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Chakapa Wayra

Olyra latifolia

A hand held bunch of palm fronds tied together and used in the Amazon as both a rhythm and healing instrument. In a healing, the chacapa is rubbed and rattled over or near the patient’s body to capture or brush out the spirit intrusion. Once he has it in his chacapa, the shaman then blows through the leaves to disperse the intrusion into the rainforest where the spirits of the plants absorb and discharge its energy

A shacapa is a rattle made of a very specific Amazonian leaf (from a plant called Carritzo) and it is used by the shaman to create music while singing the icaros and to direct and move around the energies during a shamanic healing

Chakapa (sometimes spelled shakapa or Latinized to shacapa) is a Quechua word for a shaker or rattle constructed of bundled leaves. Bushes of the genus Pariana provide the leaves for the chakapa. Chakapa is also the common name for these bushes.

Curanderos (healers) and other shaman of the Shipibo-Conibo people in the Peruvian Amazon use the chakapa in healing ceremonies.

In an ayahuasca ceremony, for example, a curandero may shake the chakapa around the patient while singing an icaro (healing song). The sound of the chakapa is said to comfort patients in an ayahuasca ceremony and "cleans" the energy surrounding the patient. Shaman have a large variety of chakapa movements that create different sounds and energy waves; these movements match the coinciding icaro and healing that is being done at the time.

Some people report seeing green, blue, and gold ribbons of light form around the chakapa, and then move in tendrils about the room. The chakapa is also an important cleansing tool used during venteadas and arcanas. In the Amazon, once the shaman catches the bad spirits in a chakapa, it is then blown out of the leaves into the forest. The spirits are distributed and taken in by all nature such as trees and plants.[4] A chakapa is made by tying together the leaves from the bush in a fashion that forms a fan shaped instrument.
Two rhythmic instruments are used in shamanic performance in the Upper Amazon — the shacapa, the leaf-bundle rattle; and the maraca, the seed-filled gourd rattle. Whether shacapa or maraca, rattles are the most important shamanic tool in the Amazon — the equivalent of the shaman’s drum elsewhere. Anthropologist Lawrence Sullivan, in his work on the history of religion in South America, calls them the paradigm of sacred sound, the epitome of the link between sacred sound and shamanic power; ethnographer Alfred Métraux descibes them as the most sacred object among the tropical tribes of South America; anthropologist Jacques Chaumeil says that, among the Yagua, the rattle is held to be the voice of the spirits. As my teacher doña María Tuesta put it, in her typical way, “My shacapa is my pistola.”

Mestizo shamans use the shacapa exclusively. Other Amazonian peoples use leaf-bundle rattles as well — for example, the Aguaruna, who use a rattle of sampi leaves; the Shuar, who shake a bunch of shinku leaves; the Yagua, who use a rattle of chacapa leaves; the Napo Runa, who use a huairachina bundle; and the Akawaio, who in fact abandoned the seed-filled gourd maraca in the mid-1950s in favor of “shaman’s leaves.” Anthropologist Stephen Hugh-Jones has reproduced an illustration from a health booklet published in Tukanoan by the Colombian government, which shows Tukanos, holding crosses, lined up for the healing of tuberculosis before a shaman shaking two leaf bundles.

The shacapa used by mestizo shamans is a bundle of leaves from the shacapa bush (Pariana spp.) tied together at the stem with fibers from the chambira, fiber palm (Astrocaryum chambira). Mestizo shamans reportedly also make leaf-bundle rattles from the leaves of carricillo (Arthrostylidium spp.), albaca, wild basil (Ocimum spp.), and achiote, annatto (Bixa orellana). In any case, my teacher, don Roberto Acho, was very specific about the plant he wanted for a shacapa when I would go with him to find the leaves.

The word has become an Amazonian Spanish verb — shacapar, heal by rattling. When don Roberto initiated my other teacher, doña María Tuesta, already a plant healer, into ayahuasca shamanism, two of the key things she learned were shacapar, healing and protecting with the leaf-bundle rattle, and soplar, healing and protecting by blowing mapacho, tobacco. Indeed, blowing, rattling, and singing are synergistic modes of sound; elsewhere in the Amazon, too, tobacco, rattle, and song are mythologically interconnected. Among the Makiritare of the Orinoco Valley in Venezuela, Nadeiumadi, a messenger or emanation of Wanadi, the heavenly creator, dreamed his mother into existence: “He gave birth to her dreaming, with tobacco smoke, with the song of his maraca, singing and nothing else.”

