Fourteen traditional healers have been brutally murdered in Peru in the past 20 months, allegedly at the urging of a local mayor. The Peruvian government has sent a team of investigators to look into the incidents. While 14 shaman have disappeared, the bodies of only seven have been retrieved so far; the indigenous healers were shot, stabbed or hacked to death by machete.
Protestant Sect Members Suspected
The prosecutor’s office of Alto Amazonas province stated that the alleged murders were carried out by a man known locally at the “witch hunter,” at the behest of his brother, the mayor of the town of Balsa Puerto. A Peruvian government adviser and expert on Amazon cultures alleges that both are members of a Protestant sect that claims shamans are possessed by demons and must be eliminated. The Peruvian Times reports that the shamans had been planning to form an association to share their knowledge.
The shamans’ deaths go beyond a brutal crime to represent a loss of unrecoverable knowledge. NGO Amazon Watch’s Peru program director Gregor MacLennan is quoted in the Guardian: “The death of these shamans represents not just a tragic loss of life, but the loss of a huge body of knowledge about rainforest plants and the crucial role shamans play in traditional medicine and spiritual guidance in indigenous communities.”
As the U.S. government marks Columbus Day on October 10, it is disheartening that the oppression of indigenous people that began with the conquerors’ arrival back in 1492 continues to this day.
Image: Urarina Shaman photographed by Bartholomew Dean