Time Before Time – Tukano Ayahuasca Myth of the Yagé-Woman
The Tukanoan-speaking Desana of the Colombian region of the Vaupés handed down an ayahuasca myth of origin. There are different versions of the story seen in the writings of several anthropologists, including Reichel-Dolmatoff, Kumu, and Kenhíri. Like all good myths, it can be appreciated from many different angles. In the case of the Yagé-Woman, the persona of ayahuasca alters the perception of the men she encounters.
The events of this tale begin after the arrival of the first men of the world, who descended upon a colorful and glowing Anaconda-Canoa. Landing in the forest, these first men built the first hut or “maloca”, where they started to drink cashiri and other alcoholic intoxicants while waiting for a gift that Father Sun had promised them. Inside the maloca, the Sun created the first women, called Yagé-Woman, who was already an adult and pregnant, due to being fertilized by the eye-to-eye gaze of the Sun. Feeling the incoming labour pain, Yagé-Woman went out of the maloca and walked in the forest till night where she gave birth to her Yagé (ayahuasca) vine son. The newborn shed a strong light that illuminated the way back to the maloca.
When the Yagé-Woman entered the maloca, all the men felt dizziness, frightened, and paralyzed. At the center of the maloca and holding the baby-vine in her hands, Yagé-Woman asked “Who is the father of this vine-boy”?, and one man, taking courage, answered “I am the father of this vine-child”, and with a knife he cut a piece of the umbilical cord; other men followed his example and each took a piece of the vine; in this way every Amazonian indigenous group received a piece of the Sun’s gift.
There are many other ayahuasca myths and studies recorded by anthropologists. If we were to make a list of seminal contributions to the anthropology of ayahuasca, we should include P. Reinburg’s experiments with ayahuasca in 1931, Richard Evans Schultes’s research into ayahuasca ethnobotany in the 1940s and 50s, Michael Harner’s research on indigenous ayahuasca use in the 1950s and 60s, Reichel-Dolmatoff’s ethnographies of Tukano shamanism in the 1960s and 70s, Dobkin de Rios’s studies of ayahuasca healers in the 1970s, Luis Eduardo Luna’s research on ayahuasca “plant teachers” in the 1980s, and Micheal Taussig’s genre-bending work on ayahuasca and colonialism in the 1980s, just to name a few.
Kumu U.P. & T. Kenhíri, 1980, Antes o mundo não existia. A mitologia heróica dos índios Desâna, Livraria Cultura, São Paulo.
Reichel-Dolmatoff G., 1975, The Shaman and the Jaguar. A study of narcotic drugs among the Indians of Colombia, Temple University, Philadelphia.
Reichel-Dolmatoff G., 1978, Beyond the Milky Way. Hallucinatory Imagery of the Tukano Indians, UCLA, Los Angeles.
Reichel-Dolmatoff G., 1989, Desana Texts and Contexts, Föhrenau, Wien.