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Sinchi Yachaj: Powerful Shaman of the Napo River
SOUL VINE SHAMAN is a group of unaltered field recordings of an actual curing session performed by a shaman of the Upper Amazonian rain forest. The shaman chants, whistles, shakes a leaf bundle, plays a flute and a 3 string violin as he tends his sick female patient. The shaman drinks a powerful hallucinogenic brew called ayahuasca, goes into a trance, calls on forest spirits and water spirits, becomes possessed by these spirits, and they in turn speak through him as they enhance his curing powers. The shaman locates and "sees" the cause of the woman's illness, spirit projectiles enclosed in mucous within the patient's stomach, and noisily sucks them out of her body to remove the source of her illness.
On the evening of November 6th, 1976, filmmakers Neelon Crawford and Dan Weeks who were in the area working on an unrelated documentary, arrived at the home of a shaman living in a clearing. The wood-planked platform house was about four feet above the muddy ground, overhead was a thatched roof, and the sides were open to the thick forest with the exception of a walled sleeping area. The shaman sat on a low stool near a small cooking fire. His patient, an ill woman, lay at his feet moaning on a mat, while her husband sat quietly in the shadows nearby.
Dusk rapidly gave way to night and the nocturnal creatures vocalized louder. The shaman acknowledged the arrival of the two foreigners and made it clear that their presence was welcome. He had begun his cure earlier and the recording equipment was quietly set up to capture the sounds of a spirit world rarely witnessed by outsiders.
The indigenous people of the Napo River region believe that illness is caused by and cured by spiritual forces manipulated by shamans who have gathered enough power to work with these spirits. The people believe that a person becomes sick because an adversarial shaman has penetrated the individual's body with invisible spirit darts. To be cured, the person must find a shaman with the power to remove these potent darts. If the curing shaman can overcome the strength of the shaman who blew the spirit darts into the victim, the patient will recover. If the curing shaman is unable to gather sufficient powers, the patient's illness prevails causing fever, infection, blindness, or death.
Archaeologists tell us that evidence of shamanism dates back 50,000 years or more in Europe and Asia, to a time when humans were expanding into every climatic zone and exploring the inner dimensions of the human psyche. Today the ancient shamanic complex still exists throughout the world, not as a mere relic, but as an enduring basis for understanding the cause of health and illness in modern settings. Shamans are grounded in ancient techniques and informed about current events. Through their manipulations and manifestations, people come to grips with the mysteries of the cosmos and the realities of the self. A characteristic of shamanism is ecstatic trance, in which state the shaman moves back and forth between the waking world of humans and the visionary world of the spirits.
SOUL VINE SHAMAN is a rare visit to the true shaman's dual worlds of doctor and visionary traveler among the higher spiritual forces of nature. This high quality recording was made possible first by the shaman making the conscious decision to let the contemporary world hear his music and the fortuitous luck of the outsiders to have brought portable professional equipment to the remote clearing in the eastern region of Ecuador. The two visitors were in fact themselves part of the penetrating invasion of technological society and recognized by the shaman as both a means to document his powers and as part of the threat to his traditional existence.
The nocturnal forest's inhabitants croaked and chirped and whistled as the shaman's music gathered energy. The near-full moon flooded through the canopy casting deep shadows on the ground tamped smooth by bare feet. The ayahuasca brew worked its magic summoning the feminine spirit of ayahuasca known to appear as an anaconda. In time the powers of the Jaguar were summoned by the shaman to ease the woman's pain and to help him "see" the iridescent-blue spirit darts. During this recording the shaman spoke with the patient, her husband, and the foreign visitors, all the while calling the spirits to come lend their powers and assistance. When the shaman locates the spirit darts imbedded in the woman's body we hear him noisily suck them out of her and then regurgitate them out into the night.
Upon returning to New York Crawford believed that the recording's content was important and located anthropologist Norman E. Whitten, Jr., who had spent years working in a nearby area of Ecuador studying indigenous life, including shamanism. Whitten took a copy of the recordings back to Ecuador and with the help of Julian Santi Vargas and Maria Aguinda Mamallacta, developed an interpretive transcript of what transpired during the evening. Whitten indicated that he felt these recordings were the best documentation of a powerful shaman doing a curing session he had ever heard.
Whitten's detailed text (which is available as a PDF file from www.PolarFineArts.com), enhances our ability to gain insight into the complex nature of these SOUL VINE SHAMAN recordings. Whitten explores the background of the shaman's activities and provides an introduction to the indigenous cultures of the region. His 1979 text has been revised based on his four decades of field work and research. His list of references for further reading has been updated to include two recent publications. Ethnomusicologist William Belzner adds to our understanding of the shaman's music with his description of the musical structure. The work of Santi, Aguinda, Whitten and Belzner was undertaken under the auspices of the Sacha Runa Research Foundation, Urbana, Illinois.
SOUL VINE SHAMAN Copyright 1976, Copyright 1979 & Copyright 2010 Neelon Crawford. All analog and digital rights in all media reserved.
Cover photograph of shaman by Dan Weeks.
Interior photograph Amazon Basin by Neelon Crawford
SOUL VINE SHAMAN was recorded by Neelon Crawford in Ecuador on November 6, 1976. The recording was made with a stereo Nagra IV-S and two Schoeps cardioid microphones in ORTF configuration. The recording was originally released as a stereo LP record titled SOUL VINE SHAMAN in 1979 and has been digitally re-mastered to preserve its original quality without alteration of the content.
SOUL VINE SHAMAN CD is produced and distributed by Polar Fine Arts, Box 968, Fort Washakie, WY 82514 USA
The original SOUL VINE SHAMAN recordings were made in Ecuador in 1976 of an actual curing session being performed by an indigenous healer on a sick woman. The recordings were made by Neelon Crawford with professional equipment and were released in 1979 as a stereo LP record with a cover photograph of the shaman by Dan Weeks and a booklet by anthropologist Dr. Norman Whitten. The album was sold for years by New York's Museum of Natural History and other venues.
Anthropologist Norman E. Whitten, Jr. wrote a detailed text describing the events which occurred during the SOUL VINE SHAMAN recording and this document was included with the original stereo LP record. In 2007 Whitten revised his text to accompany this CD release. His complete, updated text is available through the link below.
SOUL VINE SHAMAN monograph by Norman E. Whitten, Jr.