Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Kene Kuin

Kene Kuin, the true design, is an important motif of Kaxinawa identity. The shunu kene (tree of life) below, has eight paths defined by both positive and negative space; and like all kene represents ancestral knowledge. For the Kaxinawa, these designs are a crucial element to the beauty of people and things. 

Kaxinawa motifs are applied in the form of body art, jewellery, clothing and crafts of all kinds. These designs are inspired by the forces of nature and a particular cosmology, which are received by the shamans in ceremonies through the plant medicines. Each sign has associated rituals, songs, myths, cosmologies etc.

As such, these designs are inspired by the forces of nature. The motif is transmitted by the 'spirit entity' and its representation embodies the spiritual strength of that being. In the case of an animal, the motif can be considered a 'pattern' arising from the 'genetic code' of the animal and emitting a 'frequency of force' or spiritual function to which it is attached.

Kene are painted on Kaxinawa bodies and faces with genipap (vegetable paint) during festivals, when visitors arrive or for the simple pleasure of dressing up. Small children are not painted with designs, but are blackened from head to foot with genipap. Boys and girls have just part of their face covered with designs, while adults paint their entire face. 

Painting with genipap is an exclusively female activity. On days without any festival, women walk around unpainted; but when one of the men brings genipap from the forest, there is always someone eager to mix the paint and invite the others to paint themselves. Young women are the most likely to be seen painted with designs; men less frequently, unless they are acting as hosts.

The kene kuin style contains a variety of named motifs. When a motif has two or more names, this is generally because of the ambiguity between the figure and grounded reality typical to the Kaxinaw√° aesthetic. The same motifs (or basic designs) used in face painting are found in body painting, pottery and weaving, basketry and stool decorations.

Just as not all bodies are painted, or not some bodies all of the time, not all keneya (kene objects) have designs. Cooking vessels are not painted, though the plates for serving food may be. Painting is associated with a new phase in the life of the object or person, a phase in which it is desirable to emphasize the smooth and perfect surface of the body in question. 

The design calls attention to new visual experiences, which announce crucial life events. The design vanishes with use and is only reapplied during festivals. Hence, things with design occupy a special place in Kaxinawa culture.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


Sananga is a powerful medicine taken as eye drops. Made from the mashed roots of the Apocynaceae shrub; a cousin of the Iboga tree, which produces the active compound ibogaine. Traditionally Sananga has been used by the Kaxinawa for hunting; to help sharpen their vision, awareness and extra sensory perception. These sacred drops heal panema; the psychic illnesses that manifest as lack of drive, motivation or focus, laziness, depression, sadness, bad luck and negative energetic influences that attract difficulties and disease. 

On an energetic level Sananga works to open up the vision of the third eye, by helping to decalcify and activate the pineal gland. This clears negative thought patterns and mental confusion. By cleansing the physical, emotional and energetic fields, Sananga dilutes the thought forms and negative, disharmonious energies that envelop the energetic body of the eye. By clearing the energetic channels, one’s inner, outer and higher vision is restored; aligning us emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Kaxinawa shamans believe that, panema is a conglomerate of lower energies that stay present in the energetic bodies of people - accumulated through a sedentary, negative life full of bad habits and thoughts that are harmful for the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health of a person - that weigh heavily in the energetic body of the individual, making them sad, depressed, stressed physically and mentally, while making it impossible to find success in relationships, work and life goals. Through Sananga this energetic charge is automatically eliminated, as if the person went through an energetic shock; later on making the person feel capable, happy, invigorated after the application.

Sananga eye drops cause an intense burning sensation, this experience persists for a number of minutes, during which the participant is directed to breathe deeply and into the pain. Sananga is said to also burn the inner anger residing in the individual, leading to an intense state of relaxation following the period of pain. The pain caused by Sananga causes the release of endorphins, produced by the body to ease the pain. These endorphins stay in the body after the pain subsides, leading to a feeling of utmost relaxation.

Why do spiritual practitioners seek pain though? Considering the phenomenon of Sananga, its a substance which is used to induce pain or physical discomfort. As often noted, alternative techniques for the achievement of altered, visionary states of consciousness traditionally included various types of pain and discomfort such as sleep deprivation and prolonged fasting. Yet the question remains… why? Why do spiritual seekers seem so keen on experiences involving intense pain or discomfort?

Before we try and answer this question, it should be noted that the experience of pain and discomfort can be seen as an inherent part of the psychedelic experience in general, and not just in Sananga. As with ayahuasca, its expression reaches its peak in spiritual death/rebirth experiences; in which the individual must 'die' in order to be 'reborn' again i.e. death as the ultimate form of illness leading to rebirth as the ultimate form of healing.

It’s also almost as if psychedelic use supports a kind of spiritual protestant work ethic in some participants; who believe one has to suffer in order to rise and soar. This is particularly ironic and interesting since the protestant work ethic was one of the major reasons why people in the West came to distrust psychedelics in the first place. Participants in the psychedelic debate argue about whether relishing the view from the top of the mountain is the same, whether you got there using a ski-lift or after a long and arduous hike; the top of the mountain being, of course, the mystical experience, arrived at through sustained spiritual work, or through the use of mind altering substances. 

Does a chemically triggered spiritual experience have the same value as one arrived us through hard, laborious work, and is it even legitimate? Jerking our bodies out of their comfortable state of rest and equilibrium is often necessary for transcending our limits and achieving a greater degree of wholeness and wellbeing. However, the choice, in most cases, is not between getting to the top on the ski-lift or getting there hiking. Rather, it is getting there and observing the view after riding the psychedelic ski-lift; or never getting there at all.