The Cull of Personality: Ayahuasca, Colonialism, and the Death of a Healer


Wrote a little blurb for Kevin about this important new book he wrote.


Thanks Peter, looks like an interesting read and your point about the feelings of entitled westerners mattering less than those of the people having their resources and culture stolen is important & undeniable. The absence of this kind of critique of appropriating another culture’s medicine and shamanic practices was something that bothered me about Jay Griffith’s book ‘Wild’. She describes going to the Amazon to try and heal her depression with ayahuasca, finding a shaman among the Aguaruna in Peru, having visions of herself as a jaguar and getting the ‘poison needles’ of depression sucked out of her head, apparently successfully. Read from here in the google preview:

She is generally respectful of the indigenous people she visits and describes in the rest of the book, unequivocally taking their side against the the civilised culture that’s destroying their ways of life and providing valuable analysis of why the civilised have such a different outlook on so many things. But I don’t remember her talking much, if at all about the more insidious appropriation (a search of the preview turns up one unrelated use of the word) of indigenous cultures by people looking for an ‘alternative’ in medicine or tradition. She mentions the abuses of gold miners against the Aguaruna but not the ‘biopiracy’ that they have undergone at the hands of US-based pharmaceutical corporations from at least the 1970s, or their successful resistance against this theft of local knowledge and plantlife. Watching this video it all seems to be about her - ‘transforming how you can see yourself and how you can see your own path in life […] something which tells you some truth about the world of your own spirit’; basically what she took from the experience and the personal wisdom the plant gave her ‘access’ to (but only metaphorically speaking):

From her description it sounds as though she was welcomed and the shamans were happy to try and heal this foreign stranger, but something doesn’t feel right about this kind of consumerist ‘health tourism’ (to repurpose a phrase usually used to smear immigrants receiving healthcare benefits in their adoptive country). Past a certain point doesn’t it take away from the necessary healing of people in their own culture, and, like other forms of tourism, doesn’t it inevitably shift energy away from direct subsistence activities and towards dependence on monetary transactions in the global economy? I guess the better alternative would be to develop or rediscover our own plant-based healing traditions, starting to relate to the many helpful plants we can find all around us in the places we actually live…

What does Kevin say?