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Healing in the Chthulucene: Becoming beyond Human with Medicinal Plants

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Abstract

This paper is based on a conference paper from a talk I gave at the International Society of Universal Dialogue Conference. The term “Anthropocene” is frequently used to refer to the present planetary epoch, characterized by a geological signature of human activities, which have led to global ecological crises. This paper probes at what it means to be human on earth now, using healing as a concept to orient humanity in relation to other species, and particularly medicinal plants. Donna Haraway’s concept of the “Chthulucene” is used as an alternate lens to the Anthropocene, which highlights the inextricable linkages between humans and other-than-human species. Healing can be viewed as a type of embodied orientation or engagement with the world, which has the potential to reach across boundaries of the skin, blur distinctions between self and other, and allow for both transpersonal and trans-species reconciliation. I focus my attention on Indigenous Shipibo healing rituals, and Shipibo concepts of healing that integrate humans within the ecosystem, and traverse species boundaries through communication with and embodiment of plant spirits. These healing rituals offer ways of coming into being within an ecology of selves—both internal and external, human and non-human—through listening and lending voice. I explore the potential for healing and ritual to work as a form of porous resistance through the internal blurring of binaries and hierarchical structures.
DIALOGUE AND UNIVERSALISM
No. 3/2019
Laura Dev
HEALING IN THE CHTHULUCENE: BECOMING BEYOND
HUMAN WITH MEDICINAL PLANTS
ABSTRACT
The term “Anthropocene” is frequently used to refer to the present planetary epoch,
characterized by a geological signature of human activities, which have led to global
ecological crises. This paper probes at what it means to be human on earth now, using
healing as a concept to orient humanity in relation to other species, and particularly
medicinal plants. Donna Haraway’s concept of the “Chthulucene” is used as an alternate
lens to the Anthropocene, which highlights the inextricable linkages between humans
and other-than-human species. Healing can be viewed as a type of embodied orientation
or engagement with the world, which has the potential to reach across boundaries of the
skin, blur distinctions between self and other, and allow for both transpersonal and
trans-species reconciliation. I focus my attention on Indigenous Shipibo healing rituals,
and Shipibo concepts of healing that integrate humans within the ecosystem, and
traverse species boundaries through communication with and embodiment of plant
spirits. These healing rituals offer ways of coming into being within an ecology of
selvesboth internal and external, human and non-humanthrough listening and
lending voice.
I explore the potential for healing and ritual to work as a form of porous resistance
through the internal blurring of binaries and hierarchical structures.
Keywords: Anthropocene, Chthulucene, ecosystem, medicinal plants.
INTRODUCTION
Looking through the lens of the “Anthropocene” encourages us to call into
question what it means to be human. One way that humanity could be defined is
through interspecies encounters with other-than-humans, in which case it is
arguably the entangled connections within a multispecies web and as symbiotic
beings that make humans human at all. The word “Anthropocene”
simultaneously highlights our dependence on and existence within this
Laura Dev
152
multispecies web and yet also sets humans apart from that web, invoking an
image of humans as somehow acting upon it from a removed position while still
being situated within it. This brings into relief the inequalities that allow some
earthlings, and some humans, to gaze from a seemingly removed position as
agentive and others to be objectified and acted upon. Therefore, we could define
the time period of the Anthropocene by the denial of our human connections
with other-than-humans in a self-fulfilling act of human exceptionalist isolation.
According to Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s
1
conception of Amazonian
ontology that he calls “perspectivism”, all beings consider themselves to be
essentially human from their own subjective experiences, even though each type
of being may experience different and perhaps only partially-overlapping
worlds. It is worthwhile to question the category of human and who is bestowed
with this distinction. It has been part of various power plays to dominate
through the denial of humanity to certain subjugated groups, or to dehumanize
the other (e.g. through colonial encounters in which humanity was structured
within racialized hierarchies). Paulo Freire
2
offers the act of “humanizing” as
the antidote to oppression, which is intrinsically dehumanizing. This is
accomplished through forming non-oppressive relationships through dialogue.
