11 February 2023
14 min read

This image is of Rafael Taish (Achuar shaman) and Ramiro (Achuar guide) who both play significant roles in this story.

If you've been reading along with this blog series, keeping step with this writing and with Ya'Acov and his journey in the Amazon, and sharing a little of my journey at home in Devon, England and not in the Amazon, then "thank you!" Your company, however intangible, makes a difference. And that makes more sense through the lens of a "dreaming" culture. And that will make more sense in a moment.

So, to return to where we were. The Achuar are a warrior culture ( more about this in Blog #7).

And they are a dream culture. And what does that actually mean? I am not Achuar, and I am not an expert, but I can share with you what I know through the incredible privilege of having visited with Achuar communities in the Amazon, many times. I am a relentlessly curious person, and I have asked many questions of them, which I am now so grateful for.

Imagine living in an environment where there are no diaries and no calendars; no dates. There are, of course, the rhythms of this earth; the diurnal rhythm, the rhythm of the seasons, the lunar cycle. But its not pinned down to years, months, weeks, days, hours and minutes. This is how it has been for the Achuar until very, very recently. When we ask the older shamans how old they are, they simply do not know. For their parents, the years did not have numbers attached to them. From this perspective, I imagine the idea that a day has a name (Saturday, for instance) is a peculiar one.

However, the Achuar now dance with one foot, so to speak, in "calendar time", and the other foot in the rhythms of the natural world. Through many small and different encounters with Achuar individuals Ya'Acov and I have understood that the concept of "waiting" does not really exist in Achuar. Which does not mean that people are not willing to do what we would call "waiting". But they are not waiting. They are being. Mmmh...

This is not a projection of spiritual ideals. It is something they have told us, themselves, correcting us when we have used words like "patience" and "waiting". These people are, in general, profoundly subtle and precise communicators. They care about the right words being used..

So, take yourself on a little adventure; a thought experiment. If there were no clocks or dates or calendars, or diaries, how do you decide what you're going to do each day? In the forest where you live with your family, there are many predictable and unpredictable challenges and opportunities. How do you choose what to do? How do you orientate?

The Achuar answer, as I understand it, is that you pay attention to your dreams and visions as the compass with which you navigate your life. Both on the day to day practical level and in the long term sense. Dreams are the crucial way to answer the question: "What shall we do today?"

As I understand this, they are stably grounded in the muscle of their lives, in their bodies, within and as part of the natural world. This gives them the stability to be vibrationally open and sensitive to "what is going on" on all levels. And dreams, for the Achuar, are the way that this inner "tuning fork" of guidance speaks.As David Tucker used to say to us as went in to Achuar territory; "The Achuar do not judge, they observe. Let's try to be more like them."

When it is said that the Achuar shamans and elders “Began to see the threat that was coming to their forest and their way of life in dreams and visions, and they realised they needed to reach out for allies” (Blog #10) this is the dreaming tradition that is the context of this. The Achuar lived (and live) orientated by their dreams and visions as an absolutely normal way of life.

Early every morning, in Achuar tradition, well before it gets light, families gather around their fire for their daily guayusa tea ceremony. Guayusa is a health-giving tea, made from a plant that grows in the forest, which is a little like green tea. And it is within this time, with the help of the tea, that the guidance from the dreams is heard and becomes understood.

"On the fire is a huge metal pot of water and guayusa herb. The people speak quietly to each other. The younger children are still sleeping. It is completely dark except for the glow of the fire and the forest has not started to wake up. We can see the warm light glowing in each open walled house in the settlement as the people tend their hearths, preparing their morning tea. Drinking enough tea for the desired effect is quite an effort. It gets easier as, day by day, I become accustomed to these new sensations. Once I realise that it's alright to feel so full of liquid, I relax. After I've managed to drink several gourds of the dilute and pleasant tasting tea, I go the edge of the forest a few steps away, lean over and whoosh, out it comes.The Achuar say this washes out the “bad airs” of the night. What comes out is purely the liquid of the tea, and I do feel like my inner pipes have had a cleansing. Like taking a shower for the inside. Now I'm now awake!"

When I asked when children start to drink enough guayusa to purge, I was told that it is when they themselves feel ready to do so. 

This tea has a gentle awakening and enlivening effect. After everyone has purged, the family sits together around the fire and the dreams from the night are told. The elders of the family interpret the dreams which become guides for what needs to be done today. Are we going hunting, or to the gardens? Are we doing our pottery or weaving or gathering medicinal plants? Do we need to set off to visit our neighbours or get ready to protect ourselves?

This time of getting up quietly with the families and having this why guayusa tea ceremony has been one of the most magical parts of being in the forest for me. This time is a key time of the day for the Achuar. Through the dream interpretations they decide what they are doing today. It is also the time when communication happens. If there are disputes or difficulties between people, this is the time for sorting them out.

Though many things have changed in Achuar culture in the last years, as far as I understand it, the tea morning tea ceremony is a constant and it is something we have adopted, loving this getting up in the dark, in winter at least, though we normally omit the purging part.

Sumpa is one of the oldest living shamans in this area of the forest. When we first met him with David Tucker, his wife was still alive.

Before we met Sumpa, we were primed. David told us that (to himself) he called Sumpa the ‘flower shaman’ because of the quality of love, beauty and gentleness which pervades his work as a shaman and his overall being.

