THE STORIES OF A PEOPLE WITH NO HISTORY?
Old Cofan, Siona and Secoya curacas are able to recount
with a high degree of precision the history of all that has happened
in this century. They think of all the land surrounding
the Aguarico River as theirs; the Cofan have claimed the land
that extends to the Dureno, while Siona-Secoya territory
begins at the Eno River, including a portion of the Napo River
Today, the remaining members of the three groups have been
given concessions by the state covering eight thousand
The morning after the yagé ritual, Hilano and I are sitting on
the river bank. Hilano has brought me a cassava biscuit while
he drinks yoco, a drink with effects similar to those produced
by the coca leaf in that it dissipates fatigue and installs
"We saw wonderful things," says Hilano. By that he means
that the yagé ceremony was a success, that the visions were
I've seen gigantic boats of steel in which not a
drop of water enters."
"In my country we have a lot of those boats," I tell him.
"They must be different," says Hilano. "The ones I'm talking
about belong to the nunipal, people who live in the heavens.
They hunt all kinds of animals and have huge quantities
of chambira. They travel in those iron boats that stay so dry
you can live in them." I can't help but be amazed that
Hilano, a man who has never left the rain forest and doesn't
know how to read or write, can speak of boats of iron "whose
motors you can hardly hear." While I am there, Hilano introduces
me to a wealth of traditions that have been kept alive
for generations. He tells me of the wars that Siona-Secoya
fought against the Tetete, a neighbouring group that no longer
exists, and against the "savage Aucas." He tells me about the
hua'itseme, a black stone that his ancestors struck to make
sparks and thus start a fire. And he talks about those times
long ago when his people didn't know about salt; instead,
they used hot peppers to spice their food. He tells stories that
are truly epic about the search for salt. To get from the
Aguarico to the nearest salt deposits, one must travel hundreds of kilometres through dangerous rain forest, crossing
innumerable rivers and ravines.
THEY TOOK ME TO THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE SUN
Finally, Hilano also tells me about his experiences with
"At first you see snakes, quantities of snakes impossible to
count. But that's nothing. One time I saw a white man with a
machete who wanted to kill me and throw me into the fire. I
screamed in horror. That was a pinta. Then a woman came.
She let me drink from her breasts and then I flew far away and
suddenly found myself in a place brightly lit where everything
was peaceful and quiet. That's where the yagé people live.
This was another pinta. They took me to where the sun is born,
where you can see two ways of acting, one that is transparent
and the other dark. There you see the night and the day. That
is another pinta. There you also see a huge silk-cotton tree
where all the people who have ever lived on the earth are
found. They have been changed into all kinds of birds. That is
another pinta. From that same place you can see a large boat
and in the prow you see an infinite number of macaws, and
they are the people of the sun. I also was able to see the boat
of the devils, and from there the bad spirits come to the earth
to bring perdition to the people. That is another pinta. Next I
went into the water to the place where the boa, the master of
all fishes, lives. That is another pinta. Finally, you see God.
When He wants to punish people on earth, He sends winter in
the form of a flood."
Hilano is sorry that only a few outsiders come to ask about
the wisdom he has attained. And, according to Hilano, they
aren't really interested, nor are they able to withstand the suffering
necessary to acquire such wisdom. What's more, the
content and the meaning of the traditions of the Siona and the
Secoya are constantly being renewed in the course of daily life.
The yagé ritual has no meaning outside the context of the
Siona-Secoya's way of life.
The wisdom of the Siona-Secoya will always be a part of the
culture of the Siona-Secoya, or it will cease to exist. It will
live with the Siona and the Secoya and will be buried with the last
of their curacas, along with his finest cushma, his weapons, his
headdresses and collars, and his feathers.
This is the way the ancient ones tell the story: "We believe that there are three
skies where people live: Matem, which is the sky itself Yeja, which is the land where we live; and Gimocopain, which is the other sky that is beneath the earth.
We Secoya are the descendent of those who lived in Gimocopain. Nañe, who is God himself,
took us from within the earth. When we lived there we were like monkeys. Then Nañe came and
said to us, "Do you want to be like me?" "Fine," we said, "but can you cut our tails off?"
"Yes, I can," he replied, "but don't say anything if it hurts." "Ok," we said. And Nañe cut our tails off.
"From the deferent kinds of monkeys came the different races of men: black, red, and
white. And so it was that from the ghoro, goto, and wapo came the Orejon, the Siekoya, and the Witoto. The white Wiracucha come from the capuchin monkey and there it ends.
"Nañe is also called Paina or Nañe Paina. Paina means a god like a man, and Nañe is eternal, without beginning or end. We Secoya have always had Paina Nañe, who is the same God who brought us out of the earth.
"To reach the wisdom of God, we Secoya take yagé (ayahuasca). We believe in Nañe, the one
and only God, and we take yagé to reach him. I myself have met him; I have come to know
God, who has with him some beings who are like angels, and whom we call ninahui. These
ninahui said to me, "Son, listen well..." Then Nañe spoke and he said to me, "You will heal, you
will be a healer you will be a good healer you will do no harm, you must heal and heal well!"