Freire distinctly does not include other-than-human beings in his humanizing
project, but I believe the concepts can be applied. When I use the word
“humanize” in the context of other-than-humans (in this case, plants), I do not
mean “anthropomorphize,” but rather to allow for agency, for selfhood, and
recognition of more-than-human world-making capacities.
The Anthropocene is a time when “othered” humans and other-than-humans
have been globally oppressed by culturally-constructed hierarchies. I use Donna
Haraway’s
3
term “Chthulucene” as an alternate lens to the Anthropocene, which
situates us as part of a multi-species assemblage and challenges human
exceptionalism. If the Anthropocene is seen as something that we need to
escape from, Haraway views the Chthulucene as the “multi-species muddle”
that we must move more deeply into. The Cthulu is a mythical or science fiction
creature, and “Chthulucene” also comes from the worth chthonic, which implies
the subterranean, the earth, the underworld, the soil. In this way it seems an
appropriate lens for how plants might understand these times. In this paper, I
describe Shipibo practices of forming relationships with specific plants, that
construct plants as teachers and healers. Adopting this type of interspecies
practice is one way of striving toward less objectifying, less oppressive, and
more collaborative and reciprocal relationships with other-than-human beings. I
————————
1
Viveiros de Castro, E. 2004. “Exchanging Perspectives: The Transformation of Objects into
Subjects in Amerindian Ontologies.” Common Knowledge, 10 (3), 463484.
2
Freire, P. 2000. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary Edition. Bergman Ramos, M.
(Trans.). New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
3
Haraway, D. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham
London: Duke University Press.
Healing in the Chthulucene: Becoming Beyond Human With Medicinal Plants
153
call this striving “healing.” I am going to discuss a way of conceptualizing
healing that integrates humanity as and within an ecology of selves comprised
of human and other-than-human beings. I borrow the term “ecology of selves”
from Eduardo Kohn,
4
who describes it as the many voices and agencies that
occupy our inner and outer landscapes and that we are always becoming in
relation with.
The main objectives of this paper are, first: to explore the concept of healing
as an ethical stance that offers an orientation for coming into being that is useful
for navigating the Chthulucene. In order to do this, I focus on Shipibo healing
practices and concepts of health. Second, I explore the potential for practices
that “humanize” plants to disrupt animacy hierarchies through de-objectification
and animation, opening the possibility of more interesting, less hierarchical, and
less oppressive multi-species assemblages. Particularly, I am going to focus on
ways of relating with, learning from, and understanding plants that I am
learning from Shipibo healers. Learning from plants subverts hierarchies of
animacy and co-constitutes interspecies worlds that are alive and inspirited. I
argue that forging tighter interspecies connections may mean that through
collective imaginaries, we allow ourselves to become sensitive to the more-
than-human web within which we come into being.
THE OBJECTIFICATION OF PLANTS AND THE FATE OF THE AMAZON
IN THE ANTHROPOCENE
It takes about nine hours by slow boat to get to my field site, a Shipibo-
Konibo native community down the Ucayali River from Pucallpa, the primary
logging city in the Peruvian Amazon. The first time I visited the village, I had
imagined that I was heading into “the jungle,” but I found my imagined jungle
notably missing. However, in the surrounding secondary forest, down a logging
road, there were a small number of very old treessome of the only old-growth
trees I had seen at the timemaster teacher trees, which have been protected by
a local healer and his community. The bark and resins of these trees are used by
the healer to contact the spirits of the trees to assist him with healing and
learning.
There are complex dynamics unfolding between Amazonian native
communities and logging operations. There are competing claims over rights to
harvest trees, as well as access and control over forested lands. This is also a
conflict over worlds and identities. Trees and humans are continually co-
constituted and reconstituted in a web of social and ecological relations. These
relations, however, exist within a colonial legacy of racialized violence
associated with the extraction of forest resources, which has given rise to
————————
4
Kohn, E. 2013. How Forests Think. University of California Press.
