Translated by Germán Zuluaga, M.D., ACT Colombia Program Director, Advisor to UMIYAC
In June 1-8th 1999, in Yurayaco, Caquetá in the Colombian Amazon, the heart of the territory of the Ingano people, we, their indigenous healers and traditional doctors, met in a Gathering of Shamans.Among our own peoples — the Ingano, the Kofán, the Siona, the Kamsá, the Coreguaje, the Tatuyo, and the Carijona — we are known as Taitas, Sinchis, Curacas, or Payés.After 500 years of conquest, pillage, and death inflicted on our communities and cultures, we, the Taitas of the yagé culture in Colombia, have at long last been able to meet, exchange our knowledge, establish friendships, and unite for the same cause and with a common thought. We consider yagé, along with our other medicinal plants and our wisdom and knowledge, to be a gift from God and a great benefit for the health of humanity. We have a duty to demonstrate to the world, with determination and solemnity, the importance of our values. At the conclusion of the Gathering, we committed ourselves to working for the unity and defense of our traditional medicine and to offering our services for the health of indigenous peoples and humanity. The Taitas present at the Gathering will form the Union of Traditional Yagé Healers of the Colombian Amazon (UMIYAC), and name leaders who will undertake our appointed tasks and represent us before the world at large, before governments and institutions.The most direct way to preserve both our healing practices and the Taitas identity is first, to define who may work legitimately as an authentic traditional healer; and second, to determine when and under what conditions an apprentice may begin the learning process, and when he may be authorized to perform a healing. Thus, to establish our legitimacy, the Union of Traditional Healers will conceive and institute a certification procedure for traditional healers, apprentices, and disciples. This undertaking will make it possible to distinguish between traditional healers and charlatans. From the start, all apprentices will know what expectations their teachers have set for them: dietary strictures, abstinence, use of plants, moderation in liquor, and the rules of dignified behavior in general for a disciple and apprentice of the wisdom of indigenous healing.As Taitas or Shamans, we know that all of us have unique ways of working. Each of us has received a different vision from his teacher and knows different ways to make remedies or to take yagé. The simple fact that a Union has been formed does not mean that everyone will work in the same way. But there is agreement on the importance of setting some basic rules of discipline, behavior, seriousness, and mutual respect for our communities, for ourselves, and for those who seek us out as healers. This is the basis for our proposed draft of a Code of Medical Ethics, although we prefer to call this simply “The Beliefs of the Elders.”After eight days, during which we have reflected on our medicine, participated in three yagé ceremonies and visited the ancestral rock of Yurayaco, we the Taitas declare:
- Here in the foothills of Amazonia, indigenous groups still survive, and we have inherited from our ancestors great wisdom, our medicinal plants, with the knowledge of our forests and the use of the sacred vine: the yagé.
- We consider yagé, our medicinal plants and our wisdom to be gifts from God and of great benefit for the health of humanity. This Gathering may be our last opportunity to unite and defend our rights. Our motivation is not economic or political. We are seriously determined to demonstrate to the world the importance of our values. As sons of the same Creator and brothers and sisters on Mother Earth, we wish to speak, to offer our contribution so that life, peace and health may be possible.
- Non-indigenous people are finally acknowledging the importance of our wisdom and the value of our medicinal and sacred plants. Many of them profane our culture and our territories by commercializing yagé and other plants; dressing like Indians and acting like charlatans. We see with concern that a new type of tourism is being promoted which deceives the foreigners with so-called “services of Taitas or shamans” in a number of villages of the foothills. Indeed, even some of our own indigenous brothers do not respect the value or our medicine and go around misleading people, selling our symbols in towns and cities.
- There are those who take our seeds to patent them, to own them. Others want to declare yagé a narcotic plant and prohibit its use for the good of humanity. We also denounce those anthropologists, botanists, business people, doctors and other scientists who are experimenting with yagé and other medicinal and sacred plants without taking into account our ancestral wisdom and our collective intellectual property rights.
- We denounce the abuse committed against our Tatuyo brothers from the Yapú area of the Vaupes, who in transit to the Gathering were held by the authorities and dispossessed of the yagé they were bringing to ceremonially share at the Gathering.
- We demand respect for our territories, our indigenous medicine and our traditional healers or Taitas. We ask the world to acknowledge that our medicine is also a science, although not in the same way Westerners understand it. We, the Taitas, are real healers and for many centuries we have effectively contributed to the health of our villages. Furthermore, our medicine looks beyond the physical and seeks the wellbeing of the mind, the heart and the spirit.
- We demand the immediate suspension of the patent Loren Miller was awarded in the United States. For us, the patent represents an abuse and a defilement of our sacred plant. We declare that yagé and other medicinal plants we use are the patrimony and collective property of the indigenous people. It’s use in the name of mankind must be carried out with our participation and we should enjoy any other benefits that derive from its exploitation.
- We ask for legal recognition of our autonomy in caring for the health of our peoples in accordance with our traditions and values.
- We must regain possession of our territories and sacred sites. The forest is for us the fountain of our resources. If the forests disappear so will medicine and life.
- We request support for our cause. Non-indigenous people can help us consolidate our unity and the defense of our traditional medicine, as it has been proven that they also benefit from the wisdom of the Taitas.
- At the end of the Gathering, we agreed to work toward the unity and defense of our traditional medicine and offer our services for the health of indigenous people and of humanity.
- The Taitas agree to initiate a process of certification of practicing healers and establish our own code of indigenous medical ethics. In this way it will be able to distinguish between real Taitas and charlatans.
- We are also willing to travel in order to bring the benefits of our medicine to indigenous communities in Colombia and other parts of America upon request. Conscious of the fact that non-Indians also need our services as doctors, we propose the construction of Indigenous Medicine Clinics so they may have easier access and in conditions better suited to the way in which we work, always closely linked to nature.
- The Taitas present at the Gathering have decided to formally create the Union of Traditional Yagé Healers of the Colombian Amazon (UMIYAC) and name our own representatives to carry out the various tasks to which we are committed and to represent us before the world, governments and other institutions.
To disseminate this Declaration and the results of the Gathering, we will make available a publication and a video to be distributed solely through our own representatives. The rights of the publication and video belong to UMIYAC and their use will not be permitted without our written approval. We wish to acknowledge those Taitas that for different reasons were not able to join us. The decisions made here tried to take into account their thoughts and we extend an invitation for them to join UMIYAC in the process we have initiated.To all indigenous people we wish to clarify that this Union does not seek to compete with or replace the important role of indigenous organizations that currently represent us, on the contrary, we offer our services and support to strengthen their goals.We are grateful to our brothers in other countries who are part of a Coalition to defend our traditional medicine, medicinal plants and yagé; we hope that our union will allow them to support our cause in a more effective manner.As the century comes to a close we are witnessing a dramatic period of violence, hatred, poverty, injustice and sickness. On the verge of the new millennium we see the opportunity to close and heal this sad phase for humanity.We wish to offer our participation in the construction of an age of hope, health and happiness. We are convinced that yagé and the medicinal plants of our territories and our cultures, as a gift that they are from the Creator, can help to heal the world.In Yurayaco, on June 7th of 1999, the undersigned Taitas: 42 signatures follow.
* We have tried to make a literal translation, adapting when necessary the meaning of some difficult words. The word Taita utilized in the text and shared by all the participants is of Quechua origin and is more an honorific title given to the shamans to recognize their widsom, age, experience, and power.