The Kofan Shamans in Colombia

The Kofan shamans are their people’s Traditional Authorities, the spiritual leaders who safeguard Kofan traditions and culture through their ritual ceremonies of indigenous medicine. At the center of these ceremonies is the drinking of Yagé, a sacred medicine made with a jungle vine with powerful properties first described scientifically by the late Dr. Richard Evans Schultes (R.I.P.), the Harvard professor widely known as the founder of modern ethnobotany. They come together from their reserves of Santa Rosa del Guamuéz, Afilador, Yarinal, and Santa Rosa de Sucumbíos in the southern Colombian departments of Putumayo and Nariño.

5“Shaman” is a Siberian word used generically in popular talk to describe those individuals in an indigenous community who mediate between their people and the invisible world. Generically speaking, shamans are their community’s traditional healers, finders of lost objects, governors of the fish and game, and entrusted with their community’s well-being.

The Kofan word for shamans in Spanish is curacas, although in Colombia, the word “taita,” Quechua for “grandfather,” is used in everyday talk. For the Kofan curacas however, the word “shaman” is analogous to charlatan.

No one knows their jungle and its animals, plants, and spirits like the curacas. Indeed, they are the key to maintaining the relationship between the people and their forest. Yet due to the lures and pressures of modern life, few are willing to follow in their footsteps and even their own political leaders often ignore them.

There are great efforts underway to nurture these living treasures, including that led by the Kofan curacas themselves through their own organization ASMIK (see About Healing Bridges), those of the Amazon Conservation Team and the UMIYAC, the Unión de Médicos Indígenas Yageceros de la Amazonia Colombiana, the Union of Indigenous Doctors of the Yagé Medicine of Colombia.