Ayahuasca puts Brazil on the shamanic tourism map

. May 05, 2019

When 23-year-old Matheus dos Reis Lima started looking for a vacation spot two years ago, he decided he would bring home something more than just pictures. This time, he was looking for a transformative experience, from which he could achieve a deep connection with himself. Soon after, he embarked on a nine-day trip to Alto do Paraíso, in the Center-West state of Goiás, to take part in a shamanic ritual.

Mr. Lima’s trip is an example of a whole new trend that has gained traction in Brazil, that of “shamanic tourism.” People are increasingly looking for exclusive, unique, and meaningful experiences for their vacations. In this case, when hipsterism meets indigenous culture, the sky is the limit for the industry of selling “experiences.”

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Shamanism is a ritualistic practice, common in </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">indigenous cultures</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> around the world. During ceremonies, people try to connect with nature and themselves in a sacred way, using music, dancing, smoking herbs, and ingesting natural psychedelic substances. Experts heard by magazine </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Superinteressante</span></i> <a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">consider it to be a sort of primitive form of religion</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, that has influenced many faiths, such as Catholicism, Spiritism, and Buddhism.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To reach altered states of consciousness, shamanic rituals rely on different substances depending on the culture. In South America, many indigenous peoples drink a tea called &#8220;ayahuasca</span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">,&#8221; </span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">a beverage prepared with Amazonian plants </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">cipó-mariri</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> and </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">chacrona.</span></i></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The beverage contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a hallucinogenic substance classified as a schedule I substance in the U.S., alongside cannabis, LSD, and heroin, according to the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">U.S. 
Drug Enforcement Administration</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This status has led to the prohibition of ayahuasca in several countries, including France and Canada. However, it did not prevent tourists from flocking to the Amazon rainforest looking for a spiritual experience. While Peru is already a world-famous destination for shamanic rituals, Brazil is narrowing the gap to the top of the list. The country legally allows the use of ayahuasca for religious ceremonies—which led to the creation of two religious groups, Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (UDV) and Santo Daime, which kickstarted a booming tourism sector around the country.</span></p> <div id="attachment_16978" style="width: 1010px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-16978" loading="lazy" class="size-full wp-image-16978" src="" alt="ayahuasca drums" width="1000" height="667" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><p id="caption-attachment-16978" class="wp-caption-text">Shamanic drums before ayahuasca ceremony. Photo: Shutterstock</p></div> <h2>When rituals meet vacations</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In Alto Paraíso de Goiás, a 220-kilometer ride north of Brasília, nature is the biggest spectacle. The city is the entrance to the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Chapada dos Veadeiros</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> national park—a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful destinations in the country. The landscape is formed by high plateaus, from which more than 120 waterfalls descend into the </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">cerrado</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> vegetation under the bright tropical sun.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The area is quite remote, with little access to internet and far from big cities. Traditionally, Chapada dos Veadeiros is a hot spot for ecotourism, but thanks to its natural vibe it also attracts plenty of religious groups for meditation sessions, spiritual retreats, and rituals. The area is now home to a booming lodging industry focused on offering wellness and spiritual experiences. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Lima took part in one of those experiences, provided by the bed and breakfast where he was staying. After days of preparation—the process required bodily &#8220;cleansing&#8221; for around one week before the event—he joined the ayahuasca ritual under the supervision of a </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">pajé</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, the Brazilian name for a shaman.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It was a deeply introspective process. I went to ceremonies filled with indigenous traditions for seven days to prepare my body and soul for the ritual; on the eighth day, I took ayahuasca. It is hard to put into words how I felt, but it was a wonderful feeling of being completely part of nature and the Earth itself,” recalls Mr. Lima. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The experience is not always so smooth, however. Many people experience violent vomiting or diarrhea after drinking the beverage, some even faint. For enthusiasts, it is all part of a purifying experience, but the benefits or damages caused by beverage are yet to be comprehensively assessed.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Pharmacologist Rodrigo Guabiraba t</span><a href=",662639/meu-encontro-com-daime.shtml"><span style="font-weight: 400;">old the Estado de Minas newspaper</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> that among the effects may be “post-use depression, just like LSD. Abuse undoubtedly may lead to permanent depression and disorders in susceptible individuals, such as schizophrenics, but it does not necessarily cause addiction.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazilian researches, however, found out harmine—another component of ayahuasca—</span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">may stimulate the proliferation of human neural cells</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. In rodents, traditional antidepressants reverse the symptoms of depression by stimulating neuronal proliferation, they said, as part of a scientific paper.   </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">University of São Paulo researchers studied </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">ayahuasca&#8217;s potential to fight depression</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">: half of the volunteers who tried it felt relief in the symptoms over the following days, while only 10 percent of those who took the placebo had comparable experiences. The results are similar to another study, held </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">by Brazil’s Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <h2>Ayahuasca: Traditions, faith, and tourists</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As ayahuasca gets more popular, it starts to reach new audiences. To meet the booming demand, psychologist Luciano Alves, who works with human development experiences and promotes retreats to shamanic destinations, is preparing a New Year‘s Eve retreat in Itatiba, a city just 94 kilometers away from São Paulo. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">He expects to see Brazilians, as well as people from the U.S., Russia, Europe, and South America, join him on his five-day retreat, intended as a search for personal development and a connection with nature. There, they will be allowed to take part in ayahuasca ceremonies performed by shamans, but under supervision. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“We like to be extra careful, interviewing the people first, to find out if they have any kind of previous pathologies—such as depression—as it could lead to collateral effects,” he explained to </span><b>The Brazilian Report. </b></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to him, ceremonies are performed by people with expertise and, nowadays, the consumption of ayahuasca is more connected to religious practices than the indigenous culture itself. “They’ve learned from the indigenous and now perform it themselves. I would say that for each indigenous person performing ayahuasca ceremonies, there are ten other non-indigenous people doing it.” </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Sharing traditional indigenous rituals with the general public has always been a source of controversy. Although this kind of visits could be a potential source of income to these communities, there may be issues regarding predatory tourism and cultural appropriation.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In Peru, where shamanic tourism has become a profitable industry, there are also many reported cases of charlatanism. More than being disrespectful to traditional cultures, performing ceremonies without preparation, by people who are just interested in the money, may pose a danger to the general public, putting the authorities in a difficult position, </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">recalls anthropologist Jean-Loup Amselle. </span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When it comes to </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">respecting tradition and visiting local tribes</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, Funai, the official agency of indigenous affairs in Brazil, says there are open interpretations about it, but ultimately, it is up to the indigenous community to establish the rules.      </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“There is not one single perception about having non-indigenous people present during indigenous rituals. However, this choice must be made by indigenous people themselves, evaluating the risks and advantages of allowing access to their land, as well as establishing rules to be followed by the visitors”, said Funai in an emailed statement to </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b>.

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