From the Rubber Boom to Ayawaskha Tourism: Shamanic Initiation Narratives and the Commodification of Amazonia

In this article, I examine shamanic initiation narratives, the stories told by urban mestizo shamans in northwest Amazonia to explain their knowledge of Amerindian plant medicine, to illuminate the sociohistorical context in which they emerge. Using a geocritical approach to literary analysis, I interrogate the initiation narrative of renowed Iquitos shaman, Manuel Córdova Ríos, using the work of Peruvian poet César Calvo, the American forester Frank Bruce Lamb, and two local Iquitos publications. I argue that Córdova’s narrative served to erase the urban shaman’s involvement in the exploitative practices of rubber extraction. In so doing, he reinvented Iquitos and its surroundings as a place of purification, setting the scene for the commodification of shamanic healing in a new extractive cycle of magical plant experiences. The analysis offers a surprising example of the way that narrative shapes the way places are perceived, conceived, and lived.

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