Laura Dev
154
contested landscapes, which represent struggles over meaning and conceptions
of the world.
The objectification of plants and other-than-human-beings has led to many
anthropocenic symptoms. For example, there is an ontological tension in how
trees are understoodShipibo healers view certain trees and other plants as
having the capacity to teach, heal, sing, and embody human form; at other
times, trees are objectified as timberalready dead, a commodity to be
harvested and sold. The social and ecological outcomes of timber extraction in
the Peruvian Amazon have mainly affected indigenous forest users.
5
It is
unfortunately a common narrative that modern development is associated with
the loss of livelihoods, dispossession, or cultural genocide for indigenous
groups, along with ecological degradation. This goes with the discourse of
improvement and inevitable progress.
Peru has the second largest area of natural forest in South America, and the
forest in the Amazon Basin is considered a global biodiversity and endemism
hotspot.
6
James Lovelock, author of the Gaia hypothesis, has called the
rainforests of the Amazon basin “the lungs of the earth” because of the plants’
contributions to transforming CO2 into O2. Lovelock hypothesized that high
rates of deforestation in the Amazon would be a threat to Gaia’s regulatory
capacity.
7
Nonetheless, there has been ever-increasing logging in the Amazon
over the last century, and changes in the landscape of the Ucayali region have
become dramatic. Pucallpa, the region’s largest city, is also the country’s largest
lumber processing site, which can be attributed to a road connecting it to Lima,
which was built in 1943.
8
However, logging remained at relatively low intensity
until the last several decades, with increasingly industrial and mechanized
operations enabling new access points and more aggressive extraction. Timber
production continues to be a major economic driver in the Peruvian Amazon,
with the Ucayali Region producing around 21.8% of the country's timber (as of
2009).
9
This is also an important source of regional employment, with an
estimated 4065% of the economically active population in Ucayali working in
the logging industry, including many indigenous people.
The story of deforestation in the Amazon portrays a typical Anthropocenic
image of humans destroying nature, with nature and indigenous peoples as the
hapless victims of modernity, lacking agency in the process. This is linked with
————————
5
Cossío, R. et al. 2014. Community Forest Management in the Peruvian Amazon: A Literature
Review. CIFOR.
6
Ibid.
7
Lovelock, J. 2000. Gaia. New York: Oxford University Press.
8
Santos-Granero, F., F. Barclay. 2011. “Bundles, Stampers, and Flying Gringos: Native
Perceptions of Capitalist Violence in Peruvian Amazonia.” The Journal of Latin American and
Caribbean Anthropology, 16 (1), 14367.
9
Cossío, R. et al. 2014.
Healing in the Chthulucene: Becoming Beyond Human With Medicinal Plants
155
what Christophe Bonneuil calls the naturalist narrative,
10
which views
colonizing humans as agentive, without recognizing the humanity/agency of
indigenous peoples or other-than-humans, thereby positioning colonizers also as
the necessary saviors for an earth that needs rescuing. A plurality of narratives
and voices are needed in order to get a more nuanced understanding of the
Anthropocene. Therefore, I would like to complicate this scene by noting that
humans have been shaping the structure of tropical forests of Peru for
millennia,
11
and there is ample evidence that humans actually co-created the
forests along with the plants.
12
Agricultural mounds exist throughout the
Amazon region, which date to pre-Columbian times. It is thought that they
allowed for improved soil for crops in areas that flood seasonally, as well as
potentially fish cultivation in the trenches during the flooding season.
13
Interestingly, these earthworks were not revealed until the area had been
deforested. Yet, just as these humans left an imprint on their environment, and
also left other artifacts like remnants of pottery, the plants also left imprints.