I loved Sumpa from our first meeting and resonated with everything that David has said. So I was unprepared for the extremely rigorous and challenging. as well as beautiful nature of my personal work with him. Again and again I recognise how we tend to polarise sensitivity and strength, gentleness and power. Why shouldn't they co-exist I'm the same being?

Susannah, Sumpa, David Tucker, Ya'Acov

One year, we led a Pachamama Alliance Journey group together with David Tucker and then went back into the forest, just the 3 of us, to do our personal work with Sumpa and Rafael. Then we were able to dive deep ourselves, not having a group to hold. Sumpa helped me open to a new dimension of light, and colour and it was SO beautiful. I felt like I was actually in a heavenly realm of such beauty and illumination. But light is not a fluffy thing. Light illuminates everything and so I went from exquisite paradise to my inner war zone, and the work continued.

During what was probably the most beautiful and most difficult ceremonial night of my life, one of Sumpa’s sons stood as a guardian next to me. Not for a few minutes, but for literally hours and hours. He was just there. At the perfect distance, not too close and not too far. Not looking into my space and yet not ignoring me. I felt truly accompanied. Every now and again he would ask me if I was OK and I would say “Yes and No!” and we'd have a laugh together. For me, being able to let go into the tribulations of my body and soul with the support of strong and sensitive trusted male protection is an exquisite gift. When I am in that energetic space of deep metamorphosis, I often cannot bear to be touched at all. To be with a young warrior with whom there was absolutely no doubt that I was utterly protected and physically and energetically safe is an incredible thing. I am aware of the privilege of having had this experience and I am glad to be able to share it.

I will always remember that night and the warmth, reassurance and steady good humour of his presence and companionship. Meanwhile, Ya’Acov, having done his personal work, had a major queue of people from Sumpa’s village who wanted to ask for a healing from him, and David Tucker was deep in his own journey. Every now and again we checked in with each other and knew that everyone was OK. That was quite a night for all of us.

In the morning we went to submerge ourselves and to wash in the river and came back feeling energised and cleansed. How Sumpa greeted us then was another milestone in this relational journey. 

We have seen Sumpa in some deeply emotional moments. David, Ya’Acov and I were with him with a group, soon after his wife died. He was grief stricken but happy to work with us. He told us that it reminded him of the reason for why he was still alive. The Achuar bury their dead under their house. He told us that now he knew he would live in that house until the end of his days so that he and his wife's spirit could stay together there.

Ya'Acov, David Tucker, Sumpa, Susannah

Today, as I write this (11 February 2023) Ya’Acov and the group have been with him at Kapawi, and Sumpa was weeping about the death of David Tucker. He regarded him as his son and wanted to be with him when he died, and is deeply sad that he wasn’t able to leave the forest to do so. 

Once again, I am moved by the real deep bonds of relationship, love and friendship which hold together and grow within the basket of this alliance. 

Last time we were there, on the day after the ceremony with Sumpa, when he came to Kapawi to be there for the integration session, he came with two young warriors. They were all immaculately face-painted with the fine line drawings that are typical of the Achuar. 

One of the group asked what these line drawings meant. Sumpa explained that the drawings on the face of one of the young men represented the Jaguar and the line drawings on the face of the other young man represented the Python. There was a silence and then Sumpa was asked what the line drawings on his face meant. He said; “Oh, this is the pattern of veins on a leaf”. Hearing these words, a star exploded in my chest.

I am so grateful to know this man and to be in alliance with him and so many others. Supporting and being supported in this unusual and significant dance of mutual support that is the nature of alliance.

I asked Ya’Acov to ask Sumpa what message he wanted to give the world today. And this is what he said, live and direct, today 11 February 2023, as translated by Ramiro the Achuar guide, from Achuar direct to English for Ya’Acov, the group and you:

A lot of people think that there are only trees and animals in the Amazon. They do not know that we, and many other indigenous groups, are here. We are here! And we want to continue to live in the simple way in which we have been living for generations, as for so many years our ancestors have lived. We want to continue to live like that, in the old way. We are united. We are all together. If something has to be done to earn money, we do it together. We are not in competition with each other. Individualism is not our way. Eco-tourism projects are the best option for us to earn any money we need. Oil is not an option here.  We protect this land. We protect our culture.  We consider ourselves to be the natural custodians of this land, for and with all the living things within it, of the whole biosphere. Please bring this message with you to your people.” Sumpa 2 Feb 2023

If you feel the call of Sumpa's message, please check out the Pachamama Alliance (links below).

Thank you Sumpa and Ramiro (who translated). Ya'Acov sent me this message as an audio file, and I wrote it out and sent it back for checking. As I was working on this, Ya'Acov called me and we had a sweet, deep talk. Today is the afternoon when the group is invited to canoe down the river. He said he couldn't bear to go without me, as this is always such a special and intimate moment for us, together with the river and the forest. Having shared the story of this yesterday (Blog #11) I feel us once again in a profoundly instep dance together. I look up and realise I am writing this sitting under a tropical plant which every now and again seems to touch me affectionately on the head. And I am sitting facing the direction where Ya'Acov is, to the south west, "over the hills and far away".

I wish Ya'Acov and the group good last hours bathing in the beauty of the forest and all the magic and sounds of Kapawi at night. It is bitter sweet to leave. They will have so much to bring home, and so much to leave behind. Blessings to us all in this delicate dance of being human,

with love,

Susannah Darling Khan

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Susannah Darling Khan

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