Journalist and amateur anthropologist Peter Gorman talks about his intrepid experiences with the Matsés people of the Amazon, and how they use the frog medicine kambo for medicinal and shamanic purposes…
The Matsés tribe in the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon were relatively unknown to anthropologists until the past few decades – partially due to a hostility towards Westerners. Peter Gorman was one of the first Westerners who brought back artifacts from the Matsés, and was the first to write about a unique natural medicine used throughout the Amazon: kambo, the tree frog medicine. In this interview, the video of which you can watch for free below, Peter shares some of his experiences.
Peter describes his first encounter with the Matsés; seeing a profound merging of cruelty and compassion, and managing to cross the language barrier with a mutual understanding likened to telepathy. Through careful gift-giving, Peter learned how to earn the trust and acceptance of the Matsés, and ended up learning a lot about their culture and practices.
One practice that was almost unknown to Westerners was the use of kambo – the secretions of the Phyllomedusa bicolor tree frog. Called sapo in the Matsés language, it involves making burns in the skin and then applying the secretion to the burns, allowing it to quickly enter the bloodstream. The effects last a few hours and can include vomiting, fever, and disorientation… but can also induce profound visionary states, and can leave the user feeling as if they have enhanced senses and vitality for days or weeks afterwards.
Peter’s first experience with kambo was an unusual one – a Matsés practitioner simply burned him and applied sapo without explaining what it was! After several hours of feeling like he had been poisoned and was in the process of dying, Peter woke up with greatly enhanced sight and hearing, and it helped him understand why Matsés hunters take kambo before setting out into the forest.
After that, Peter learned more about the traditional uses of kambo among the Matsés. He saw it being used to treat colds and fevers, as well as being used for various kinds of divination, and even as a powerful abortive. In addition to its use in improving the visual acuity of hunters, Peter witnessed it being used to anticipate where animals are in the forest, and even as a tool for shamanic shape-shifting in order to set a lure for tapirs to stumble into traps.
The Western adoption of kambo can be criticized somewhat, in its over-hyping of the benefits and occasional overlooking of the risks. Peter shares his understanding of the safest way to use kambo, and also describes the differences between the traditional use of sapo among the Matsés compared to how Westerners typically use kambo.
About Peter Gorman
Peter Gorman is an award-winning investigative journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of High Times magazine. He has also spent part of each of the last 34 years exploring northwest Amazonia. During that time he has collected indigenous artifacts for the American Museum of Natural History, medicinal plants for Shaman Pharmaceuticals, and herpetological specimens for the FIDIA Research Institute of the University of Rome. He is the first person to have published a written account about the experience of sapo/kambo.
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