“Yage is Our Life” is a film about the indigenous people of Putumayo, Colombia, their relationship with Yage and their feelings towards the commercialisation of their traditional medicine.
Indigenous groups living in the Putumayo region of southern Colombia have been using Yage (Ayahuasca) for the health, social cohesion and spiritual guidance of their communities for centuries. Yage is rich in the potent psychedelic substance DMT and for these indigenous groups it is sacred, allowing them access to ancient wisdom and the spirits of nature. In their ceremonies the Taitas, or traditional doctors, use Yage to treat their patients for physical and emotional illnesses and as a guide for making decisions.
Over the past 500 years the ancestral territories of Putumayo have been gradually eroded and these communities are at risk of further loss of land and traditions. In recent years Yage, or Ayahuasca, has become increasingly well-known in Western society. Many people travel each year to the Amazon to experience its effects and many scientific studies are being undertaken into its medicinal properties. As a result of this growing interest there have been numerous cases of people posing as Taitas and offering Yage ceremonies for large sums of money both in Colombia as well as internationally.
This film voices the concerns of indigenous leaders through a series of interviews where they discuss the importance of Yage as a living tradition in their communities, the threat of its commercialisation, and the pressures exerted on their homelands by industrialised civilisation.
In September 2014 the International Centre for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (ICEERS) hosted the World Ayahuasca Conference in Ibiza. During this event a project was created called Ancestral Seeds to tell the world about Yage and the indigenous groups of Colombia who use it.
- To raise awareness about the Yage.
- To promote educational and environmental proyects that are working towards the conservation of the indigenous cultures of Putumayo.
- To contribute towards the integration of Yage and indigenous knowledge and wisdom into mainstream European society.
The Voice of the Taitas
We wanted to create a documentary to express the reality of the Cofan, Inga, Siona, Kamentsa and Correguaje indigenous groups from the perspective of their cosmovision and with special emphasis on their traditional medicine Yage (Ayahuasca).
The documentary was to be structured through images of the culture, their customs, the sound of their traditional chanting during the Yage ceremonies, footage of their work in the “chagras” (organic farms), their children learning the old wisdom at school as well as interviews with community elders, mothers, fathers, children and teachers delivered with the cultural sensitivity of alternative cinema as an invitation to fall in love with the culture, traditional medicine and ancient story of the true guardians of the rainforest.
We also wanted to look at certain aspects of these cultures in particular their alternative models of health, education and economic development.
Their use of traditional plant-based medicine which in certain cases is more effective and responsive than the state-provided social security system. Their “self-education” programs aimed at the conservation of their cultures through the revitalisation of their traditional language, medicine and farming methods. Their local economy which is based on traditional organic farms (chagras), a bartering system (trueque) and a form of working cooperative (minga). We also wanted to look at their use of Yage for the cohesion and orientation of their communities as well as their attitude towards engagement with western cultures like Europe and North America.
Over the past 100 years indigenous territory has reduced a great deal and it has become much more difficult to produce the medicinal plants necessary in order to conduct their traditional ceremonies.
Many of the younger generations have lost interest in Yage attracted away from their communities by western ideals such as consumerism and economic ambition. Fewer and fewer members of certain groups are able to speak their ancestral language and it is feared that one day they will disappear altogether with the passing of the older generations.
The main aim of our documentary is to draw attention to these problems in addition to highlighting the potential of Yage as a therapeutic tool for emotional and physical well-being.
As you will read, things didn’t quite turn out the way we had planned as our somewhat naive aspirations were forced to adapt to the reality of the situation that we encountered which is far more complicated and delicate than we could possibly have imagined. This is the story of the western mind learning (very quickly!) about life under very different circumstances to those which it is used to. Hopefully it will be interesting to those who have ever considered making a similar trip.