“Arising a few hours before dawn in the Ecuadorian Amazon, we began each day in Amazanga by constructing a fire in the ceremonial hut and listening to the morning serenade of crickets and birds. Having harvested fresh wayusa leaves from behind their home, community elders Rafael and Lucila placed them into a pot to simmer over the fire and steep into a slightly sweet, uplifting tea. Calling it medicina pequeña or ‘little medicine’, they often would guide their community in partaking in its restorative and protective essences. Family members would often trickle in just before sunrise one by one, each filling a hollowed-out pilche, a cup-like gourd, and join us around the fire. Sometimes friends from near or far would visit to drink at this special time, and to talk about important dreams and spiritual matters. Rafael would continue refilling each of our gourds with hot wayusa tea, and begin to recount his family’s myths and legends. He spoke calmly about extraordinary phenomena, and often referenced shapeshifting anacondas and animals, talking medicinal plants, star beings, and various encounters with the unseen forces.
I was enraptured by the magical stories, and I found myself watching his words come to life in vivid imagery which illuminated my conscious vision, and danced beneath my eyelids at night. It was an experience for me that was both captivating and liberating, and I began to surrender to the enchantment of the myths. By continuing to drink this kind, jungle infusion, I entered a cycle of powerful dreaming and deeper clarity. Soon I began to study the myths by taking walks through the rainforest with different community members, and ingesting more plant medicines. With time, I began to understand some of the themes more profoundly, but I still had so many questions. I asked Rafael for permission to begin voice recording the stories in the mornings, and much to his delight, he agreed. As such, we advanced deeper into the mythology.
As much as I dearly treasured our morning ‘classes’, it rapidly became apparent that the children in the community were not present for the storytelling. Many of them would come by and enjoy a quick cup of tea, but they would then rush off to the nearby road to commute by bus to attend school very far away. Amazanga once had a community school, but it had by then been shut down due to new laws, thus forcing the children to leave their homes each day in order to attend classes. Observing how quickly the family’s territories had been impacted by extractive industries, and how abruptly knowledge was disappearing, I inquired if the community was interested in preserving their stories by documenting them and eventually printing them into books. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and subsequently, that is what we have set out to accomplish now.
The mythology books are a still awork in progress, and in the effort of ensuring transmission to the next generation, we are collaborating to produce locally illustrated, trilingual children’s books. The transcribed stories will serve as a dynamic, educational tool for local children, and it is our hope that these teachings will also reach a global audience of all ages. The Wayusa School is a place of unity and cultural guardianship. It encourages and inspires youth to play with their heritage, and it will give them a unique opportunity to share it with others. The Santi family believe that their oral traditions in particular have the power to heal and strengthen all who listen to them, and they extend an invitation to share this knowledge with locals and foreigners alike.”
~Testimonial by Andrea Davis