The Temple Healers
The Temple’s extraordinary team of Shipibo healers represent thousands of years of Amazonian healing tradition and share their uniquely intimate connection with the mother medicine, ayahuasca, with integrity, love and compassion. Unfortunately, few young people are following in the footsteps of their forefathers to continue the line of Shipibo curanderismo.
It is the Temple’s mission to not only legitimize ayahuasca healing in the West but also to reinvigorate local respect for indigenous healing traditions. By providing an income stream for experienced, authentic healers, and a place for young healers to be supported by their older colleagues, we hope to do our part to help maintain the integrity of the Shipibo medicine tradition.
Ynes Sanchez Gonzales
Now in her early seventies, Maestra Ynes has been working with ayahuasca and medicinal plants of the Amazon for more than 50 years.
Ynes was one of the original Shipibo healers who joined us at the Temple in Feb 2009, and has over the years continued to carry out plant dietas. After a break of 4 years not working at the Temple, we are very fortunate to be welcoming Ynes back to join us.
Ynes has now reached a level of mastery in her healing ability that exemplifies the very best of traditional Shipibo healing. She is well known to be blessed with an incredible visionary ability in her ceremonies, as well as working with a tremendous amount of care and compassion. Ynes is a traditional ayahuasquera (specializing with ayahuasca), palera (specializing with medicinal trees) and tabaquera (specializing with tobacco), and is also an expert in treating gynecological issues.
Ynes has trained all of her children in plant spirit healing and often works closely with her two daughters Laura and Lila, as well as her son Jose.
Lila Lopez Sanchez
Lila’s life has featured three of the classic plots of curanderismo: a traditional medicine family, a sudden injury or illness, and resistance to the path. All three have galvanized Lila to become a skillful and respected healer.
Lila is Ynes’s daughter and Laura’s younger sister. She was also born in Roa Bo Ya, but grew up with her grandparents on her father’s side, also respected Onayas. At the age of 13, she was the victim of a serious dano, or damaging energetic attack, which was sent by a jealous neighbor who had wanted to buy a pot for carrying water that was being made for her and had been denied. A tree fell on her right leg and an excruciatingly painful, chronic infection set in that had her bed-ridden for over a year.
By this time, she had moved to live with and be cared for by her mother, Ynes, who started her on a dieta with an extremely powerful tree, catawa. The dieta succeeded in curing her leg, and was the gateway for her path as a curandera to open. Being the rebel that she is, Lila resisted the path on occasion, in favour of leading a ‘normal’ life, but two children later, the plants persisted in ‘calling her back’ to work with them.
Since then, she has worked with her mother and other extremely respected maestros all over Peru, and is also a specialist in warme ikaros. She works with an amazing amount of love and care, and is an absolute joy to have on the team.
Laura Lopez Sanchez
Raised in a medicine family, Laura was born to the life of a curandera. She is a specialist in warme ikaros, used for unblocking and healing emotions and relationships.
Laura was born in the community of Roaboya. Her village was named after a legendarily powerful Meraya, the most powerful shamans in the Shipibo world of ayahuasca. Both her parents and grandparents were well respected Onanya, working as healers for the local villages, and from a young age, she was deeply immersed in the world of plant medicine. As with many young Shipibo born of curandero families, Laura was given small dietas by her grandparents from the age of 10, and by the age of 16 her apprenticeship started in earnest when she started to work with ayahuasca.
By the age of 20, she was travelling all over Peru with her aunt, administering plant medicines and ayahuasca ceremonies for local Peruvians, wherever their aid was requested. She has also worked extensively with her incredibly knowledgeable mother and teacher, Ynes, both in Peru and abroad.
She brings with her an incredible wealth of knowledge that has been passed down for many generations in her family line. With her contagious laughter, and passion for helping and healing from a pure space of love, she is an absolute gem!
