From the Siekopai in the Amazon Rainforest
By: Jennifer Hayashi
Maintaining good health is becoming more important than ever before in these current times. Many of us rely on western medicine as it has dominated the mainstream understanding on wellness. While it provides great insight into health it is only but one perspective. The diversity of our planet is tremendous, and it’s worth exploring other culture’s insight on maintaining a healthy mind, body and spirit.
There are thousands of indigenous cultures that each have their own unique collection of knowledge. An indigenous prescription is based on what grows naturally in the local geographical region. Traditionally each household would have an understand of natural remedies, and there would also be a medicine taita, shaman, or doctor that patients would go to see when ill. These specialists were often well versed in hundreds if not thousands of natural plants that could be used to cure.
While filming over the past five years in the Amazon Rainforest for the documentary, The Roots Awaken, I was able to meet many traditional indigenous doctors from various tribes. One tribe that called my particular attention was the Secoya, a name given by westerns. Their true name is Siekopai, which means “People of many colors”. In the early 1800’s there was a rubber boom in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon. The arrival of the Europeans brought great suffering to the Siekopai people as they were manipulated, enslaved, and killed. It’s estimated that before their arrival there were over 26,000 people. Today there remains only 700 inhabitants left in the Siekopai tribe.
I visited the Siekopai and stayed with a small family. When I arrived my overall health was good but I felt like I had been feeling an ongoing fatigue over the past six months. While staying in their home I mentioned to one of the traditional healers my feeling and he offered me a traditional medicine, called Mañapë, that is supposed to relieve the precise symptoms that I was feeling at the time.
We went walking a few hours into the jungle to find the plant and harvest it. We cooked it over a fire for several hours before it was ready. He told me that we would wake up at 3AM to drink the medicine known as a “vomitivo”, or drink that makes one purge. I drank the medicine in a traditional gourd below a beautiful blanket of stars in the night sky. Just as he told me would happen, I began to purge, cleansing my entire inner system. After the session was over I felt reborn physically, mentally, and spiritually. It was beyond any pill or western medicine that I had taken before.
After taking Mañapë, the Siekopai elder told me that he was going to give me Yoko. Yoko is a thick vine that grows in the Amazon Rainforest, and unique to Siekopai they have a longstanding practice of making it into a morning “coffee”. However, far superior to any Starbucks blend, Yoko gives you a much more powerful dose of energy that seems to seep into your soul. In the morning, the elder took the vine and began to shave off the outer layer of bark. Below that layer was a whiteish skin that was then placed into a gourd. The pieces of Yoko were mixed with water and then filtered. After drinking Yoko I was left in one of the best life states I’ve ever felt. He then gifted me enough of the vine to prepare on my own and drink for one month. The longstanding effect of drinking the medicine improved my overall health greatly and it seemed to have permanently changed my body chemistry in some way. I was left speechless with the great effect of drinking Yoko daily.
While there is little research on Mañapë and Yoko from the western perspective, I am confident to say that I prefer to take these Amazonian remedies over any prescription pill. While taking a pill seems to relieve symptoms at first, over time the effect seems to fade. The medicines I took in the jungle seemed to address the root cause of what I was suffering. I observed that there is an entirely different way of thinking from the Siekopai perspective in the field of health. One that is much more holistic and everlasting.
While I was privileged to have this experience, what do those do who will never go to the Amazon Rainforest and drink traditional medicines? There is great value in learning about the medicinal plants that are native to the region where you live. Respecting the indigenous people who still know where to find certain plants and how to prepare them is a true treasure.
There are over 562 unique indigenous tribes that are still living in the US. While many of them have adapted to western cultures, there definitely exists in families a storehouse of wisdom on native remedies in respect to each region.
With the current COVID-19 taking its course throughout our planet it is important to elevate one’s life state and health to strengthen the immune system. Creating a relationship and practice with native plants is one of the greatest ways to build strength in a holistic way. Now is also the time to give indigenous people the respect they deserve for their ancient knowledge that they have maintained for thousands of years.