Day 15 in Cusco, Peru. An interesting day.
I walked down the hill from my Spanish school with the sole intention of visiting a café in San Blas that uses its profit to build and empower local community, mostly women.
Not too far from the school, on the street that I have passed more than twenty times, my foot just stopped in front of a museum. It was the Museum of Sacred and Medicinal Plants. I entered to take a peek and finally was intrigued and paid the 15 soles of entrance.
The museum itself is amazing. It explains various plants that are considered sacred to the Peruvian (local), because these plants have been used for generations for religious and ceremonial purposes, until now. Ayahuasca and San Pedro, two most famous plants whose names are mentioned pretty often in South America, are just few of them; there are many that I’ve never heard of. Not only that, there are also so many plants for so many diseases. It is amazing to see how nature provides everything that we need.
At the main hall of the museum, there is even a life guinea pig on display (btw, it was so cute–I feel guilty looking at it, knowing that sometime next week I might want to eat it! There is a traditional meal called ‘cuy’, made of guinea pig…but that’s another story). The guide explained that a Shaman or a Healer used guinea pig to diagnose a patient. He will rub the body of the patients with a black guinea pig that is still alive, then later on he will cut the guinea pig and examined its body and internal organ for any disease–it is believed that the disease in the patient is being replicated to the guinea pig, thus the patient can be diagnosed through the (poor) animal.
When the walk inside the museum was over, something attracted my attention: a leaflet saying “Reading of Coca Leaves.”
What a coincidence 😉 on the day that I visit the museum, there was a visit by a Shaman from Quieros. Quieros is famous for the community of local people who still practice and keep shamanism alive. Reading coca leaves is one of their expertise (and so I was told). To visit this community (which apparently is not possible now ever since the government decided to protect this community from outside influence that can contaminate the culture), one must take a five hours ride in a car or bus, then continue walking for several days.
With an explanation like that, who wouldn’t be intrigued, right? Well, at least I did. I paid thirty soles to the museum and waited patiently.
I entered the room and saw a man whose age I guess was around fifty (ahem, I’m not good at guessing age—why did I even try!). He wore a red robe and red hat made from the traditional clothes. The translator for my reading was a guy who works at the museum, who can speak Quechua (the language used by the Shaman).
The Shaman had a piece of wrapped cloth in his hands, made from the same traditional cloth as his robe and hat. After asking my name and where I came from, he started to shake the cloth wildly with both of his hands while speaking (or chanting) in Quechua. My guess is, he was asking permission from the mother earth or the spirit to read me, because I could hear my name and the word ‘Indonesia’ were spoken in the middle of his long sentence.
Then, he put the piece of cloth in his hands on top of my head, while still speaking in Quechua. He then asked me to blow into the cloth three times. “With faith,” he said.
After that, he unwrapped the piece of cloth, and there they were—the coca leaves.
The translator asked me whether there was any specific question. I said no—I just wanted to hear what he said.
He asked again, “But what do you want to ask him, your work, your family, your health, your relationship? Do you want to know now, the past, or the future?”
I answered, “Whatever. Just ask him everything.”
With that, the translator made the decision for me. He asked the shaman about my health, my work, my relationship, past, present….well, everything 🙂
With each question, the shaman picked some leaves from the table (not all), shook it in his hands while chanting the mantra again, mentioning my name and country again, then threw the coca leaves in his hands to the table.
It was interesting to see how he interpreted the coca leaves afterwards. After several throws, I managed to get a slight idea about which reading was good and which was bad.
In general, coca leaves facing up mean a good sign, and leaves facing down are bad signs. The rests of the stories that the shaman told me seemed to depend on the pattern or position of the coca leaves that were laid on the table.
After about twenty minutes, the shaman yawned (right, yawn!) and ended the session.
I walked out a happy customer. Not because of what he (or the coca leaves) told me about my life, but because I think I was lucky enough to be a witness of a shaman at work. What a productive day 😉