Olga Urquia Rengifo
Olga’s Shipibo name is “Bawan Same;” Bawan is the native name of a colorful parrot that is thought to be extremely intelligent and pleasant, and Same is a Shipibo given name.
Olga is from Roaboya, a native community located 12 hours away from the city of Pucallpa by boat. She has been immersed in the medicine world since a very young age.
“Since I was a child, I remember all of my grandparents preparing remedies using the plants and herbs of the forest, healing people with their own remedies, and their own hands. There were no such things as pharmaceutical drugs in our communities back then.”
Olga learned quietly, sitting and observing what her elders were doing, and by age 20 she started dieting with plants. Her main teacher is her husband, Americo, who also works at the Temple. “Americo is my husband and my teacher. We have been together for many years, as a couple, and also working together as healers.”
Olga is passionate about her work, vocation, and calling. “I love sharing my medicine and my knowledge with our guests with all the patience and care that I can give.” Olga hopes that her work encourages other Shipibo youngsters to keep learning, practicing, and developing their skills and enriching their tradition.
Rojelia Valera Gonzalez
Rojelia was born in the Shipibo community of Santa Anna. She has three daughters, one of whom is a teacher in school, and one son, who is practicing as a healer.
Rojelia was drawn into the world of plants through her own need to heal. At the age of 12, she was struck down by a mystery illness that no western medicine could cure. Her uncle and brother, both healers, treated her for three years with a variety of different plant remedies to help her return back to health.
From the age of 15, she began to learn in earnest, but continued to battle with bouts of the mystery illness until the age of 50. She has been working as a healer in her community for many years, and has travelled to the coast and other outlying communities when called to help.
She works with a lot of love and from a motivation of understanding how difficult it is to deal with pain and illness and really wanting to help people heal. Her work at the Temple is her first experience of working with foreigners, and she deeply grateful to be able to share her knowledge of the plants as well as support her large family with the income she earns working with us.
Elena Valera Vasquez
Elena has a unique background and skill set that she uses to great effect in her medicine work. As a visionary artist and curandera, she is able to express her healing gifts across modalities and mediums.
Elena is 45 years old and was born in Roya, Alto Ucayali. She always wanted to be able to heal and started dieting plants at the age of 16. She went on to attend nursing school for three years before running out of funds. Soon after, she went back to working with plants and studied under various maestros and maestras. This is the first time that she has had the opportunity to work with Westerners, and is loving it!
She is also an extremely talented artist, working with acrylic and natural paint, and produces artworks depicting her ayahuasca visions as well as traditional stories and legends. She has had exhibitions in Germany, Spain, Brazil and Denmark.
Elena is very happy at the Temple fulfilling her dream of helping and healing people. Her ikaros are beautifully melodic and colourful in nature and her shining smile and loving heart are a great addition to our team.
Maricela Rios Inuma
Maricela, steeped in the heritage of plant-spirit medicine, healed herself and learned from the plants for two decades before working with ayahuasca.
Maricela was born in the beautiful village of Roya, Alto Ucayali. She comes from a long line of healers and was taught by her father and grandfather, both of whom were reputedly incredibly powerful curanderos.
At the age of 13, she started her first plant dieta to cure severe internal haemorrhaging. She was grateful for the healing and learning that the plants gave her, and continued to diet with many master plants including “toè” and wayra caspi, until the age of 33, when she drank ayahuasca for the first time. Since then she has been working as a healer both in her community and in other centres and now at the Temple.
Her incredible ikaros typically start with soft and gentle tones rising into strong and powerful crescendos, often inducing purging during ceremony for whoever she is working on at the time of singing. She is a highly skilled healer and much respected by all staff around the Temple.
Anita Fernandez Tananta
Anita comes from a family of healers and spent a decade dieting plants to bring to fruition her father’s vision of her as a medicine woman.
Anita is the mother of nine children, two of whom are currently apprenticing with the medicine. She is originally from San Pedro in the district of Contamana on the lower Ucayali River. Her father was a curandero as are her two sisters and she was around 15 years old when she drank for the first time. In this ceremony, her father saw that Anita “had a lot of medicine inside her”, and encouraged her to learn. She wasn’t ready at this stage, and unfortunately, her father died soon after.
