For many generations the Ayuy Yu clan have known of the healing properties of wayusa, in their language: cushipanga – the leaf of joy, of the sweetness in family. The wayusa is their first soul medicine, and is used to clarify Dreaming, as well as for numerous physical benefits.
Our plants are our medicines. Over 70% of contemporary pharmaceuticals were originally derived from plants. Over 30% are still derived from plants. The delicate balance of chemistry within a plant, and our connection to plants as conscious beings makes them much more appropriate for healing than concentrated drugs. There are many teachings among different clans of the western Amazon basin that the wayusa is one of the keys to cultural healing. It promotes a balanced awareness – acute physical sensing, as well as emotional sensing, and spiritual sensing. Balance between the physical and nonphysical awareness. It opens us to non-rational sensing – to intuition, to dreams. It opens our Knowing. It is said that poisonous snakes flee our path if we have a good practice with wayusa.
To receive the full benefits of a medicine, cultivation is important. The plants are connected to us. When we cultivate a plant, we cultivate a power – it receives our intentions, and responds to our will. The relationship counts. When wayusas are planted, a strict diet is followed for several months. The planter will remain close to the home, close to the plant, and observe certain behaviors as a commitment to the strength of the plant – commitment to the medicine for the people.
There are 10,000 producers of wayusa in the Kichwa Commune of San Jacinto alone – families who have kept plants for generations. Wayusas that were cultivated and strengthened by their grandparents.
Inside the commune, and throughout the Pastaza province, due to oppressive regulation by the ministry of environment, many indigenous people are prevented from bringing wild-harvested resources to market. Traditional wayusa production is a meaningful economic alternative to empower culture, medicine, and indigenous autonomy. Otherwise, the only options for work are the oil companies, or the military.
One of the main financial costs for the indigenous people of Pastaza is school supplies for their children – uniforms, books, pens, and transport, particularly since the government closed the bilingual schools in the small communities, creating larger district schools in the city to “streamline” indigenous education. Many children now have to walk for hours to get to school, or their parents have to find money every day for buses. Since the government’s “Milenio” school policy, children from the commune are now seen begging in the streets of Puyo.
The vision for Fair Trade Wayusa production is to pay producers a fair price for their product, to reflect the value of traditional cultivation methods, honouring the spirit of the medicine, acknowledging our relationship with the medicine.
A previous wayusa production project was launched in Pastaza when Flavio secured a $600,000 partnership with investors from the United States in 2005. The partners cooperated up until the project was launched, and then announced to Flavio they would retract the commitments to cultural and environmental conservation. In short, a non-profit community enterprise model had been agreed upon, but was converted into a profiteering colonial business model as soon as the relationships were made. The wayusa producers are paid less than 20% of the originally agreed “fair” price, and the community leaders are seeking to mount a legal case against the California-based CEO, citing the company’s false claims to Fair Trade principles. The producers continue to sell to him because they have little choice – they need the economy. It is a sad but familiar abuse of colonial power.
The vision for the Fair Trade Wayusa project is to supply a North American market with artisan wayusa – an unadulterated raw medicinal product, cultivated in the traditional way. Producers will receive a fair price for their product, reflecting the value of their cultural knowledge. The project will be managed as a non-profit community enterprise, funding the recovery of sacred sites, environmental and cultural projects within the Kichwa Commune of San Jacinto.