Our wonderful guide Chrisitan made it possible for Ben and I to have lots of exposure to the local people during our time on the Tahuayo. Before we left on the trip, I stole Ben's idea of getting a digital voice recorder to use during our travels and once we were in the villages I was extremely happy to have brought it along. I was able to record whole conversations, in Spanish and then with Chrisitian's English translation. In this way we were able to record personal histories, folk tales and general conversation that provided the kind of insight into the lives of the village people that would be very difficult to recreate with pen and ink notes. The following is a a snippet from the conversations Ben and I had with Isolina who (along with her husband) was our host for the farina making process and Romelia who was a local artisan and herbalist. (We had these conversations on two separate occasions during our last week on the Tahuayo.)
I asked Isolina if she could descibe what her life was like this is what she told us, via Christian:
" The main activites that her family engages in are farming and some hunting, not too much fishing. There were approximately 14 people living in the house with Don Caesar and Isolina, including grandchildren, sons, daughters, and their wives and husbands. She told us she had some family in Chino village but that she enjoyed living outside the village with her family. She mentioned tha according to her family, 100 years ago there seem to be many more animals and fish than there are today, and a lot less people!" (This is a common them that Ben and I heard a lot during our talks with villagers.) Isolina continued, "The Tahuayo used to be a very respected river because ther people were superstitious of wild and supernatural creatures found within the river as well as whirpools that would form along the river." Isolina, told us a little about the custom of "Mingas" which we had heard many of the local people refer to during our time with them. "A minga is called by a family to get help with different things around their home. A minga can be called to help process the yuca and make farina, to help construct a thatched roof for a home or for any number of different labor intensive jobs." Ben has likened the minga to an old-fashioned barn raising, because your neighbors come to help you labor with some task and in turn you offer them food and drink, and to help them with a future task. During the course of our conversation, I noticed one of Isolina's daughters who had been out fishing return with a fish. She had taken her baby with her in the canoe during her fishing excursion and so I asked if there was any difference in what girls and boys learn when they are growing up. Do they have different roles? This is what she told us, " Both girls and boys learn some things from their parents and grandparents, things like how to make farina. This is passed down throught he generations. Boys and girls also learn how to use a machete, ride in a canoe, farm and fish, girls learn much earlier how to wash clothes but the boys must learn this as well." I was constantly suprised at how adept some of the very young children were with machetes, caring for farm animals, canoeing and other activities that we usually think of as adult activities.
Here is an excerpt from our conversation with Romelia, Chino village's resident herbalist. "First Romelia wanted make sure we understood the difference between what she does and what the Shaman (or any shaman for that matter) does. She stressed to us that she doesn't commune with the spirits of gods or plant spirits, she simply works with the pharmacoepia of plants available in her garden or on her chakra (or farm). She began to hearn about the helaing powers pf plants when she was about 18 and she became pregnant with her 1st child. She gathered remedies from families and other people that she knew in the villages." Romelia stressed to us, as did the Shamanista, that payment was voluntary. That one helps people because they feel it in their hearts and that they are called to help not just to receive a payment. She did say that sometimes, people will invite you for dinner or share something from their harvest in lieu of payment but that she never asks for anything. "Many of the remedies that she made used the plant extracts and were prepared and used in steam baths or as enemas, and most remedies also involved observing a strict diet, staying away from fatty foods and drinking lots of water. Some fo the common ailments that people present her with are infections. fevers, diarrhea, side effects of stroke, and children's illnesses. " Romelia's garden which she allowed us to walk thru was very similar is plant species to that of the Shamanista's garden. For a detailed medicinal plant list, see the section on our visit to the shaman.