At the age of 20, Anita’s interest in learning medicine was awakened as she watched her husband, a practicing curandero, working to heal patients with the medicine and plant remedies. She initially worked with the medicine on her own, and soon after, her husband took her under his wing and she spent 10 years under his guidance, dieting and learning until she was ready to work with patients.
Her favorite plant is noma-noma, a vine that is said to be a great teacher with a speciality in helping heal broken hearts and relationships. Her ikaros are beautifully melodic, and with her warm smile and open heart, Anita is a delightful member of the team.
Segundo Rengifo Gomez
Segundo is a powerful and experienced healer who has been working with the plants since 1992.
His main teacher and mentor was his grandfather, a great healer of flawless reputation in the Ucayali river basin. “My grandfather taught me how to be a doctor, taught me about many plants, and gave me my first dietas.”
Segundo has been working as a healer on his own right for many years, and has been working with westerners for the last five years. “I am grateful to the Temple for the opportunity to use my skills and knowledge to cure and help people. I became a maestro so that I can heal all types of illness with medicinal plants.”
Among the plants he has dieted, Segundo is especially fond of Nihue Rao, Renaco, Toé, Lobo Panelo, Icoja, and Tamamuri. “All plants are teachers. All plants are medicine. My favorite plant is Nihue Rao, which is the teacher of all plant teachers.”
Américo Lopez Sanchez
Américo is from the community of Roaboya Nativa, a 14-hour trip from Pucallpa by boat. His Shipibo name is Pekon Nima. Nima is an ancestral given name of the Shipibo people, and Pekon means “the many colors of nature.”
Although Américo considers Roaboya to be his home town, he was told by his parents that he was born under a Shihuahuaco tree in a distant settlement where they had been sent to work in a rubber plantation. These early experiences of forced displacement and labor marked young Américo, who decided to follow the steps of his father, Jose Lopez, and become a curandero in order to help those who were suffering the most.
He began working with the medicine at a very young age, assisting his father in ceremony, and began dieting at age 15, with piñon colorado. Five years later, after the death of his father, he started dieting with stronger plants, and after an arduous period of learning, he began working as a curandero in his community.
Américo has the particular gift of working with children and other vulnerable members of the community, and quickly became well known for treating the young and the poor of the surrounding area. “Pharmaceutical medicine is very expensive. Where I come from, people are very poor, and I watched many people die because they could not afford treatment. That is why I decided to keep dieting and doing my work – to help those who most need it.”
Américo feels that his work at the Temple is important, since he considers interculturality to be a way to exchange knowledge and empower people to find their medicines in nature’s own pharmacy, in order to heal physically, mentally, and spiritually. As a healer, he feels that its his duty to make sure that the practices of his ancestors are kept alive.
“I have thought a lot about the future of the Shipibo people, and it is my responsibility and duty to rescue and transmit the knowledge that I have about our culture, our medicine and our icaros to people who can appreciate it, whether they are young Shipibo apprentices or western seekers.”
Américo’s wife Olga is also a healers at the Temple, and they have two children who are working as curanderos and following on their parent’s footsteps. “It was important for me to pass my knowledge on to my children, because life can be hard and it is important to be able to help others.”
Damian Pacaya Rodriguez
Like many other healers, Damian’s path to the medicine began with a personal health crisis. He then overcame a crisis of faith to honor his deep calling to be a curandero.
Damian is the father of six children, and was born in the community of Iparia. He studied and taught as a teacher in schools in the Iparia district for a time before falling gravely ill from a dano sent by a jealous co-worker. His curandero uncle took him under his wing in another community, and along with his curandero grandfather worked together to heal him. It took four to five years of serious dietas to eventually heal his illness, during which time he learnt an incredible amount from the plants about his own healing process, and consequently, how to heal others.
