KAYAPO COURAGE: “The Amazon tribe has beaten back ranchers and gold miners and famously stopped a dam. Now its leaders must fight again or risk losing a way of life.” ~ Chip Brown. photography by Martin Schoeller - full story & gallery via National Geographic (January 2014)
“YNHIRE expresses his identity as a warrior with a headdress of parrot feathers.”
“BEPRO wears the beads and cotton-wrapped earrings that boys receive as part of their naming ceremony.”
“ROPNI, an internationally known chief, is one of the few Kayapo who still wear the mahogany lip plate.”
“PHNH-OTI has an inverted V shaved into her scalp, a ceremonial female practice.”
“BEPRAN-TI wears an impressive display of feathers for his betrothal ceremony, a Kayapo rite of passage.”
“MEKARON-TI, the great chief, speaks Portuguese and is a powerful advocate for his people.”
The average thrill seeker, if there is such a type, may still be high on LSD. But to serious researchers, it has become as old hat as peyote and marijuana. Meeting last week at San Francisco’s University of California Medical Center, 200 experts in psychiatry and pharmacology concentrated instead on the many other mind-altering drugs that are far older historically but now seem new because they have yet to be thoroughly investigated.
The conference participants showed a certain sense of urgency because most of these substances are still known only to relatively primitive peoples whose cultures are being bulldozed away by developing countries. The “psychoactive” substances under study ranged from amanita muscaria to yagé, from snuffs to enemas. They extend from the Andes across Polynesia to the East Indies, from the Siberian valley of the Yenisei to Hindu Kush and the Mediterranean. Among the most discussed:
EPENA, a potent snuff, is produced by the naked Waika Indians of northern Brazil—a tribe so backward that they have not yet discovered pots. But their hallucinatory snuff can induce a “trip” faster than LSD. Made from the bark of the epena and ama asita trees, epena is administered through a blowpipe. The tripster puts one end of the pipe to his nostril, and a helper gives a full-lunged blast that sends the snuff deep into the nasal passages. At first reeling and retching from the impact, the snuff taker soon straightens up, begins to strut, emits an occasional laugh or yell, and slaps his thighs in selfesteem. Evidently, the Waika on epena experiences what the psychiatrists call macropsia: in his eyes everything is enormously magnified, including himself. He sees gigantic animals and birds. He feels not 10 ft. but 10,000 ft. tall, for his head is among the clouds. And after he has slept off his trip, he reports that he has talked with the häkula, the great spirits—although one Waika who had been to a mission school said that he had talked with the angels.
PARICÁ is another snuff, ground and inhaled by the equally primitive Piaroa Indians of southern Venezuela. It has several active ingredients, two containing substances of a type found in brain tissue and another chemically similar to “psychic energizers.” So, by centuries-old accident, the Piaroa anticipated modern psychiatrists who only recently discovered that by using several classes of drugs together, they can achieve a synergistic effect—one that is greater than the sum of the separate components. The effects of paricá are little known; no one but the tribal medicine man is allowed to use it, and his state can only be described as one of intoxication in which he stammers confused words.
AYAHUASCA, a drink made from plants by various tribes of the western Andean slopes, is essentially the same as two other psychoactive drugs, yagé and caapi. While something has been learned of its effects and composition from on-the-spot studies, more may soon be learned on the University of California’s Berkeley campus. For there, following its mention in William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, yagé is now being peddled surreptitiously as “the jungle drug” or “the tiger drug.” So far, those who have taken the substance have not told scientific investigators of its effects.
FLY AGARIC (amanita muscaria) is a mushroom that sprouts across most of the northern part of Europe and Asia. R. Gordon Wasson, who tracked down the “magic mushrooms” of Mexico (TIME, June 16, 1958), suspects it of being identical with the legendary Hindu substance called soma, the inspiration for much of Aldous Huxley’s phamacofantasies. Fly agaric, he reported, induces two hours of deep yet semiconscious sleep followed by three or four hours of extraordinary elation and hallucinations, while unusual physical effort becomes possible.
KAVA, the ceremonial beverage of the Polynesians, is not strictly speaking hallucinogenic. But when quaffed at the end of a hard day at the copra mill, kava sends its user into a dream world of detached contemplation, leaving no hangover. It is so much a part of island life that in 1914, when Ratu Su-Kuna, the future head of the Fijian government, set off to study at Oxford, he could not bear the thought of leaving kava behind. He had a brew prepared of the pepper root (Piper methysticum), let dozens of bowls of it dry in the sun, and then carried the stuff off to England. Whenever he felt the need, he mixed a batch with water: instant kava. Now, decades later, there may soon be a kava-cola. A somewhat less potent version of the traditional grog is already the bestseller at Polynesian roadside stands.
The scientists gathered in San Francisco acknowledged that the identification and introduction of new mind-expanding drugs will inevitably provoke fringe-group experimentation—given the realities of today. “Those dated objectives of adequate food, housing and racial equality” are now within sight, observed Dr. Nathan Kline, director of research at New York’s Rockland State Hospital. “The sense of great purpose and broad adventure which those goals engendered have vanished.” Hence, “curiosity and action are directed inward,” and drugs that “sever the tenuous ties with the outside world are highly prized.” Yet, concludes Kline, “dissociation per se has no value.”
What does have value is greater knowledge, and the researchers’ interest is more than idle curiosity. Some of the substances used by primitive man should prove helpful for research into the workings of the human nervous system. By determining just how the drugs work, the psychopharmocologists hope some day to tame psychoactive drugs into predictable tools for psychiatric research and treatment.