Among the Desana, the sound produced by the gourd rattle shaken by the shaman is said to echo the sound made by the thorns and splinters that the shaman carries hidden in his forearm. The rattle is thus a prolongation of the shaman’s arm; when he shakes the rattle, these thorns and splinters are shaken toward the victim. The sound of the Desana rattle is homologous with the phlegm of the mestizo shaman: both are the vehicles for the thorns and darts with which the victim may be harmed, the medium within which the projective power of the shaman is stored. It is the same with the mestizo shaman: the refined whispering, whistling, blowing, and rattling of the most powerful music is the same as the air-like presence of mariri, the most refined form of phlegm. Among the mestizo shamans, the wordless rhythmic rustle of the shacapa — like the breathy whistle of the song, or the almost silent whispered blowing of tobacco smoke — approaches pure sound.

There is thus a continuum of sound from the concrete, verbal, and intelligible at one end to the abstract, sonic, and unintelligible at the other. The continuum begins with intelligible lyrics in castellano, Spanish, and progresses through non-Spanish but human language such as Quechua; purported languages of indigenous people and unknown archaic tongues; the languages of animals and birds and computers; pure vocables; whispered sounds; whistling; breathy whistling; the silent pshoo of the blowing of tobacco smoke; and the susurration of the shacapa. The rarefaction of sound parallels the rarefaction of the shaman’s phlegm, from gross physical flema in the chest to abstract protective air-like mariri in the throat. The more rarefied the sound, the farther it departs from the materiality of intelligible words, the closer it comes to the state of mariri, the most rarefied phlegm in the sound-producing throat of the shaman. Both converge in a state of puro sonido, pure sound, which is the language of the plants.
Before a shaman are: a fan of leaves, the spirit, waira sacha, the wind brush to sweep away darkness. Next to it are red and blue macaw feathers to paint the visions, and necklaces of seeds, the sound of the forest.
La wayra sacha o huairasacha es un elemento ritual común a diferentes grupos sociales que practican consumo ritual de yajé. Se emplea en los rezos y cantos de la ceremonia como herramienta de sanación. Está conformado por hojas de Olyra latifolia (especie nativa de América y África) amarradas como una especie de abanico o como una escoba redonda, según cada tradición; en el caso que nos corresponde las hojas se encuentran amarradas como abanicos. La investigadora Claudia Montagut ha señalado que antropólogos como Langdon “la llaman eufemísticamente ‘escoba curativa’” dado que la wayra “es una especie de escoba hecha de hojas, de una planta que nace con esa forma.” (Montagut, 2004: 42). En cada tradición recibe un nombre diferente; para el caso que nos concierne es huaira (en quichua) o wayra (en quechua) y quiere decir viento.
The main instruments Colombian yajeseros utilize are the harmonica, the waira sacha, the cascabeles, and their singing. Taitas invariably use the waira sacha, wear the cascabeles, and sing; although the majority of taitas I interviewed play the harmonica during tomas de yajé, some spoke of how playing the harmonica is a more recent development. The waira sacha is by far the most ubiquitous sonorous instrument that taitas use.

It looks like little more than a bundle of dry leaves tied at one end, but both taitas, participants in tomas de yajé, and community members understand it as an instrument of power. The species usually used is Pariana stelonemma and the name waira sacha, in Kichwa, means roughly ‘wind plant,’ waira meaning ‘wind, air,’ sacha meaning ‘forest, jungle, plant.’ The waira sacha is also known as shakapa in Perú and more generally in Spanish as ‘escoba,’ or broom, amongst indigenous taitas and mestizo healers in Colombia.39 All of the names suggest something about how the waira sacha is understood – the waira sacha is related to notions of wind, air, and cleansing. Although it is played as a percussive instrument and used sometimes to keep a steady rhythm when accompanying singing or harmonica playing, it is also understood as an instrument producing wind. It is also a healing implement that not only purifies the air inside a yajé room
but one that also cleanses and expels sickness from a body. The waira sacha is also used to ‘bless’ yajé before it is drunk.