He started to work as an “assistant” curandero with his uncle, and when he died, with his grandfather for some years, until the local pastor convinced him that working with the plants was against his religion. As a result, he parted ways with the plants for around four years, got married and had his first children. During this time, the plants kept calling him back to work with them, which he ignored, and as a result, he fell ill once more. His grandfather helped him heal with the plants once again, and after making peace about his heart’s calling to heal people with plants, he began working again as a curandero. With his pure heart and sincere calling to heal others, Damian is a real gift to our team.
Jorge Ochavano Vazquez
Jorge showed a precocious instinct for plant medicine as a young child and has since developed an incredibly strong healing presence as a curandero.
Jorge was born in the native community of Nueva Betania. He is affectionately known by his Shipibo name Soi, meaning “a beautiful, shining design or pattern.” From a very young age, Soi began learning plant medicine by watching his grandfather Hilario treat patients in their family house. It was Hilario who decided to bestow all of his powers to his grandson, in order for Soi to continue their legacy and lineage.
Soi started drinking ayahuasca at the age of 12, and started dieting with the plants one year later. By the age of 15 he was singing ikaros and assisting his grandfather in ceremony, and at 17 he started working as healer on his own right, curing his first patient ‒ an Ashaninka man from a neighboring village.
At age 19, Soi had his first opportunity to work with western patients, an experience that he describes as “an exchange of minds,” which gave him a perspective of the human mind as something much greater than what he knew, which had been based in the Shipibo worldview. He cherishes the cultural exchange, and recognizes that working in structured environments has taught him a lot about professionalism. Since then, Soi has travelled throughout Peru, being invited to work as a healer in various indigenous communities. He has worked with and learned from the ayahuasca healers and traditions of the Quechua, Achuar, Huni Kui, and Ashaninka.
Soi is part of a new generation of young Shipibo healers who grew up at the intersection of tradition and globalization. He has seen many changes in the native way of life since his childhood, including the positive things that development has brought to his village, such as clean water, a medical clinic, intercultural education, agricultural projects, and electricity. Soi is politically astute and aware of the history of exploitation and religious indoctrination that the Shipibo people endured after European conquest, particularly the atrocities of the rubber trade period.
He believes that curanderismo is a great way to unite people from all over the world under a common goal, of healing. Soi has a deep respect for the plants and all they have to teach, an immense pride in his culture and tradition. He is young in years yet wise in spirit, and brings an amazingly powerful, youthful energy that delights all with whom he works.
Jose Lopez Sanchez
Jose was born in the native community of Roya Boya. He has three children, one of whom he is training in the Shipibo plant medicine tradition.
Son of Ynes, Jose’s journey with the medicine started at the age of seven when his grandfather took on his tutorship.
Jose’s grandfather taught in the traditional way, which meant that he started with drinking ayahuasca very intermittently, and dieting many different plants varying in length from three months to one year. His first dieta was one year of dieting ikaros, specifically arkanas (protection songs), and two more years of various plants. Jose started to drink regularly at the age of 10, whereupon his grandfather started to ‘open and direct’ the medicine of the many plants he had dieted. Between the ages of 11 and 15, he moved onto dieting big trees for many months at a time.
At 15, Jose received his first patient, but was unable to cure him, so his grandfather set him on a year-long diet with Ayahuma (Couroupita guianensis). His grandfather died when he was 17, and just before he passed, he transferred his ‘Don’, or ancestral knowledge, power and wisdom, to Jose. Devastated by his grandfather’s death, Jose changed paths for one of study in marketing. This lasted eight months and was brought to an end by a mystery illness that he believed was the result of the plants calling him back to the world of natural medicine. Jose went home to his mother, who helped to heal him and then Ynes herself fell sick. Jose watched his mother growing weaker, and felt helpless as he didn’t have the strength to cure her and she didn’t have the money to pay for Western treatment. This was huge motivation for him to start dieting again in earnest, and within a few months he was able to cure Ynes.
