Taking the entheogenic "yopo" with my Yanomami family in the Amazon rainforest.

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

2013 Expedition – Irokait-teri Village

It was around midday and the men were taking the ebene or yopo engaging in shamanic chants. The yopo is an entheogen, a substance that alters your state of consciousness for spiritual or religions reasons, derived from the Anadenanthera peregrina tree. At this point, this ritual had become normalized to me so I didn’t take much notice. I continued to relax in my hammock while writing in my journal until I glanced up and noticed my brother, holding the tube in which they blow the hallucinogenic powder into your nose, was summoning me. I hesitated and was just about to turn down my brother’s request until I looked to my mom and noticed that she was eagerly gesturing, pushing with her hands, for me to go. Of course, I was less inclined to turn down mom than my brother, so I obliged.

I was a little nervous inside. But after seeing my brother and some of the other men take the yopo, on a near daily basis I thought that it couldn’t be that bad. I knew that whatever experience I was going to have it would eventually pass. I've already done my research and was aware of the DMT and bufotenin molecules present in the yopo powder. If my mother wanted me to do this, then I felt it was my obligation to do so. I was very happy and felt safe to be doing this with my brother.

Watch video above to witness my first epenamou - the taking of the epena

It was quite painful when the powder was forcefully blown into my nasal cavity. It eventually subsided and I started feeling its psychoactive effects. My sensory pain receptors immediately altered. I no longer felt the sting of the biting gnats, or the beating rays of the hot sun. It wasn’t exactly a numbness but an absence of the discomforts.

Everything became so vivid. The audiovisual inputs didn’t align with the pattern of inputs from growing up and living in the United States (Sorry, I’m not a psychologist or psycholinguist so I don’t know how to articulate this using correct terminology.)

I had become hyper aware of those differences. The nakedness of the people, lying in hammocks, eating plantains, the open house structure, a central fire for each family, the sounds of the jungle; flowers in the women’s ears, sticks in their noses and lips. I was no longer in an air conditioner living room with carpet floors, a couch, four walls, ceiling, and cable TV.

The chirps of the birds changed into long and sustained tones that resonated through the sky and canopy, slowly dissipating.

I felt like I was at the gates of the spirit world. I didn’t go through it. But felt its presence. This transcendence wasn’t like “moving” to a whole other place, like a heaven or hell or wherever. I didn’t feel like I was leaving earth. It was like my soul was shifting lenses revealed the circulatory system of the rainforest. Or that my reality, and my surroundings, were revealing an underlying vitality or essence. Whatever it was I felt like I was “plugged: into the network of the forest trees, plants, and animals.

I learned, even though my experience was incomplete, that Yanomami spiritualism is profoundly and inexorably connected to the environment, their ecosystem. The forest is more than a place of residence and provider of food and shelter. It is their place of worship. To cut down the forest, or destroy it for gold, is akin to killing angels or burning a church (if that relates to your religion.) You can come to whatever conclusion you’d like on my experience, the process, and whatever I was feeling. At the end of the day, it really just came down to having a wonderful bonding time with my brother and family and learning more about my heritage.


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