Object 2: Ayahuasca

June 2, 2021


This is a photo taken in 2004, of the traditional preparation of Ayahuasca in the Province of Pastaza, Ecuador, however the preparation is the same across the Amazon Basin. Ayahuasca is a South American psychoactive brew, used as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin5. In recent years, there have been increasing western usages of Ayahuasca, for recreational and medicinal purposes, however the experience greatly differs6.

This object enriches the exhibition because it demonstrates that culture allows us to learn new knowledge, which can be applied in non-traditional settings. Through the cultural usage of Ayahuasca, medicinal benefits were discovered, allowing Ayahuasca to help treat psychological disorders7. A specific example can be seen in a woman who went on a retreat and claims that “it allowed me to heal from my emotional trauma”8. The Innuits’ cultural understanding of Ayahuasca has allowed them to discover the benefits, however, a lack of cultural understanding prevented the exploration of the medicinal properties in America and Europe.

This object also contributes to the exhibition as it highlights how knowledge cannot be gained if the person does not have the cultural understanding. For indigenous users, Ayahuasca has spiritual benefits that are related to the ritual aspects of consuming the tea6. Indigenous Amazonian populations say they learned how to combine Ayahuasca directly from the plants by observing their elders, but for westerners such an assertion is beyond their familiar paradigm5, showing that they lack the knowledge of how to use Ayahuasca due to their limited cultural understanding. As perception is affected by culture, and knowledge is gained through perception, culture therefore influences the way that information is understood. Additionally, through consuming Ayahuasca, the indigenous users are able to discover information about their heritage, which contrasts with the non-indigenous users, where it is mostly a ‘quick-high’ that they do not gain knowledge from. This shows how culture is necessary for people to understand specific knowledge.

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