close the space” to the living, and then they see nothing when they ingest the remedy. A living taita can “close the space” to another taita. They also “study the space,” and operate over it, when they drink the remedy to see the illness of a sick person, or the conditions for a project with an NGO or a state agency, or when there is private business between the taita or the taita´s relatives and others, and in a wide range of other situations … Members of different communities, guided by different groups of taitas, “analyzed” the subject and “studied the space.” And the space, in fact, was full of conflicts; the strategy of the company was to divide the different organizations and leaders, offering a little money here and there, to separately compel the leaders to quickly approve the intervention on their respective territories. At the beginning of the consulta, company agents gladly financed the tomas, boasting of respecting the Indian custom, hoping to win the favor of young and old leaders. But, as the months passed and the Indians demanded more time and more resources to hold their meetings, the company’s agents became skeptical and declared that their chiefs in the big city did not understand why it was necessary to take so much remedy. Then, they threatened to disengage from the communities, and to seek the oil just outside the Indians lands.