What Ayahuasca Means to the Ashaninka

Ayahuasca is an Amazonian brew of two plants Banisteriopsis Caapi and Psychotria Viridis and has been around for more than a thousand years. A drink that has gained the global interest especially since the mid-2000s, peaking in April of 2016.

Westerners have different intentions as to why they seek ayahuasca. Others maybe thrill seekers or just curious backpackers, but there are also serious Westerners who have specific issues such as depression.

But what is ayahuasca really? Well, no one can best describe it but the indigenous people living in the rainforests of Peru and in the State of Acre, Brazil – Ashaninka, who long used ayahuasca as an integral part of their society.

In this interview, Benki Piyãko – cultural, political and spiritual leader of the Ashaninka in the state of Acre in Brazil, and an environmental and indigenous culture activist gave us his point-of-view regarding Ayahuasca. He talks about Ashaninka tradition, what ayahuasca means to his people, the importance of proper training and clear communication regarding the global status of plant medicines.

What to do to increase legal protection in parts of the world where the use of Ayahuasca carries criminal charges?

And how to find an agreement between all parties involved in this process?

Can/should people take medicine on their own and learn directly from it or is it important that the person is guided by an elder or a paje?

How can you recognize if someone is capable of guiding people in the journey with the medicine?

What should people look out for when seeking a teacher or guide?


About Benki Piyãko

Benki is a pajé (shaman / spiritual leader) of the Ashaninka tribe in Acre, Brazil & an award-winning environmental activist. He is a recipient of the 2017 UNDP Equator Prize and 2013 Human Rights Award, as well as a 2006 Ashoka Fellow.




Transcript of the interview:

Lorna: What does ayahuasca means to the Ashaninka?

Benki: Today, the symbology that is spoken for millions of years within the traditional knowledge, for each people, each race, each nation of the world, of the Earth, a God was born, and from each God, there is a prophecy.

Each prophecy spread within its nations. So within this God that came to Earth, this spirit of “Tassori“, who was the Creator of the Universe, who put this light on the Earth for it to sprout lives.

The Ashaninka people is the guardian of a knowledge, of a plant, that reunites this knowledge, awakens this knowledge, that give us harmony, peace, that connects us from the smallest to the largest, within this universe.

So within this knowledge of the Ayahuasca plants, today, our Ashaninka people, with the wisdom that we have, with this support that nature gives us to use this plant, we see today that Ayahuasca is a plant of great consciousness.
Consciousness to help man restore his world.

Because we believe that we, alive and walking, we do not have the perception to know or connect with these beings. But when we drink, channels open. So these Gods came to the Earth, left these medicines to these nations that today commune with her.

We need to reflect and seek these roots, of where it comes from, where these original people, managed to bring within this knowledge, sent by the prophecies of Creation.

So I believe that inside this commandment, we have to give to the society of the world, this opportunity to bring from within the forest and its traditional people, this wisdom to connect ourselves once again, because we see hundreds of thousands of people disconnected from this sacred universe that was guided since the beginning of Creation.

Lorna: What do you think we need to do to increase legal protection in parts of the world where the use of ayahuasca carries criminal charges and how to find an agreement between all parties involved in this process?

Benki: We believe that in the midst of so many drugs in the world today, interventions made by the scientific world and biochemists and people who today use many plants transformed inside chemistry, we have a universal problem. Given by this science to the world, a pollution of spirit, the contamination of these chemicals created by man.

So a great concern of ours is to bring this realization that Ayahuasca is not a chemical, but a star of consciousness that she has within her, that transports and takes us, and gives us the opportunity to let go of these attachments, like I said before.

So today our greatest concern is that this knowledge that comes from the roots of these original people, still with that knowledge, may be transmitted to these churches, exported to these churches, with the best consciousness possible, that these churches may in the future, leave for their future generations of believers, this support that this security may never be forgotten.

And within the legislation, in the creation of this document, that will represent us to the state, the countries, and humanity, that has this fundament that represents this diversity, but that is respected within all of these congresses, the creation of this legislation, the respect for the knowledge of traditional indigenous people. Because we are not here to restrict, and it is not true we are not here to dialogue.

We are here to bring this dialogue with diplomacy, with respect, humility but with consciousness, so this awakening may enter the minds of those who will commune with this beverage. So I believe we are here in a moment of reflection, of commitment, of ethics.