The mounds were co-created by plant crops and humans, and these plants also
left their own artifacts in the mounds and on the pottery remnants in the form of
phytoliths. These are tiny silica formations in the leaves of the plants, whose
functions are not well understood, but which have specific, identifiable
formations for different plant species.
14
Plants are easy to objectify because they are typically seen as being
relatively low in the animacy hierarchy, which, according to Mel Chen’s
model,
15
is a hierarchy of matter, indicating the relative level of liveliness
something is perceived to possess. In a mechanistic view of the world, plants
are seen generally as responding to external forces via chemical and physical
processes, but not as having their own agency or subjectivity. This is partly a
result of what Carolyn Merchant describes in The Death of Nature as the
historical process by which natural beings were rendered passive, rather than
————————
10
Bonneuil, Ch. 2015. “The Geological Turn: Narratives of the Anthropocene.In: The
Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis. Hamilton, C., Ch. Bonneuil, F. Gemenne
(Eds.). New York: Routledge, 1731.
11
Erickson, C. L. 2008. “Amazonia: The Historical Ecology of a Domesticated Landscape.In:
The Handbook of South American Archaeology. Silverman, H., W. H. Isbell (Eds.). Springer,
15783.
12
Pinedo-Vasquez, M., S. Hecht, Ch. Padoch. 2012. “Amazonia.” In: Traditional Forest-
Related Knowledge. Parrotta, J. A., R. L. Trosper (Eds.). World Forests 12, Springer Netherlands,
11955.
13
Mann, Ch. C. 2006. 1491 (Second Edition): New Revelations of the Americas Before
Columbus. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
14
McKey, D. et al. 2010. “Pre-Columbian Agricultural Landscapes, Ecosystem Engineers, and
Self-Organized Patchiness in Amazonia.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107
(17), 782328.
15
Chen, M. Animacies.
Laura Dev
156
autonomous, and could therefore be dominated by science, technology, and
capitalist production.
16
Alternatively, Shipibo healing practices, in-line with many indigenous
ontologies, are based on the premise that plants are animate and capable of
communicating with, teaching, and healing humans. I use the term “plant spirit”
or “plant spirit master” to refer to the Shipibo ibo, which in Spanish is
sometimes called the dueño, espíritu or madre of the plant, translating as its
owner/master, spirit, or mother. Each type of teacher plant has a distinct ibo,
though not all plants have the power to heal or teach.
17
This is distinct from the
materiality of the plant itself, or from a plant as an individual specimen.
Material plant specimens can be viewed as individual manifestations of the
plant spirit master of the species, which is how Fernando Santos-Granero
18
describes the idea of spirit masters for the Yanesha. Eduardo Kohn describes the
existence of animal spirit masters of the Runa in Ecuador as the beings who
own and care for the animals of the forest, and live in the spirit realm.
19
This is
analogous to the Shipibo conception of ibo. They are said to live in an
unchanging spirit realm, and have the capacity to influence the material world
and heal human bodies. The spirit world exists in mythological time, which is
understood as a “distant present,” and can be accessed through dreams and
visions.
20
In this world, there is no past and no future, but only memory. This
world is seen as perhaps more true than and also as giving rise to our ordinary
experiences.
HEALING WITH MEDICINAL PLANTS
I view healing as a way in which we come into relation within an animate,
multi-species ecology of selves. Healing offers a pathway out of an
Anthropocene, in which humans are destroying themselves within a mostly-
dead world, and into the Chthulucene, a world that is always already alive and
inhabited by other selves. Healing has the potential to reach across boundaries
————————
16
Merchant, C. 1980. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution. San
Francisco: Harper.
17
Jauregui, X. et al. 2011. Plantas Con Madre’: Plants That Teach and Guide in the Shamanic
Initiation Process in the East-Central Peruvian Amazon,” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 134 (3).
18
Santos-Granero, F. 2006. “Sensual Vitalities: Noncorporeal Modes of Sensing and Knowing
in Native Amazonia.” Tipití: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South
America, 4 (1).
