3 February 2023
11 min read

"I'm sure you are bursting to know who these enchanting men are. This is Manari Ushigua, a leader and traditional healer of the Sapara people and Taylor Fogelquist who is assisting on this journey that we are tracking alongside in these Amazon Blogs. We'll meet Manari properly later on in this episode. Taylor's wonderful photography is going to illuminate these blogs, along with that of many photographers from previous journeys. Thank you Taylor and all!

Yesterday, when Ya'Acov and the group flew into the jungle, they were going to Naku, which is in Sapara territory. 

Yesterday afternoon his tiny plane took off. He sent me a picture of the forest beginning to stretch out into the distance and there was a moment of amazed joy; “I can speak to you from here!” and then his phone lost contact and he was gone. Gone into the interior world of the forest. It's time to rest back in our deep heart connection. All is well.

I remember my elation as we leave behind the modern industrialised world. I remember the sore bruise as we saw that, each time we visit, the roads, the pipelines, the metal roofs and the areas denuded of trees stretch deeper into what had perviously been solid forest.

And yet, still, as you fly in over the Amazon there comes a moment where on every side, in 360 degrees in all directions and as far as the eye can see, there is unbroken forest. Something in my heart flies free in that moment, a long forgotten but bone deep sense of 'home' in the primordial forest. An ancient, aching memory. Given how much amazon is lost every year, it's amazing how much is still there. All is not yet lost, still so much to play for.

As we fly; occasionally a river twisting amongst the endless "broccoli forest", as David Tucker used to call it. Occasionally a tiny settlement near a river. Occasionally a tree alight with golden red plumage. And above the forest, a vast arena in which the weather gods play. Wisps and curls of mist rising from the canopy, soft white clouds, great banks of grey hissing columns of rain, glints of sun and stretches of dazzling blue.

When occasionally, the pilot needs to fly us through one of the hissing grey rain storms, you know about it. We are like a tiny insect in the storm clouds. I look at the pilot nervously, and from the expression on his face, I realise it's OK. Exhale. When we emerge it feels like we, as well as the plane, have had a major wash; our first forest cleansing.

And then, as we approach Sapara territory and finally land on their short earth airstrip, this shy wonder. The thrumming vibration of the aeroplane engine turns off and there is quiet. Birds, children’s high excited voices as they run to meet us as we clamber a little dazed into the warm humidity of here. The warm hugs, the welcoming embraces of the people is not what I had expected. How had we elicited this affection? Over time I learnt that this warmth, joy and mutual affection is simply normal in this group of people.

Being properly made welcome here means receiving a cleansing before arriving fully in their space. This occurs at an intermediary meeting place, before we get to Naku. This is for us, but also for them. We are given Sapara names. I am Umaru (woman of the rains) and Ya'Acov is Irishipi (shaman).

I later realise that this cleansing is something they give everyone who is arriving from the "other world". The "other world" means outside the forest and out really feels like that. When any of the Sapara come back to the forest, they are given the same treatment. Otherwise there can be disturbance. The first cleansing, with shakapa (leaf rattle) hands and tobacco smoke is followed the next day with an intensive next level cleanse. We are told to be ready in our swim suits at dawn by the river. This cleansing is with ashes and a warm bath of special herbs and tobacco smoke. I felt my energetic system being vigorously, kindly and thoroughly combed through. My body feels it again, with pleasure, as I write these words. Gracias.

I remember the hands on my head, paradoxically heavy and light at the same time; a feeling of deep presence and blessing. I experience the people as enormously strong and yet deeply gentle. They seem present in their bodies in a way which is different than anything I have known. Of course everyone is different, and yet the norm here seems so far from our norm that one cannot help but notice the difference in their deeply embodied sense of the physical material world and of spirit never having been divided.

And then we are ushered into long canoes to glide down the Conambo river with the current. The canoe is steered and controlled by two people (often, but not always men) standing, one at the prow and one at the stern. They control the boat's progress in the swiftly flowing shallow river with their long poles, balancing with poise, strength and soft humour as they keep us safe and keep the boat on track. I wonder what it must take to pole the canoe up river.

By this time it is twilight. Magical, the beauty, the quiet and the night sounds waking up. I want to whisper. Awe again; and reverence to be within the endless cathedral of the forest. feeling it stretching out in every direction. Climbing up the muddy steps from where the boats land, we arrive in Naku. This is the simple and beautiful centre which this Sapara community has created and which will be our home for the next few days. Each person is given a small platform with a simple mattress, a pillow, a sheet, a thin blanket, which is all you need, and a mosquito net. We are kept dry under the traditional thatched roof and the sides are open to the forest. You can almost touch it, its so close. And all night you are bathed in the undulating symphony of the forest.

Manari greets us. He talks quietly, gently, slowly and when he speaks I find myself listening in a new way. It's as if he is transmitting on another wavelength which I've unconsciously longed for but have never known where to find. I feel myself energetically (and as quietly and smoothly as possible) moving my internal furniture around to make space to receive this welcome new vibration.