Because I have always said, we need to create an ethics council. An ethics council between indigenous wise men who today commune this drink, and not people who today only represent, but never drank the medicine, and represent this movement.

It must be people who truly know the millennial stories, to be able to speak of this knowledge before society, who wishes to commune or receive this knowledge.


Lorna: Do you think people can/should take medicine on their own and learn directly from it or do you believe it is important that the person be guided by an elder or a pajé?

Benki: Our people say that whoever is born with the gift, or gifts – because it is not everybody that is born with the gift.

If everyone was born with the gift of this energy, we would not need anyone teaching anyone else. Everyone would already have it.

Since some people were born with the gifts, they were able to discover the world on their own. Even alone, they still had the participation of their mother, father, brothers, friends, who accompanied him until he was ready for this path.

Inside this segment, we are all capable of discovering, but it is more difficult when our gifts are not connected to the spirit. But to learn, we all are capable, as long as we can have a good guidance. Who will guide you in where to go, how to go, what to do, how to do it, how to use it, what it is for. Then we have a guidance to be able to incorporate this gift, this energy, to have the strength to receive this light. Because it is something very refined, I cannot speak much about this. Because it’s something that’s like a blink, I cannot speak all about it or people will say I am crazy.


Lorna: How can you recognize if someone is capable of guiding people in the journey with the medicine; or what should people look out for when seeking a teacher/guide?

Benki: How each one is entering and seeking for what? What is to learn, right?

With this… So, this is what we must be careful about in this dialogue, to introduce a message with a mission.

I believe that the realization of this image that we want to show.

I am not the wise man. I am just Benki, a messenger. I am here to speak of what I know. I do not know what she knows, or her, or what you know.

But within this knowledge, I believe that we can see who is who. When we approach them, look at them, take their hand, talk to them. We know who is polluted and who is not. Just by talking.

I can perceive when I touch someone, when I hug someone. I can feel what my body telling me, this one is intense, this one is good, but I am not going to say who is who. I will though, walk and say, we can walk together there is not a problem, let’s go together…so we can perceive.

I have seen many people sick around the world, that came to do diets, and could not follow through with them. Because when you enter this spiritual world and make the vows – these vows are no joke.

These vows are something very very fine in our life. If you break this vow before finalizing the embodiment of this energy, you will never be well again, if you do not find someone who has knowledge of this, to move this energy and retrieve your own energy.

Because this is what causes illness in many people. I have healed some people with these kind of issues.

That’s why…I have done some initiations for some people, for this, they had to experience 8 – 10 years with me, accompanying me.

With me guiding them how it is, so I could do a guaranteed diet for them.

To tell them: you will learn, you are capable, you will teach; but you teach with wisdom. Because there is no use to do a part of a story and not have its end. There is no point to do the beginning and not have the end, or do the end without having the beginning.

We must be very careful with this because it is a weapon.

Just like we have weapons here on earth such as a stick, an arrow, a shotgun, all kinds of weapons; in the spiritual world we also have weapons, and we need to be really careful with these weapons. Because in the balance, we can get a little unbalanced, and instead of doing the good, we can do malicious things to so many people that need to live well.

That’s why we need to be so careful with these incorporations. Because making vows is like a judgment, yours, wanting to transform your world in order to help others, inside this judgment that is done spiritually, if you do not fulfill, you can be judged by your own self.

This is the care we must take and those who seek this must be guided in the best way possible.

Art Credit: “Hombre Medicina” by Luis Tamani

About Lorna Liana

Lorna Liana is a new media strategist and lifestyle business coach to visionary entrepreneurs. She travels the world while running her business as a digital nomad. Lorna's boutique agency provides “done for you” web design, development and online marketing services for social ventures, sustainable brands, transformational coaches and new paradigm thought leaders. She is also a personal development junkie, and 20 year practitioner of shamanism, with extensive training in Tibetan Bon Shamanism and the ayahuasca traditions of the Amazon Basin. A self-professed ayahuasca snob and perennial ayahuasca tourist, Lorna has been drinking ayahuasca since 2004. She's been in approximately 150 ayahuasca ceremonies (from terrible to fantastic), and tasted wide variety of ayahuasca brews (from awful to exquisite). Her ayahuasca experience spans 30+ different shamans and facilitators, 7 indigenous tribes, several Brazilian churches, and a host of neo-shamanic circles, in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Europe, the US, and Asia. Through this widely-varied background, she hopes to shed some perspective on the globalization of ayahuasca.

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