19
Kohn, E. 2013, op. cit.
20
Brabec de Mori, B. 2011. “The Magic of Song, the Invention of Tradition and the Structuring
of Time among the Shipibo, Peruvian Amazon,” ed. Gerda Lechleitner and Christian Liebl,
Jahrbuch Des Phonogrammarchivs Der Österreichischen Akademie Der Wissenschaften 2: 169
92.
Healing in the Chthulucene: Becoming Beyond Human With Medicinal Plants
157
of the skin, blur distinctions between self and other, and allow for both
transpersonal and trans-species reconciliation. It integrates the body within the
community, and with other beings in an ecology of selves. As I mentioned
before, I conceptualize healing as a type of embodied ethical stance that orients
us as we are becoming with.
I do not mean to speak on behalf of the Shipibo as a peoplethis
understanding of healing comes from what I have learned from my own
experiences with Shipibo healing practices, as well as interviews with over
twenty Shipibo healers. In order to illustrate how healing can work to bring us
into being within a multi-species assemblage, I draw on Shipibo concepts of
health, which link social, ecological, and bodily health. Healing rituals bridge
communication across species lines through the performance of songs and the
personification of plants.
21
According to Shipibo concepts of health, discord
within our relationships can result in disease in the body.
A system of “dieting” plants is the method by which Shipibo healers learn
from a teacher plant spirit. By making the body a very quiet and empty place,
and engaging through dreams and visions, the healer learns to communicate
with and personify the plant spirit they are dieting
22
. This is a process that
Viveiros de Castro calls an “abduction of agency,” in which a human being is
able to occupy the perspective of the plant spirit.
23
Healing and communication
with plant spirits is often aided by the consumption of an entheogenic tea
commonly known as ayahuasca. The plants used to make the tea are considered
to be master plants, which facilitate communication with other plants.
Ayahuasca is made from two plants. A vine (Banisteriopsis caapi; called nixi in
Shipibo), and a shrub, called chacruna (Psychotria viridis).
The healing powers of these plants are becoming famous globally, and
stories about ayahuasca have been circulating with growing frequency in
mainstream media outlets. This international attention is due largely to the
popularity of healing rituals for “spiritual tourists” in South America, and the
subsequent increase in ayahuasca ceremonies worldwide. The popularity of
ayahuasca and the reputation of Shipibo healers have led to an influx of these
spiritual tourists all along the stretch of the Ucayali River between Pucallpa and
Iquitos, where I do my fieldwork.
These plants have been in relationship with humans for a long time. In
Amazonian thought, plants and animals tell stories about people, and these
stories help to construct their own identities and histories as well as our own.
This begs the question of the role of other-than-humans in producing discourses
—————————
21
Brabec de Mori, B., A. Seeger. 2013. “Introduction: Considering Music, Humans, and Non-
Humans.” Ethnomusicology Forum, 22 (3), 26986.
22
Jauregui, X. et al. 2011. “‘Plantas Con Madre’: Plants That Teach and Guide in the Shamanic
Initiation Process in the East-Central Peruvian Amazon.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 134 (3),
73952.
23
Viveiros de Castro, E. 2004, op. cit.
Laura Dev
158
and imaginaries about human nature. In the stories that plants tell me, they
claim that they helped to create us. In many ways, plants make human existence
possible. Roots, leaves, stems, and fruit are somehow metabolized and
alchemized into animal human flesh. In a very material way, all the carbon in
our bodies has at some point in time passed through the chloroplast of a plant,
as they fix carbon from its atmospheric form with the energy supplied from the
sun. Indeed, plants figure prominently in creation stories for many peoples. The
plants also have shown me that each type of plant, or each plant spirit (as well
as each people, each animal, each mountain, and each glacier) constitutes its
own world, its own ontology. The ability to experience these worlds depends on
expanding one’s sense of self to incorporate other earthlings into the inner
ecology of selves.
