We spoke here, briefly, about Takiwasi, the Center for the Treatment of Drug and Alcohol Addiction and the Research of Traditional Medicines, located in Tarapoto, and its techniques for healing addiction using ayahuasca and other traditional Amazonian medicines. Takiwasi — the name means House that Sings — was founded and continues to be directed by French physician Jacques Mabit. Whatever you may think of his methods or his claimed results, there is no doubt that Mabit is a fascinating guy.
According to his biography on the Global Giving website, Mabit was born in New Caledonia in Melanesia, spent much of his early childhood in Algeria and Djibouti, and then moved to France, where he completed his studies in general medicine. He pursued additional studies in tropical medicine in Belgium and then traveled to Peru.
From 1980 to 1983, he served as director of a hospital in the province of Lampa, in the high plains region of Puno, under the sponsorship of Doctors Without Borders. Here he conducted research on environmental, cultural, and social factors in the design of an appropriate health care strategy in the central Andean plains, for which he received a research doctorate from the University of Medicine in Nantes in 1984. He received a further diploma in natural medicine from the University of Paris in 1986 — the year, coincidentally, in which he had his first ayahuasca experience.
Although he maintains his French nationality, Mabit has lived and worked in Peru much of the time since 1980. He has also traveled widely in Asia and Africa and worked in various medical capacities in Tunisia, Burkina Faso, and Bangladesh. In fact, it was during a visit to Calcutta in 1984 that Mabit witnessed the spiritual tranquility of a dying man under the care of Mother Teresa — an experience that led him to examine the contributions that traditional healing practices could make to contemporary medical understanding and care systems.
In a 1997 interview with Nicholas Saunders and Anja Dashwood, Mabit describes his first ayahusca experiences:
In 1986 I had my first ayahuasca session. I was terrified by what I might experience, but nothing happened! So I took it a second time and within five minutes I was inside the experience. I experienced death — I was fighting giants and snakes and I was being pulled inside a very deep black hole... I was fighting for my life and it forced me to see what life really was. At one point I accepted that I would have to die and everything was finished and I had been very stupid to come to the jungle to die but it was time and, in the end, Jacques is not important. But at that moment everything changed and suddenly I understood many things, saw a lot of connections, and in that one moment ten years of previous psychoanalysis became clear. Two days later I was taking ayahuasca again.
I had had about ten sessions when the spirit of the plant told me that I was to work with drug addicts. Before that I had never had any interest in that area at all.... It was a total surprise and at that moment I had no idea what to do. But this ayahuasca revelation was so strong, it felt more real than ordinary reality. From 1986 to 1989 I didn't do anything about drug addiction and just carried on doing ayahuasca and diets and fasting, following the way of learning to cure myself.
In 1989, during another ayahuasca session, the ayahuasca spirit told him that it was time to begin. Soon after that session, he returned to France to seek support for the project, traveling as well to the United States, Italy, Spain, Yugoslavia, Belgium, and Denmark. He found inspiration at a Buddhist temple in Thailand where they cured drug addicts with plants and a strong spiritual practice.
Most important, he lived with and learned from traditional Amazonian healers and shamans in Colombia and Peru. Speaking to BBC Radio's Crossing Continents he said: "The idea was the result of my experience as a medical doctor, when I saw how limited traditional [Western] treatments were.... I met spiritual healers — shamans — and realised they had resources unknown in the West." In 1992, three years after he began his quest, he founded Takiwasi.
The following video is an extended discourse by Mabit, recorded by Jerónimo Mazarrasa Muñoz, which gives a good idea of his personality and ideas.