In the documentary Aya: Awakenings, experiential journalist Rak Razam journeys into the world and visions of Amazonian shamanism. In this 16-minute excerpt from the film, titled “Jungle Fever,” Razam ventures into the jungle to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony with a group of fellow Westerners.
The video (see player above) opens to the sound of an icaro, or traditional song sung by shamans during ayahuasca ceremonies, with a jungle background shimmering in geometric patterns.
“The trail is alive with the sound of birds, frogs, insects, and the screech of monkeys deep inside this fecund landscape,” Razam says as he treks through the Amazon jungle outside Iquitos, Peru. Soon, he and his film team arrive at the maloca, the wooden hut where the ceremonies are held.
The ceremony is led by an indigenous curandero, or healer, who learned the art of plant medicines from his grandfather starting at age 10. “You don’t choose to become a curandero,” he tells Razam. “And the few that do will enter the science because they are called by spirit.”
Before the guests drink the ayahuasca, the shaman bathes them in the river and blows mapacho smoke, from a native jungle tobacco plant, over them to bless them. “Tonight he will lead us through the subtle zones of the spirit,” Razam says.
After the blessing, they return to the maloca, which is lit up with candles. “It looks like a fairy house in the jungle,” says Razam. From there, the ceremony begins. Ayahuasca means “vine of the dead souls” in the Quechua language, although the curandero notes that he refers to the spirits as allies, not dead souls. “Ayahuasca is medicine,” he says. “It is strength, intelligence, wisdom, and healing… Nature represents what life is, but ayahuasca is the mother of us all.”
Razam describes the brew as dark, phlegm-like, and foul tasting. Soon, the participants begin the purge that is typical of ayahuasca experiences — which curanderos consider to be the plant removing negative influences and energies from the body. “Racking heaves of spew usher forth from gringos all around me,” Razam says.
As the ayahuasca starts to take hold, “I can feel myself gently slipping away into a light trance,” Razam says, “and my last thought is that we have gone back to the jungle, back to the great green womb.”
When the candles go out, Razam sees energy patterns flashing in front of his eyes as the medicine comes on stronger. “Locks deep inside me that I never knew were there are tumbling open and I’m spilling into the spaces they reveal,” he narrates, “wrapped inside the mother, she who nurtures and destroys in her endless embrace.”
Razam says he feels the plant examining him, opening up parts of himself that he has left unused. As the ceremony goes on, Garcia begins to sing icaros, and circles the maloca to blow more mapacho on the guests to chase away negative energies.
“It’s like there’s an invisible thread, and if you pull on it, the whole picture will unravel, revealing the true pattern underneath,” the filmmaker narrates.
In the rest of Aya: Awakenings, Razam finds himself caught up in a culture clash between the old world and the new. Braving a gringo trail of the soul, he uncovers a movement of ‘spiritual tourists’ coming from the West for a direct experience of the multi-dimensional reality shamanism connects one to. Watch the full film online at Aya-Awakenings.com/watch/.