THE ANIMATION OF PLANTS THROUGH VOICE AND RITUAL
In thinking about my work with Shipibo healers and how to come to terms
with appropriating their voices and the voices of plants, I use the concept of
multi-voicedness.
24
There is no single voice or singular narrative that is making
meaning of my existence. Indeed, I cannot even seem to see myself as a single
self. I am more like a collection of voices contributing to the discourse of
myself as a self. An individual uses different voices to find a way of both
constructing oneself and communicating to another self. This simultaneously
constructs both the speaker and the listener, with speech forming a bridge
between the two. Mikhail Bakhtin
25
described the multiplicity of inner speech as
a conversation among many voices and between separate characters, which
arise in a social process of appropriating others’ voices. During this process it is
important to question who is allowed to speak from the collection of voices that
makes up one’s identity. Narratives and voice are used to construct one’s sense
of identity and history, and as a way of making meaning of raw experience. In a
sense, narrative is used to weave together reality and memory.
The colonial process imposes a singular understanding of the world onto its
subjects. This is the story of the hegemonic narrative becoming dominant and
suppressing other songs and voices. The dominant narrative has become self-
referential, impervious to the voices of plants, of mountains, of indigenous
peoples, of any dissenting human subjects, except for those which bolster its
own agenda. This is part of the dehumanizing process that I mentioned earlier,
which is again related to what Merchant described when she discussed the
—————————
24
Voloshinov, V. N. 1973. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press.
25
Bakhtin, M. M. 1986. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Austin: University of Texas
Press.
Healing in the Chthulucene: Becoming Beyond Human With Medicinal Plants
159
process by which other-than-human beings and their human allies, were
silenced, and a mechanistic worldview came into dominance in which the earth
was seen as a dead machine.
26
The modern narrative leaves out the stories of violence that were left in its
wake. According to Marisol de la Cadena, it is precisely this silencing of
subjugated voices that has allowed for the persistence of ideas of race and
racism, as well as the elimination of “nature” from the political sphere.
27
I argue
that the colonization of lifeworlds associated with logging undermines multi-
species relationality and the animacy of plants. It is a case of material
production destroying symbolic reproduction at the lifeworld level. Indigenous
psyches and bodies are also colonized as trees become timber, and meaning
patterns about trees change. The challenge posed to Shipibo lifeworlds by
logging, then, is both material and symbolic.
The commoditization of healing rituals is one way local communities have
responded to the conditions of globalization and global capital. The
performance of Shipibo healing rituals for outsiders can be seen as a way of
reproducing the Shipibo lifeworld, and resisting threats to the material and
symbolic basis for healing practices. These rituals also facilitate direct,
unmediated connection with other-than-human beings, which disrupt what Mel
Chen refers to as the “radical segregation of self and world”.
28
These ritual
boundary crossings offer powerful challenges to any hierarchical social system.
We can view the ritual consumption of medicinal plants as a subversive
colonization of human bodies by the agencies of plants. Learning from plants,
by resisting the material and symbolic restructuring of nature, offers a form of
semiotic resistance to ideological domination and hierarchies of animacy
through the blurring of boundaries between plant and person and the
proliferation of plant-based knowledge and lifeworlds. This type of knowing is
in contrast with a mythical objective” stance. Amazonian concepts of
knowledge see all knowledge as embodied, and the body as constructed by both
human and non-human others in a social process through the transfer of
knowledge.
29
McCallum describes the body, according to the Cashinaua, as a
web of connections between exterior matter, speech, and knowledge in the
body, as well as the manifestation of that knowledge expressed externally as
action.
According to Gramsci,
30
within marginalized bodies, two opposing
conceptions of the world exist simultaneously. One belongs to the dominant
—————————
26
Merchant, C. 1980, op. cit.
27
De la Cadena, M. “Indigenous Cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual Reflections beyond
‘Politics’.” Cultural Anthropology, 25 (2), 33470.
