From Reindeers to Rainforest
26 Jul 11
When I first arrived in the Peruvian forests the Indigenous people didn’t believe that I was also from a native population. They had never seen an Indigenous man with blond hair and white skin. But it wasn't long before they could recognize it in me. We have a certain way of walking on this earth: An acute awareness of the world around us through our relationships with the elements and plants.
I visited both forest communities and the mountain farming populations and realized I was more at home among the trees. The forest communities live from fishing, hunting and gathering as we do in Sápmi. I fitted in well and soon found two curandero - shaman or healers – who could teach me what I had been seeking. Coming from the Witoto and Jaua Indian groups, they taught me to use forest plants and herbs to cure various diseases and ailments and I now treat people from around the world.
I grew up in Kattuvuoma in far northern Sweden, in the indigenous Sápmi territory. Unfortunately, nearly all knowledge of traditional healing and natural medicines has disappeared from our Sámi communities despite other cultural traditions being strongly maintained. The Sámi are thus entirely in the hands of modern medicine, and reliant on the use of medicines produced using chemical processes.
Pharmaceutical companies also rely on plants – the difference is they make synthetic copies or isolate specific molecules, then patent the information. Shamanic healing methods aim to get to the root of a problem - while modern medicine often just covers up the symptoms - and works with the spirits of plants, not just the material matter.
Many governments are currently taking steps to make natural plant medicine illegal. In Peru there is no law against plant medicine and that's why people from all over the world come here. The closest town to where I live is Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest and the largest city in the world without road connection; it can only be reached by airplane or boat yet is has become the world capital of plant medicine.
Of course, our health is greatly informed by food and a nutritious diet based on natural foods is vital. The forest provides animals and humans with good food and this tradition is still strong in Peru today. However, in the cities, people seem to do everything possible to copy the American fast food culture.
Returning to Sápmi, I can’t understand how I’ve managed to survive all these years without reindeer meat! We consume a wide range of forest meats and fish and they are good, but can’t compare to reindeer or arctic char. I am far from my homeland, but the food of my people is imprinted on my heart and head.
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