Manari Ushigua has the capacity to translate for us from within the cosmo-vision of his people in a way that we can understand, at least somewhat. His father was a renowned shaman, healer and peace maker who still guides him in his dreams. His mother is the sparkling elder Mukasawa, who we will soon meet.

Manari is one of the leaders and a traditional healer of the Sapara nation and we are blessed to have a profound relationship with him. He and Belen Paez; director of Fundacion Pachamama have been at the Movement Medicine Long Dance (in Devon in the UK) for several years now and all being well, they will be with us again this summer for the Long Dance (2023 and 2024) bridging the worlds yet again.

Manari and Belen

The Summer Long Dance is a give-away and the central ceremony of our Movement Medicine year. As well as being a profound and demanding healing ceremony for the dancers, it is a powerful fund raiser, prayer raiser and consciousness raiser for the Pachamama Alliance as well as an incredible spectrum of other charities world wide.

Manari's reflections and ability to perceive on a subtle spiritual level have helped us understand more of the energy and potency of Movement Medicine and of our yearly Movement Medicine ceremony. And he has also shown us where we have put ourselves in double binds. We are incredibly blessed to know Belen and Manari as allies and friends.

When Manari first came to the Long Dance he introduced himself and where he came from. There was a deep silence in the great white marquee as we tuned into his fine vibration. As he told us that he and his people know and accept that they are becoming extinct, sudden rain beat down on the tent. The heavens wept with us. Their commitment, he told us, is that before they go they want to leave their knowledge with the world. To leave their knowledge intact and on their terms. The Sapara are exquisite plant healers and have deep knowledge of herbal medicine. They want to leave their legacy safely for future generations. and together with the Pachamama Alliance, they are committed to doing so.

One of the things that is so precious and rare about the way the Pachamama Alliance is set up is the sense of mutual support and reciprocity. We do not come as beggars, longing to be saved by indigenous wisdom, though I do know what that feels like. And we do not come as saviours to help save them from the beasts of oil extraction, mining and deforestation. Though I do know the temptation of identifying with that role. We come together as people who love the spirt of life and who feel part of the spirit of nature. We come together because we are much stronger together, as allies. We come together because we know that all of us have medicine to give and to receive. This is part of our common humanity; to dream together, to heal together and to play our role together as part of the re-membering of the world.

Mukasawa, Manari’s mother, is the funniest, zestiest, wisest elder I know. And I adore her. And right now, I am sad not to be sharing cuddles, healing tears and laughter with her. 

When we visited them a few months after my mother died in 2014, Mukasawa understood my pain and why I had cut my hair so short.They do that too, I'm grief. Today as I write this, it is the day of my own mother’s birthday. My Mum, Elizabeth Darlington, would have been 82 today 3rd February 2023. I give thanks for her and for Mukasawa and for all those who give life through the tender, fierce, long staying strength, selflessness and love that is deep mother energy as I understand it. Manari also helped me to orientate with the death of my mother. He told me that it is a major thing for them, when a parent dies. He also told me how important it us for the spirt's ongoing journey, that the ones who are left remember the one who has died in their medicine, in their real strength and the beauty of their essence. I have an image of this as stringing the beads of such memories together into a necklace of honour.

Mukusawa, Susannah and Gertrude's shawl

In this photograph Mukasawa is wearing a scarf which Gertrude, one of the elders in our Movement Medicine community, gave to me. In my eyes, Gertrude carried a similar quality of resilient strength, bright love, joy and openness to new learning. I gave her the scarf Gertrude gave me to honour the spirit of these grandmothers weaving their laughter and love across the world. I am sure they would have loved each other.

As I write this blog I am becoming more acutely aware of the wild unexpectedness of this story. It's almost such an extraordinary thing that its hard to acknowledge. And, I am choosing to do so, because it is true and I want to share the blessing of it with you and invite you into this quality of alliance, too. Which is what Maria and Mukasawa asked of me. To tell the world about them and their message.

I feel as if I am only now, through NOT being there, and through this labour of writing, beginning to digest the incredible nourishment of having been there. I feel humbled, happy, sad, tenderised, strong and grateful. I'm aware of Ya'Acov and the group, and Manari, Mukasawa, Maria (more about Maria tomorrow) and the wider Sapara community. I am sending love and prayers for them and I know that they are praying for and with me and us and the world.

Lastly I want to celebrate my mother. She was wise and tender and fierce. I am blessed to have received her consistent, steady love, warmth, wisdom and discerning upholding and support. Thank you Mum!

More to come tomorrow...

With love and gratitude for receiving this story,

Susannah Darling Khan

Find out about journeys in the Amazon with the Pachamama Alliance.

Find out about the Sacred Headwaters Alliance.

Find out about the Movement Medicine Summer Long Dance

Susannah Darling Khan

Susannah's life is dedicated to the quest for a world where beauty and compassion flourish....