The Last Shamanic Couple

Down a mile long dirt road, which originates from a longer dirt road (stretching many miles to connect Guyana’s Letham and Georgetown cities), there is a an indigenous town of not more than a couple thousand spread around a series of large clearings in the jungle.  The town is remote, but many of the inhabitants have had extensive contact with modernity, after traveling or working in the capitals of Guyana or Suriname.  While the indigenous language is still spoken, English is also commonly heard, and the traditional customs have become less ubiquitously practiced.

The two elders shown in this photograph are the town’s last Shaman and his wife.  Unable to communicate with either me or my guide (who spoke a different indigenous dialect), the couple was still happy to show me how they conducted a traditional healing.  Inside their hut, they fanned smoke from a fire, moved their hands just above my body, and chanted: one voice overlapping the other in a rhythmic unison brought about by years of collaboration.  There was a timeless quality to the moments I spent with them, a feeling of communion across distance and time, the convergence of two cultures and ways of life.

It pained me to think that the knowledge and wisdom of the couple would be lost as the younger members of the community transitioned into a lifestyle closer to my own.  But who was I to regret this change?  The day before I had foolhardily walked into a field of grass and been covered by small red mites which kept me scratching in anguish the entire night and yearning for a comfortable return to my own paved universe.  Yet I couldn’t help but admire the old couple and how contented and grounded they seemed in a way few elders in my own urban world appear to be.