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Custodians of Cofan knowledge

Project under the auspices of the Universidad De La Alqvimia.

The Cofán, who live in the Amazonian foothills of Colombia and Ecuador, possess a profound knowledge of their natural world: the most megadiverse forests on the planet. Their wisdom comes from a rich cultural heritage and close contact with the Ukabate, invisible beings who, in their cosmogony, share lineage with the Cofán and dwell in the forests that surround them. Through the ritual use of Yagé (ayahuasca, one of the most important entheogenic plants of the Amazon basin), the wise Cofán can see the Ukabate and request their support in the healing and solution of the problems that afflict their people. The dream world to which the entheogenic plants lead can be interpreted as the Collective Unconscious and, in this way, the Ukabate are archetypes.


The Yagé tradition constitutes a powerful path to self-knowledge, balance with the environment, healing of body and spirit. Through this work, inspired by his visions, I want to celebrate and exalt the wisdom of the Cofán culture (today endangered by the armed conflict, drug trafficking and oil and mining extractions) in the use of this sacred plant, a universal heritage with an expanding therapeutic value. The series is a tribute to their taitas*, grandmothers and apprentices.


* Shamans

The Cofan conceive of the world as a space divided into three levels. On the upper level live the sun, the moon, the stars and the rainbow. On the lower level live the owners of the animals and plants, the masters of nature.


The intermediate level is inhabited by human beings, but also by beings that are not visible to all humans. The latter are called invisibles or ukabate, and are visible to people who take yagé (ayahuasca) and have initiated a learning process. The invisibles dwell in the interior of the jungle. They are indigenous people who have fled, they are our family.


Every existing plant and animal has an immaterial double, being this characteristic what makes an individual a being.


Invisible beings are jealous of their territory and can retaliate when it is used without their consent. Humans must maintain good relations with the invisibles, for which it is fundamental to act as demanded by the norms of interethnic relations; for example, not to overexploit the environment in order to avoid altering the territory of the invisibles.


But when good relations are maintained with them, they are kind, help humans to recover good health and can act as mentors in shamanic apprenticeship: to acquire the right and power to shamanize, it is necessary to seek an immaterial, non-human wife, it is necessary to be son-in-law and husband of non-humans. In this system, humans and non-humans are part of a unique kinship network where shamans, their consanguineous and allies have consanguineous and allies among immaterial beings. 



Taken and adapted from:

The territory of the stars, of the a'í, of the ukabate and of the kuankua: the world and its occupants for the cofán (a'i) of Putumayo*.

Juan Carlos Rubiano Carvajal 

École Pratique des Hautes Études, France

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