Waking Up Achuar Style
Lying in my tent with only a 2cm foam “mattress” between me and the hard-packed earth, I wondered how I was ever going to get comfortable enough to actually go to sleep. Worst case I decided, I would just lie there watching the stars through my fly-screen window until the 4am wake up call.
Next thing I knew, I was getting woken up. It was time to start my day Achuar style.
After hastily throwing on clothes and searching for my headlamp in the dark, we gathered on stools in a semi-circle around Sumpa in the light of a flickering fire. All around us the rainforest was quiet, only a few whispered murmurings from beyond the fire as the Achuar got ready for the day.
A large pot of tea made with leaves of the wayus bush was brewing on the flames. The tea was hot and tasted like green tea, with a slight tobacco aftertaste.
The first person in the circle started recounting their dream (translated from English to Spanish, and Spanish to English) while we all listened and drank gourds and gourds of the tea. You drink tea until you feel like you will be sick, and then excuse yourself from the circle, stumble across the grounds trying to turn on your head torch to find an appropriate place to throw up. At that hour of the day, you are only throwing up the tea you have just consumed. The Achuar start each day like this in order to remove any impurities from the stomach, to become alert and to stimulate concentration for the day ahead.
Usually, with just the family present, this time is used to tell stories and histories of the Achuar to their children (children under 10 do not take part of the tea ceremony) and to prepare for the coming day and any activities – such as hunting.
Returning to the circle, Sumpa (after he has also returned) will continue to interpret the dreams we have just had. The Achuar place great respect in dreams and the spirit world, and as Sumpa can translate the dreams into advice and meaning, he is a very important person in the community. Our dreams were defined as either good luck or bad luck, and this has special significance if a hunt was planned for that day, A bad dream would mean that you would not be successful and so it would be better to wait for a better day – especially as it is important for a hunter’s energy and spirit to be in sync with those of forest animals.
Once the sun had come up, girls came from a close-by community with jewellery and bowls they had made to sell. They displayed them on banana leaves, each one a little tienda. After making our purchases, we packed up out tents and headed back to Kapawi for breakfast. Suddenly, I was starving!