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The Tobacco

Why no poop in garden?

Peruvian Amazon, Peru

A visit to a shaman’s garden prompts an unexpected warning about the tobacco plant spirit’s ability to do away with disrespectful visitors.

"Here no poop." This firm warning was the first thing Fernando Santos-Granero heard when he first stepped into Jeñari’s garden in the Peruvian Amazon. The shaman pointed north and south — away from his carefully tended tobacco, coco and sedges — and said, in broken Spanish, that either direction would be fine should nature call. "His words were so unexpected that we hesitated as to what to reply," Fernando writes of the experience he shared with a fellow researcher in the late 1970s. "We finally managed to blurt out that he shouldn't worry; we had no intention of pooping in his garden."

Fernando first thought Jeñari did not want his white visitors to desecrate his garden, which "contained the medicinal, poisonous and magical plants used for healing and sorcery" including three kinds of tobacco, the most potent plant used by a Yanesha shaman. It turned out defecating in the garden could also aggravate the tobacco plant spirit, which the Yanesha believe can transform into a jaguar and kill the offender. "This is why Jeñari was so concerned that we did not poop in his garden," Fernando concludes. "He wanted to protect us."

The visit to Jeñari's garden is part of a collection of insightful personal experiences the STRI anthropologist shares in a recent article the journal Anthropology and Humanism. The tales chronicle Fernando's arrival to the indigenous territory and eventual acceptance as by the Yanesha people, whose worldviews are guided by a deep spiritual understanding of nature.

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