A Death in the Jungle

In the late 1990s, my teacher doña María Tuesta was employed from time to time to do healing ceremonies for ayahuasca tourists at a lodge about two hours by boat from Iquitos. There she worked alongside a well-known ayahuasquero whom we will here call don X.

Among mestizos, accusations of sorcery are not infrequent, and can have serious consequences. Although I knew don X personally — indeed, I was living with him in his jungle tambo during part of this period — the constraints imposed by the relationship of confianza I had with doña María and her friends prevented me from asking him for his side of the allegations against him. Hence his anonymity.

Now, don X had a son whom he had trained as an ayahuasquero, and who was able to pick up occasional employment at the lodge when doña María was unable to attend. According to doña María and her friends, don X decided that, if doña María could be eliminated, the way would be open for his son to take her place in the relatively lucrative business of healing gringo tourists. So don X attacked doña María with virotes, sending the magic darts deep into her chest and throat, causing her to suffer a serious stroke.

The attack took place at the tourist lodge, at night, when doña María was sleeping. She tried to get out of bed to urinate, but, when she got up, she fell to the floor, partially paralyzed, unable to move. She cried for help. One worker came, but he was not strong enough to move her. Eventually, with the help of the gringo owner, she was lifted back onto the bed. “She was just like dead weight,” the owner later told me. “It was all I could do to get her up to her bed myself.”

Doña María spent the next six weeks in the hospital, slowly recovering from her stroke. She had originally resisted hospitalization, because she believed the injections she would be given there would kill her. She felt herself to be lost. “Where will I find help?” she thought. Throughout this period, she heard a wicked mocking brujo laugh — the voice, she realized, of don X.

When she returned home, she was cared for by a Cocoma shaman named Luis Culquitón Rocca, who was able to remove a few of the virotes, and who took care of her for six months. Her maestro ayahuasquero, don Roberto Acho, had gone away to his chacra, his swidden garden in his native village, and so was not available, but sent her medicine from afar. Although she recovered slowly from her stroke, she was unable to drink ayahuasca. She was thus cut off from the very sources of her protection; indeed, part of the cleverness of the attack was to separate her from her protecting spirits by making it hard for her to drink ayahuasca.

The problem was that María continued to work with don X. She did not tell anyone that she had recognized his mocking laugh. Don X, as brujos do, allegedly concealed his malevolence under the guise of concern and sympathy. The virotes in her throat kept María from being able to sing at the healing ceremonies. “See, she can’t sing,” said don X to the lodge owner. “She is still too weak. You need to bring in my son.”

Finally, after six months, don Roberto returned, and sucked out the remaining virotes, but María continued to be weak. After her stroke, she says, her brain was “blank,” and all the power she had received from ayahuasca was taken from her. She lost her visions, she could not drink ayahuasca — yet, she says, her spiritual power remained, because that came from Jesucristo and Hermana Virgen. “Whatever happens,” she told me, “you must keep going forward. Never give up.”

Slowly, she began to drink ayahuasca again. As she drank more and more, she began to recover some of her powers. Yet, at the same time, she continued to work with don X, who actively suppressed her ayahuasca visions with his secret songs. Indeed, one of the ways a sorcerer attacks another shaman is by using an icaro to darken the visions of the victim. I do not know why María continued to work alongside the one she believed to be her attacker — perhaps concern over accusing a well-known ayahuasquero, although, over time, she let the identity of her attacker be known; perhaps bravado, a demonstration of her own fuerza; perhaps — and this seems to me most likely — a demonstration of the forbearance she prized as part of her practice of pura blancura, the pure white path.

In July of 2006, doña María died of complications resulting from the stroke. She continued her healing work, especially with children, to the end.


  1. Doña María was an absolute treasure. Her death was a terrible loss for this world.

  2. I am sure her work has not skipped a beat on the other side. Great writing. I read it all the time. I study under don Juan Flores in Peru. I noticed you highlighted our video and music on a post. Thanks. I am always adding new stuff to my youtube site. i look forward to more post of yours.

    Take care,


  3. I live in Slovakia. We have here one 100 years old clearvoyant. She is fysically already quite weak and one day she fell and broke her arm. Its very common, that old people have such injury. But she said, that it was caused by attack of an evil sorcerer. Seems stupid idea for me. I dont know why, but in shamanistic and also esoteric circles are many people obsessed by ideas, that some evil sorcerer is attacking them. I do believe in spirits and Im practising shamanism, but some people prefer rather their fantasies than real communication with spirits in other worlds.

  4. Steve, This is a very affecting account. It seems that the local culture of the ayahuasqueros, perhaps more simply of the jungle, lacks the filtering mechanisms, the static, between individual consciousness and nature. Maybe this is why the music can work to positive and negative effect for them with such immediacy. The icaros are not "just" songs. Like mantra or bhajan, they strike to the heart, firing or removing virotes. In my experience the medicina renders this process transparent. You are fortunate to have known doña Maria. -