Witch Hunt in the Jungle
The murders of fourteen curanderos, or native healers, have shocked the Shawi over the last 20 months. The Peruvian government is sending a group of officials to the remote Amazon jungle region to investigate. The mayor of the small river port town of Balsapuerto, Alfredo Torres and his brother, Augusto Torres were named in the prosecutor’s report as the prime suspects. Seven of the victims had been “shot, stabbed or hacked to death with machetes,” and another seven have been reported dead but their bodies have not been found. Some of the victims' bodies are alleged to have been thrown into rivers to be devoured by pirnhas and other fish. There is one survivor, who was mistaken for a shaman and suffered gunshot wounds and having his arm hacked off, and he has provided testimony.
According to vice-minister of intercultural affairs, Vicente Otta, territorial disputes and political disagreements also point to the mayor being “one of the instigators of the slaughter,” and the murder suspects were trying to gain acceptance for the killings by blaming the shamans for the high level of infant mortality in the area.
It is alleged that the mayor’s Protestant beliefs were fuel for the murders, as some sects look upon shamanic practice as “the work of the devil” and shamans as being possessed by demons. Since as early as the 16th century, missionaries have looked upon the native people's traditional use of psychoactive plants as the devil's work. Roger Rumrill, a government advisor and expert on Peruvian Amazon culture, said that the mayor ordered the killings after hearing that the shamans planned to form an association. He also said that the mayor’s brother is known in the area as a matabrujos or witch killer.
Rumrrill goes on to say that until now the government and press haven’t cared and Peru has been “a centralized country which continues to look at its interior with total indifference.” One percent of the country’s population, or 330,000 of the 29 million population, is indigenous and these murders have been going on for a year and a half.
Gregor MacLennan of the NGO Amazon Watch said, “The death of these shamans represents not just a tragic loss of life, but the loss of a huge body of knowledge about the rainforest plants and the crucial role shamans play in traditional medicine and spiritual guidance in indigenous communities."
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