National Geographic : 2017 Dec
jaguars 85 Jaguar Leopard Less pressure More pressure Human 1.5 Jaguar 7.1 Leopard 6.7 Tiger 4.6 Black Caiman 4.6 Bony plates called osteoderms protect a caiman's back, neck, and stomach. Brain and spine JAW MUSCLES Masseter muscle JAW JOINT Temporal muscle BRAIN OSTEODERMS CANINE SPINE Jaguar (Panthera onca) Black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) Most of the animals have been hunted out. Even ayahuasca vines are harder to find—Mayantuyacu now imports them from other parts of Peru or Bra- zil. In 2013, the year the road was built, the Came Renaco tree Maestro Juan had found fell into the Boiling River and died. Winter pulled out his laptop to show our host the jaguar photographs he’d taken in the Pan- tanal in Brazil. The curandero smiled and soft- ened his guard. It was as if he were looking at snapshots from a branch of his family that had moved away. He seemed boyishly delighted watching video of a jaguar dive into a river and come out dragging a 150-pound caiman up the bank in its jaws. When the show was over and Winter closed the computer, Maestro Juan lit a mapacho. “ The last jaguar in this area was killed two years ago,” he said. Most of the people at Mayantuyacu, his apprentices, the workers who prepared the ayahuasca vines, had never seen jaguars except when they were summoned during ceremonies and arrived in visions. For them the cat existed only in the spirit world. Maestro Juan said he often called jaguar spir- its to guard the entrance of the maloca during ceremonies. There were two: one associated with the spotted jaguar, known as the otorongo, and the other one tied to its much rarer variant, the black jaguar, which he referred to as the yanapuma. He said he would call them at the next ceremony. I had a question that seemed painful to ask because it was plain he understood the slow- motion apocalypse unfolding around him— the way of life that was going up in the smoke of burning fields and vanished game, and in the absence of the jaguar’s roar. How can one call jaguar spirits from the forest if the forest has no jaguars? “You can’t erase a spirit,” he said. “The body may have died, but the spirit is still here.” And yet he prayed that the jaguar would re- turn, knowing a jungle with a jaguar is health- ier than a jungle without the keen hunter that keeps other species in check. “They are good,” he said quietly. “I hope they will come back.” IT HaD aN EarTHY TasTE, the ayahuasca in the chalice, acrid-sweet, sort of like molasses. When the last of the portions had been distribut- ed, the lights were doused and darkness rushed in from the forest, darkness that seemed as for- midable as the face of the black jaguar whose de- fiant eyes we had seen close up, burning through the steel bars of a pen in Pucallpa. A half hour later, Maestro Juan, signaling that he could feel the effect of the medicine he drank along with everyone else, began to sing the first icaro, a monotone chant incorporating phrases from various languages plus gibberish vaguely reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald scatting her way through “Mack the Knife.” He sat cross- legged wearing a long striped robe, a headdress of bright green parrot feathers, and necklaces of large brown snail shells and crimson huayruros seeds and jaguar canines. His song seemed to move the energy through the room. Congregants who were not feeling any effects went up for a second cup, lighting their way to the maestro with their iPhones. Maestro Juan sang a chant that summoned the spirits of cer- tain birds. Sometime later I heard him calling the jaguars to the maloca. I opened my eyes and found he had walked around the circle of mats and was sitting right in front of me. He told me later the jaguars came and sat by the entrance of the maloca but did not stay long. “ They were here only a while,” he said. “And then they headed back deeper into the jungle.” I didn’t see them. Ayahuasca didn’t show me jaguars or any other animals of the spirit world. What I did see over the next three hours made for one of the more revelatory experiences of my life. The moment that ayahuasca takes you is called the mareación, literally, “the dizziness,” How can one call jaguar spirits from the forest if the forest has no jaguars?