28
Chen, M. 2012, op. cit.
29
McCallum, C. 1996. “The Body That Knows: From Cashinahua Epistemology to a Medical
Anthropology of Lowland South America.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series, 10 (3).
30
Gramsci, A. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Lawrence & Wishart.
Laura Dev
160
class and the other to the marginalized class. Voloshinov
31
called these the
official and unofficial ideologies, which are related to Freud’s conceptions of
the conscious and the repressed unconscious.
32
I view the body as a site of
struggle between multiple voices and multiple worlds. The least articulate part
of the consciousness corresponds to the voices that are most silenced. Through
articulation, the unconscious may be made conscious and given voice,
essentially allowing its presence in the social world. This articulation can be
seen as a healing process.
I conceptualize Shipibo healing rituals as organized processes by which
more of the selves in the ecology of selves are given voice and thereby more
matter within the body (or ecosystem) becomes animated, more alive, less dead
hence, healing. These rituals confuse the boundaries between human and
plant, self and other, blurring hierarchies of animacy, and bridging material and
spirit realms. These plants are then included in the social process of subject
formation, involving listening, mimicry, and exchange. The healing process
operates on all scales of selvesincluding the voices within the body, including
the embodied self in relation to the other selves in the ecosystemtraversing
perceived divisions. Internal relations among various selves interpenetrate with
external relations through voice. This is a mattering of worlds, a process which
is never complete and is always becoming.
CONCLUSION
Despite the potential interspecies connections Amazonian healing practices
offer for westerners, it is not the burden of indigenous peoples to overcome
European-based hierarchies. Although healing is an individual process, I argue
that an ethics of healing must prioritize reciprocity among our relations
establishing intercultural solidarity across worlds and de-objectifying, or
animating, our more-than-human relations. There is a common narrative among
spiritual tourists and new age media that ayahuasca is the cure for modernity’s
ills, and therefore indigenous people have what westerners need to heal. Taussig
problematizes this narrative and the hierarchies created with the racial division
of spiritual labor, which construct the magical other as possessing something
of desire.
33
This is also the narrative that sellsand what tourists buy into, and
it is produced in collaboration among healers, tourists, and the plants
themselves. It is necessary to understand the hierarchies that are reinforced by
—————————
31
Voloshinov, V. N. 1987. Freudianism: A Marxist Critique. Indiana University Press.
32
Freud, S. 1988. “The Unconscious,” in Essentials of Psycho-Analysis: The Definitive
Collection of Sigmund Freud’s Writing. London: Penguin UK.
33
Taussig, M. 1987. Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and
Healing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Healing in the Chthulucene: Becoming Beyond Human With Medicinal Plants
161
this narrative, and to recognize that healing and magic also have the potential to
be bought and co-opted.
The ontological tension that I brought up in the beginning of this paper was
between multiple ways of understanding the existence of a tree: as animate,
a teacher with its own social relations, or as timberan objectified resource
commodity. Shipibo healers and trees are coming into being at an intersection
of plural and partially overlapping understandings of the world that are in places
antagonistic to each other. Struggles over meanings and worlds play out in the
physical sphere. Networks between humans and other-than-human beings emerge,
seeking the preservation of indigenous semiotic systems and relationality.
Healing is a way of moving into new types of relationships that are not based
in oppression and objectification, a way of orienting ourselves in the
Chthulucene. I explored direct, unmediated, interspecies relationships, achieved
through ritual boundary-crossings, as a form of resistance to hierarchies of
objecthood, humanity, and animacy. Strengthening our connections within a
multispecies ecology of selves, and becoming integrated into the life and death
cycles of nature seem to be key in ensuring the future of our ecosystems by way
of binding human fates more closely to the fate of the other-than-human
earthlings.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR PhD candidate, Department of Environmental Science,
Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, 130 Mulford Hall,
Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
E-mail: lauradev@berkeley.edu
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