He has since continued learning from the plants both on his own and with some incredibly powerful teachers, including his mother and Benito Arevallo. He has spent periods of time travelling, working in various communities and ayahuasca centers around Peru, as well as working and learning with another native tribe, the Ashaninkas.
Jose carries an immense amount of knowledge, power and wisdom with his medicine. One of his favorite trees is Shihuahuaco (Dipteryx micrantha) for the strength that the plant provides in diagnosing and curing serious disease. And Niwe Rao, the magical flying tree, that is full of light, opens energies and vision and is a great teacher and healer of mind, body and spirit. More recently, he has felt the call to work more and more in support of his mother, Ynes. Together they make a phenomenal team.
Urias Garcia Nunta
Urias was born in the native community of Nuevo Nazareth, Iparia, a full day’s trip by boat from the city of Pucallpa. His Shipibo name, Neten Beso, means “awakening universe.”
While relatively young for an Onaya, Urias has been working with the medicine for many years and has been dieting with the plants since the young age of 14. His first and main teacher is Antonio Vasquez Galarreta, “a healer of great renown all along the reaches of the Ucayali river.” Urias’ favorite plant is piñon colorado, a plant that he calls “the greatest psychologist of them all.”
Urias first started working with western patients while apprenticing with his teacher Antonio, who taught him to recognize the proper plants to use for each illness. Working with western patients is important for Urias, since he recognizes that many people who travel to the Amazon to seek healing are suffering from traumas caused by living in a violent culture. For Urias, not everybody can be a healer, since this path requires commitment, vocation, and a strong desire to be at the service of those who are in need. “This is why I am here; to share my medicine and my knowledge with anyone who might benefit from it.”
Urias is proud to represent the younger generation of Shipibo healers and strives to be an example for other Shipibo youth. “I love my culture and the medicine that my ancestors gave me. They knew which plants to use for every ailment, and I want every Shipibo person to have this knowledge, to appreciate this path, and to practice our language.”
Nelson Barbaran Gomez
Nelson is native of the community of Nuevo Paraiso. His Shipibo name is Isasina, meaning “a bird who takes care of others.”
Nelson comes from a family of curanderos; both his father and grandfather practiced medicine. His parents died when he was very young, and very early on he started sitting in ceremonies held by his older brother, who is also a curandero. Lacking parental guidance, Nelson learnt from the medicine “how to be a good human being.”
Nelson drank ayahuasca for the first time at age 12, and was immediately fascinated by the medicine world. Soon afterwards, he asked his brother to open his first dieta for him. Following the advice of his older brother, Nelson mentally prepared over the course of one full year, strongly setting his intentions to become a healer at the service of others. After a year, his brother agreed to initiate Nelson on the path to become a Shipibo Onanya.
Over the course of the next two years, Nelson dieted and learned from the plants, crafting his own pipe and learning how to control and direct the mareación. During this period, he went through many of the challenges and tests that the plant spirits presented him in order to learn. At age 15 he started treating patients, and one year later started learning more closely with his grandfather Francisco. Nelson started working with western patients when he was 16. For Nelson, these encounters have been good opportunities to exchange ideas and knowledge between different cultures, and he has a deep appreciation for western psychotherapy and psychology.
Nelson is passionate about his work and craft, and is committed to helping others with his medicine. He is also passionate about his own culture, and sees his work as a vehicle to recover and preserve traditional practices and knowledge in a rapidly changing world. He enjoys seeing schools in some native communities teaching the Shipibo language again, and encouraging kids to dress in their traditional clothes and address each other in their Shipibo names, and he is proud about his role in the current revitalization of the Shipibo culture.
Richard Emerson Urquia Rojas
Richard’s Shipibo name is “Wasan Niwe,” which means “liberating the air.” Richard is a young and experienced curandero, heir to a long lineage of healers – his brother, cousins, and both of his grandparents are all curanderos.
