The state of “Maëracion”, to which the Ayahuasqueros have access, makes them perceive a universe impregnated with colors and populated with spirits, it is this magic universe that the Peruvian painter Pablo César Amaringo visited, night after night during years, when he was a Shaman. Today he no longer drinks Ayahuasca, but paints the visions of his journeys with the liana. His work is exhibited in Japan and the United States, where he has published a book “Ayahuasca Visions” in collaboration with the ethnologist Luis Eduardo Luna. In 1990 he received the UN Global 500 award for his artistic contribution to the preservation of indigenous traditions and cultures around the world. He lives in Pucallpa, Peru, in the Amazon painting school he created for the children of his neighborhood.
Usko Ayar is a large two-story wooden building on stilts at the end of a rain-slicked dirt road.
With his eyes almost closed, Pablo sits at his work table, concentrated, whistling softly while the flame of his brush reveals a complex order of landscapes populated by shamans and woodland spirits. From time to time, he lifts the leaf in front of his face, his eyes closed, he whistles an icario so that the magic song taught by the plants helps him to remember the smallest details of his visions.
At almost 60 years old, the Maestro looks like a young man, his smile is mischievous and despite the tropical heat, not a drop of sweat beads on his face. He expresses himself with a singing voice in this tropical Spanish fond of affectionate diminutives and old-fashioned expressions.
– The painting, which I am painting, is called “Tingunas”. The Tingunas appear in many circular forms, each tinguna contains elements that can be transformed into animals, ropes, angels and other characters… This circle represents the Sumiruna, and this wheel the Maeracion (drunkenness or clairvoyance of Ayahuasca) that appears when in contact with spiritual beings, animals, objects, it appears with holiness, knowledge, discernment, justice, peace, love, power and so many other things.
The light represents the illumination of spiritual perception, the seven stars symbolize the exact power of the Sumiruna, with limits to its knowledge. Because the knowledge of human beings is neither complete nor absolute, it is limited in comparison to that of spiritual beings.
The vegetation surrounds the shaman in order to instruct his soul and spirit, so that he has a well-built brain in a healthy body. The chains are lianas that symbolize the force that maintains the earth in its rotation.
Pablo Amaringo was born in Puerto Libertad, a small forest town near Pucallpa, into a poor family, and his first encounters with painting got him into trouble in his adolescence – “I noticed that the quantity and quality of the food our mother brought from the market depended on the image printed on the bills. I copied a five soles bill, working meticulously for several days, and gave it to my mother without telling her. The copy was so good that she was able to make the deal with it. When I repeated the operation a few days later with a larger bill, the police came and arrested me. I didn’t know it was wrong until they arrested me, the bills, I was painting them, I took a long time to do them, they were very good. The police caught me and sent me to prison. In prison, the prisoners eat, walk, sleep… and that’s all. The result is that there are even more criminals. There I taught reading, I taught good things. I was different from the other prisoners, I had not committed the crimes they had committed.
When he was 16 or 17 years old, while working as a handyman on the port, he suffered a heart problem. – To treat myself, I went to see an old woman, a curandera who treated with Ayahuasca. I had already taken Ayahuasca, with my father and my mother, my father was not well, and it was necessary to look after him. I went with him to the curandero who told me: “take some too, it won’t hurt you”. So I took some and I saw things, but not clearly. But when I took Ayahuasca to heal myself, I immediately saw things clearly. I didn’t want to believe it, not only did it cure me, but it also killed the evil. When I was taken there to be operated on, I saw doctors with all the instruments for the operation, I saw how they operated on me: they took out my heart and put it on a tray and put something on me to breathe. There was a doctor and two nurses, I remember very well the color of their dresses, everything that happened. When I looked at that, I thought, “are these things true, are they lies?”. But they were not lies, because while we were talking to the spirits, there was this woman with us. I looked at her, with all her clothes, her colors, and I realized everything she knew, everything she had in her body. I was aware of everything that was going on, it was not an illusion: it had a body!”
– I treated myself with Ayahuasca and one night the spirit of the curandera stayed with me, and that’s how I became a shaman. I took Ayahuasca from 1967 to 1976 to concentrate, I took it for 9 years every night. I never stopped taking it to stay focused all day and treat people properly. I was treating a hundred people a day, I was living concentrated and this weakened me enormously as I was having a light breakfast and I kept myself that way all day by taking milk without sugar.
The last time I took Ayahuasca was in April, in the selva, some etchiceros* attacked me during my dream, I couldn’t do anything and they almost killed me. When I was brought back for treatment, I was out of my mind!
The curandero woke me up and treated me, so I told myself I was going to go on a diet and stop.
I did my first vision painting on July 24, 1985 in one day. When Luis Luna (ethnologist, friend and agent of Pablo) asked me what I was painting, I told him a vision of Ayahuasca. He told me I was crazy. But then he encouraged me to paint and he was even my agent. I have not calculated the number of paintings I have done, there must be about 800, some of them are in collections in the United States or Japan.
Eduardo encouraged me to create this school, before, there were many young people who came, but there was not really a school. One day, he came to the house and saw all these young people, he asked me “who are they, what do they want? I answered, “They study painting, drawing. There were about fifty students and he said to me “but why don’t you found a school of Amazonian painting, look for a name! Then I remembered Uscuaya, the prince who came to teach singing and work. Uscuaya means in Quechua spiritual prince, or wise prince.
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*Etchiceros: Evil sorcerers, followers of black magic.
Text & images © Hervé Merliac/Kaleidos-images – All rights reserved