• Sara Tucker

The Shaman

Korongo is experimenting with the Storyworth.com memoir-writing platform. The following question—"Who is the wisest person you ever met?"—was chosen from the Storyworth library by a family member and emailed to the storyteller—in this case, Korongo cofounder Patrick Texier. The question prompted the following memory of an encounter in Amazonia, during a three-month solo trek when Patrick, now seventy-six, was barely twenty years old. The question actually has two parts, the second of which Patrick has not yet fully addressed: What did you learn from him or her (the shaman, in this case)? How would you answer this same question?

Q: Who is the wisest person you ever met?

By Patrick Texier

The guy didn’t know how to read or write. He was probably in his mid-twenties.* He was the headman, or chief, of a tiny village in the heart of the Amazonian forest, populated by some fifty to sixty inhabitants living in two longhouses set face to face, with light partitions inside to provide some privacy for the families. Everyone was sleeping in hammocks covered with handmade mosquito netting. I figured out pretty quickly the advantage of this sleeping arrangement: protection against any flying or crawling pest. Mosquitoes, of course, but also spiders, snakes, vampire bats.

The headman was bright, strong as an ox and built as one, a natural leader, gentle and soft spoken. Like a few others in the village, he visited villages inhabited by white people for trading, and spoke a few words of Spanish and Portuguese.

I was told I was the first white man visiting. I asked why.

I let you in because you’re alone and I could see you were no threat: You just had a bow, like us.

I didn’t ask what happened to those who seemed threatening. I had a slight idea when I was met by a small group of Indians the first day, about an hour from the village. I noticed on the way the remnants of an old camp obviously of white facture. It was well known that in the fifties and early sixties, a few expeditions that were sent to explore deep into the Amazon Basin in South America were lost and never heard of again. These expeditions were protected by military-like armed escorts. I was there in the mid-sixties. Later, I noticed in the village some tools, clothing, pots, knives—obviously with a military look.

After living a few days in the village, where I was accepted by everyone, and being quite observant, I had learned a lot about the way they were organized and how they interacted with each other. I noticed some big discussions were going on for a few days. They were quite heated, and I had no idea what was brewing.

A week, more or less, after I arrived, I was summoned by the chief to attend the meetings to give my advice. I was just twenty!

At the first meeting, I had to be initiated as a new member of the … village? Tribe? Group? The medicine man/sorcerer/shaman … guy, sat in front of me, took a long hollow wooden pipe, put some powder in one end, and blew the snuff into one of my nostrils.

The effect was immediate. I sensed molten iron had just entered my head and … nada. I passed out, fell headfirst in a puddle. I woke up there, unable to move, hallucinating: seeing monsters, dreaming I was an eagle traveling over the world. I suspect someone arranged my head to be able to breathe air and not water, suspecting I wasn’t amphibious.

I don’t know how long I stayed in my puddle. A long time. The pain was still there when I could function again, and it took a few days to disappear. No need to say I wasn’t functional that very day.

The surprises came the next day, the day I was to be part of the seemingly very important discussion. The first surprise was the subject of the talks: I discovered my hosts were traditional cannibals. They were sacrificing the stronger fighters, thinking that eating them was a way to acquire their strength. It seems they had frequent skirmish encounters with their neighbors. The majority of the group thought it was the tradition and that it worked just fine. The chief was against the continuation of the tradition and wanted to implement a revolutionary concept: stopping to eat their own and eating their enemies instead.

The second surprise was the argument: By eating the best of their own, they were weakening the tribe. Instead, by eating their enemies they had two advantages. First, they were acquiring the strength of their enemies. Second, they were weakening them.

At that point I was asked about my thoughts. Instead of telling them about the best alternative, I asked them who was responsible for the election of the chief. This group, I was told. I asked why. Because he’s the wisest and the stronger.

“In my country,” I responded, “when the chief talks, we follow, because we elect always the best of us.” I omitted to say we knew pretty well how to protest.

They voted to implement the idea of the chief. Needless to admit I was relieved: I wasn’t an enemy!

I had just witnessed the only turning point of the evolution of men I’ve ever seen.

I met in this tiny Amazonian village the most intelligent person I ever met, the wisest.

Nowadays, we’re at another turning point of the evolution, but this one is initiated by the stupidity, the greed and selfishness of “civilized” men.


* I say the headman was “probably” in his mid twenties because he had no clue about calendars. In the Amazonian forest only the dry season/wet season cycle might be a clue, but usually no kid takes time to count, so as adults they may have an approximation, but they don’t care! But he knew how to count for practical reasons, such as the number of kids to feed, the number of arrows needed for the hunt of the day or the number of days to reach the next village.

Korongo’s Storyworth Project

What Famous or Important People Have You Encountered in Real Life

What Were You Like As a Teenager?

What Kind of Person Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up (and Did You Succeed)?

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