Elly Vaughan with Capybara. The Shaman's Pharmacy 2010

Elly Vaughan on Cultural Preservation and the Rainforest

"To my surprise, the musicians were very welcoming. I heard some soulful, swooning minor chords complemented by fluttering flamenco guitar riffs as I opened the door to my quarters and stepped into the outdoor porch hallway at the lodge on the Rio Napo. I walked by palm trees and spiders, towards the sound, coming from the screened-in dining room/bar/classroom/concert hall. I didn’t want to interrupt, but I could hear what key they were in, and I wanted to blend some notes into the mix. I picked up one of the guitars, sat some distance away, and played just loud enough for me to hear. The two men paused, turned toward me, and gestured me over.

“Come, this way, you can play with us.”

Abelardo, the rhythm section of this jam, introduced himself to me, and then Pedro, the fast-fingered, older man playing the web of notes that held the song together. Pedro didn’t speak as much English, and my Spanish skill is equivalent to that of a five-year-old, so we didn’t converse much verbally, but through song we became well-acquainted. This was the first of many jams with the Peruvian folk players at the lodges where my winter course in ethnobotany took place.

Many cultural traditions in rainforest regions are dwindling, dying with each artist and craftsman, one piece at a time. The intent of the class was to teach about the traditions and medicine of the shamans, and I just happened to stumble upon a handful of folk songs while I was down there as well. These traditions are interconnected; the root of the problem is the pressure to develop, and development affects all facets of life in this region. The preservation of one tradition will speak to all traditions – whether it is the jewelry and clothing made by the women on the river, sold on the banks to tourists, or the folk songs that are older than any living man, passed down from ear to ear, or the medicinal knowledge of the shamans, all are part of a network of lost arts. Any effort to save one is sure to make a difference to all, and it is all tied into the welfare of the rainforest."

- Elly Vaughan, Student, The Shaman's Pharmacy 2010.

A talented singer, Elly gifted us with her music during this adventure. She also took the opportunity to learn some traditional Peruvian songs from some of the musicians who were playing at the lodge. And, on another note, Elly was one of two students brave enough to taste (eat) a live Amazonian grub, which is considered a delicacy in the region.