Richard is from the community of Paoyan, a 12-hour boat ride from the city of Pucallpa, in the Ucayali department of eastern Peru. His first and main teacher was his grandfather who initiated him at a very young age; he drank ayahuasca for the first time at the tender age of 1. “From that moment”, Richard shares, “I thought, one day, I would also be a curandero. And now here I am! My medicine is born from my family.”
Richard chose to be a healer in order to help everybody in need. “I am a maestro because I want to heal people, clean them, free them, bring them into the light, and open their paths in life.” Richard’s favorite plant is the “Flying Tree,” Noya Rao.
Richard has hopes for the younger Shipibo generations. “The youngsters are looking good, more advanced, and better schooled. It’s a good thing that many chose to migrate to the cities, to go to university, or to learn a trade. But as the older generation passes away, we will also need strong youth to pick up the art and practices of their grandparents – the healers and curanderos. This is my aspiration for my tradition.”
Angela Lopez Fuasanando
Angela has been working as a vegetalista (a traditional herbalist) since 2011. Her Shipibo name is Huene Bensho, meaning “a design to keep or save.”
Angela is from the community of Roaboya, 12 hours from the city of Pucallpa. Her first and most important teacher was her own father, who also worked with the plants.
“My father used to call me, ‘Huene Bensho! Come here! Look at these plants, this is how you clean them, how you prepare them, this is what you can use them for. Now go and do it.’ This is how I learnt my trade!”
Angela’s favorite plant is ginger, and she specializes in preparing the daily plant remedies we offer our guests. Furthermore, she takes great pleasure on preparing and giving flower baths.
Angela’s family is very supportive of her work as a vegetalista, and her sister Manuela also works at the Temple. Angela has 3 children, all of whom live and study in the Yarinacocha neighborhood of Pucallpa. She says that “children are the best gift we have from God.” Her message to the next generation is one of love and hope, and a wish for everybody to learn more about plants, practice their wisdom, and receive their medicine.
Julia Zumaeta Tamayo
Julia’s Shipibo name translates to “Anaconda Woman,” and she is a matriarch in her own right, enjoying her 6 children and 15 grandchildren. Her passions are her family and her work, and she is devoted to the healing arts for the sake of the younger generations.
Julia comes from the community of Santa Rosa de Aguaytia, a 4-hour ride from the city of Pucallpa, in the Ucayali region. Julia is a vegetalista; an expert in the uses, benefits, and preparations of a wide range of medicinal plants known by the Shipibo people. Julia comes from a big family of medicine practitioners, and is heiress to a strong lineage of female healers. Her mother, her aunts, and her grandmother were all traditional healers.
“The plants are my life and have been the life of my family for generations. Unlike my children, I never learned to read or write. My knowledge is different, and I want to give it to my grandchildren, so they can carry on our work too.”
Manuela Lopez Fasando
Manuela is joyfully and fiercely committed to her work. “All of our guests love drinking these remedies, and we want all of them to return home healthy! We have so many medicinal plants here. This is why every day I go into the jungle with my machete, to gather different barks, different roots. This is how we heal.”
Manuela was born in the native community of Roaboya and has lived for the last 18 years in the community of Santa Clara, on the outskirts of the city of Pucallpa. Manuela is a vegetalista; an expert in the medicinal properties, the various uses, and the preparation of the healing plants of the rainforest. Manuela learned about the plants directly from her father, a renowned vegetalista himself. She has been working with the plants for the last 8 years, both in her community and in a retreat center owned by her brother. Manuela supports the work of the healers and lovingly prepares the variety of plant remedies available to our guests.
Manuela has 3 children, two of them attending university in Pucallpa. She says, “they are developing their careers in tourism and English language, but they love to come home during breaks and help me and their grandpa, collecting and preparing plants too. My message to the younger generation of Shipibo people is that everything is good! Go to university, learn what you want to learn, and also remain interested in our plants!”