Following the Calling: Brazilian Huni Xui shaman Iba Shares Peoples Culture Through Art

Iba, a Huni Xui shaman from Amazonia, realized, over time, that he could not recall the ayahuasca songs that his father was transmitting him, and that this knowledge was going to be lost; anxious of the sustainability of his sacred tradition, he decided to tape his father, asking, later, his followers and family, to draw while he was singing: those magnificent paintings are shown, for the first time, at the Cartier Fondation’s exhibition Histoires de voir: Show and Tell, in Paris, France through October 21.

Iba presents himself as a “researcher of the spirits of the woods;” his tribe, the Huni Xuis, known as “Kachinawa,” lives in the region of Acre – 11,000 members in Brazil and 8,000 in Peru. “The exact name is Huni Xui,” insists Iba. “‘Kachinawa’ is the name given to us by the whites. They asked us what type of animals we were hunting, and when we answered the bats, ‘kachis’ in Huni Xui, they decided to call us the Kachinawas. And that name went on. But our true name is Huni Xui: ‘the real people.’”

While Iba decided to leave his home in 2000, to study at Rio Branco University, he later made the choice of returning to his tribe to record the ayahuasca songs transmitted through generations, from grandfather to father... “Those healing songs call the light, the strength.”

Until the 19th century, the Huni Xuis were forced to hide their beliefs. But in 1984, they started their practice again, and Iba wondered how to pursue his father’s mission.

“As a child, listening to my father during the ceremonies, I was impressed, and used to draw. We do not write, but paint: that is our writing,” Iba said.

It then appeared clear to him that the best way to preserve this non-materialheritage was to draw the songs: that is how a visual encyclopedia of the Huni Xui’s spirituality was born.

“I am a professor of songs, and medicinal issues – baptized by my father, I followed the special diet, for three months,” explains Iba. “Now, my time has come. I am the one who transmits.” The Huni Xui paintings of the ayahuasca songs describe their vision of the world. “Taking ayahusca, I see the genesis of the world,” explains iba. “That is how I started to draw each song. I realized that we had to change our non-material heritage into a material one.”

In Brazil, ayahuasca consummation is reserved to Natives; “our songs cannot travel, but with those paintings, people can know our culture.” At 47, Iba is the first shaman to have made accessible this ancestral knowledge to an uninformed public. “It is important to keep the memory of the Huni Xui visions, and the ayahuasca ritual. I took it for the first time at 13,” he recalls, “and my father always stands by me. Now, I teach my son, so that he does not forget.”

According to Iba, ayahuasca not only represents the traditional medicine of the Huni Xuis, but allows one to see in the past and future, and preserves the language of the elders, which he has been working on, transcribing the traditional songs in a book, entitled Nixi Pae, O espirito da floresta.

“Taking ayahuasca, I travel among the spirits of the woods. Thanks to ayahuasca, the foundation of our health, we can remember our history.” Traditionally found in the woods, ayahuasca is now cultivated on private land, for “an easier access,” explains iba. “Only elders prepare it, for the ceremonies; and we are the ones to decide who will take it.”

About his first trip outside Amazonia, Iba confides, “for a long time, I kept my knowledge. But today, it is entering the museums: the true spirit is here. I have been invited to a lot of places, but for some reason. … This one was the chosen.”