Kester Reid | Pachamama Alliance | Aug 15 2014

Wayusa’, ‘wayusa’, awake me for ‘wayusa’.  Moon is full and body awake with the first cock’s crow at half past three.  And I go slow, under stars and big sky, the moon a shining eye in a great deer formed by cloud.  Walking across the community in the silence of clear night, to a friend’s house, where I have been invited to share in the ceremony of morning.

Fire licks at the seams of the day, heating the ‘wayusa’ pot.  Family gathered and seated on low stools, rubbing waking eyes.  Minimal words, we gently warm ourselves and wait.  Dipping long ‘ankuship’ gourds, the smoky brew is welcome warmth – to belly, whole body – and slides down in long draughts, one after the other.  Belly full and the body knows to move slowly toward the forest. 

Heaving, the well of medicine swells and flows free of the body it cleans.  Heat of the fire, heat of my being, release of the night and its dreams.  Waves rise of their own accord until balance restores and I stand to look freshly in darkness.  Moon shines brighter, clouds weigh darker, and the night is closer, clearer – like its senses are tingling, and my own are their mingling with the new day that is yet to be born.

Around the fire the family re-gathers, relaxed and released of all aches and pains.  Now we are talking, sharing, awake.  After ‘wayusa’, in these hours before dawn, is the space that sets the day.  Dreams are recounted, and the elders interpret them: each holds advice, omens, warnings.  Now is also the window for serious talk, when important issues are discussed with good time – seated and civilised fireside counsel. 

And otherwise it is the time of tranquil tasks, men weaving ‘changin’ baskets, making ‘nanku’ flutes, intoning ethereal hoots and whistles into the waking forest.  Women paint ‘pinink’ bowls and may sing lilting ‘anent’ songs that call on animal spirits to influence the happenings of the day.  ‘Nijamanch’ manioc beer is sipped, fresh and sweet and hot from the fire; it warms the emptied belly. 

A roasted breakfast is served when first light arrives, and visitors will call in.  When the working day begins it is hard to believe how relaxed and willing one feels, after a dreamy-paced morning of dawning light, dawning life.  This is the rhythm of the peopled forest.

The Achuar are a hard-working people, and astoundingly fast when they need to be.  Yet there is no concept of rushing.  In their forest existence the people live the unavoidable truth that everything has its due process.  Growing vegetables enwraps you intimately in the lifetime of plants.  Hunting animals draws you far along their own wandering paths – treading in their footsteps, moving as they move, following their ways for some hours, or days.

Building houses, carving canoes, collecting clay and making bowls, harvesting caapvines to strip, split, scrape and then weave baskets with, all takes good time.  Preparing herbal medicines, collecting water, handwashing clothes with soapy plants.  Even cooking on a fire takes its elemental time and effort, coaxing heat from the Earth with our own breath.

Part of each process is seeking materials from the forest, perhaps on foot, perhaps by canoe – often far, and always subject to the favour of the weather, of the river, and of the dreams and spirits.  In the forest I learn to wait, to walk, and to work amidst the great process that is Life, where everything takes its time.  For the Achuar time is not a pressure, but a pleasure.  After all, they tell me, there is always time.

Deeply engaging the processes that give us life, we surrender to Life as process, rather than product.  We learn to truly value the fruits of each process, and the other beings that participate in them.  We see the interconnected relationships that nurture our own existence.  We participate more fully, and come closer to Life itself.  Out of the forest, my society seems obsessed with product, and uninterested in process.  Life can seem like a product, built up of other products, all formed by processes that I don’t know.  I am further from the processes that give me life, further from each exchange – further from those relationships.

I cross a teeter-wobbling trunk only as wide as human feet over a coursing brown stream that drew me with its song from high above.  The vague hunting trail continues across the other side, gently ascending the sweeping forest slope.  Halfway up I see a great tree rotted, eaten, fallen…a veritable giant toppled into the depths.  Emptied from his heart and core, a clean break at his base saw him fall, perhaps amidst a storm, I imagine. 

Crack, and he leaned, looming over the slope below him, then a heaving, almost as if slow motion, and he quite simply fell. The whole forest groans as all that he held and all that held him comes down, down, downslope and upside down as his limbs meet the Earth that breaks their fall.  And a shaking of the world resounds as his great trunk snaps into pieces; each one bounces, bounding down the slope.  And now here he lies in those still pieces, below a telling patch of open sky.  Great steps of solid fungus ring his trunk around; the filamental life that brings giants to the ground.

Then further up the trail, a government-contracted scene – chainsawed cedar felled and planked for housing.  And now the contrast is so clear.  The clean lines of a graceless efficiency mark this scene, straight offcuts lying here and there on a bed of their own dust.  I see from his great trunk, this giant too was dissolving at this heart, and would have fallen soon.  But he was felled, in a manner somehow less just, less true.  Brought down all too suddenly for the stately pace of Trees.  Without a gust of wind or preliminary sway, without his own seismic sensing of it, as his fibres gradually gave way…over weeks, or maybe days.  Just the sound of voices, then metallic growls, and then those teeth and suddenly…I am cut down.  Not even the steady rhythm of axes swinging for some hours, as people of the forest sweat and joke and take their time.  Each muscle flexed: a chip of woody flesh, in the right and timely process of exchange.  The lines left are rough and many, arranged by something beyond us both, and at some point late in the evening, when our hands and arms are weakening, with one last stroke you sigh, we give you space, and you come down. 

There is a very fine balance to be struck between what makes life more convenient, and what alienates us from the processes that give us life – for those processes are our Life.  Technologies are an interesting case: they might breed space, and peace, and positive proficiency, but more usually breed haste, dependency, and alienation from Process.

Perhaps the choice is ours, to value the space created by convenience, and deepen our appreciation of each process made easier.  But we might also experiment with choosing sometimes to partake, to give more effort and time, let the clockface unwind and unravel for us one process, and see if we feel closer to Life.

KesterReidAbout Kester Reid: An Earth-conscious writer and conservationist drawn to indigenous worlds to explore depth, diversity and beauty. Currently living in an Achuar community in the Ecuadorian Amazon, teaching and learning. More poems and prose at