A Colombian shaman is showing no remorse and taking no responsibility for the death of a British teenager who drank a hallucinogen during a tribal ritual.
Guillermo Mavisoy says it is common to vomit and become ill while consuming yage. However, he says he has never seen anyone die during the decades he has been serving the herbal concoction made from the namesake vine and other plants native to the Amazon rainforest.
“When it’s time to die, you die,” Mavisoy said in rudimentary Spanish in a taped interview on Tuesday from his home on a tribal reservation in the southern Colombian jungles. “You can take the safest pill in the world and you can die. It doesn’t matter if you have lots of money when the time has come.”
Henry Miller’s body was found last week dumped near Mavisoy’s modest home after he and other foreigners attended a ceremony led by the shaman.
Colombian authorities have yet to determine the cause of death, but say the 19-year-old from Bristol, England, fell ill during the ritual. Mavisoy says he ordered two family members to rush Miller to the hospital on a motorcycle, but when the teen died en route, the men panicked and left the body on the side of a dirt road.
The two men and Mavisoy have been questioned in connection with a manslaughter investigation, but no charges have been filed.
Yage, also known as ayahuasca, has been venerated for centuries by indigenous tribes in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia as a divinatory tool and miracle cure for all sorts of ailments. It was popularized in the West in the 1960s in The Yage Letters, a collection of correspondence and writings by William Burroughs, describing to fellow beat writer Allen Ginsberg his search for mind-altering experiences in the Amazon using the strange brew.
Mavisoy says he does not seek out foreigners, but they find their way to his small ranch outside Mocoa, Putumayo Province’s capital.
Mavisoy, who has led healing sessions in other countries, says yage does not kill, but rather cleans the spirit and then the body of the person imbibing it.
Peter von Puttkamer, a Los Angeles-based documentary filmmaker who has traced yage’s discovery in the 1940s by a Harvard ethnobotanist, says many foreigners do not have sufficient respect for what tribes in the Amazon consider a sacred healing medicine.
“It can be quite a dark, frightening experience to go on it,” Puttkamer said. “It’s a mind-altering experience that can possibly alter your perception forever.”