ayahuasca, shamanism, Ucayali, Shipibo-Conibo, Maynas, Cocama, ethnohistory.


The spread of ayahuasca shamanism throughout the Upper Amazon has become a matter of debate among scholars since, in 1994, anthropologist Peter Gow formulated the controversial suggestion that it could be a recent phenomenon in the Ucayali basin, usually considered the stronghold of a millenary tradition. Following Gow, Brabec de Mori argued that the Shipibo-Conibo people, a paradigmatic example of the antique practice of ayahuasca shamanism, adopted both the brew and the associated shamanic practices in a “relatively recent” past. Gow and Brabec pointed at the Maynas missions as the origin of this shamanic complex, and the mestizo and Cocama populations as the original diffusers throughout the Ucayali basin during the rubber boom. This article questions the arguments and data that Gow, Brabec, and others use to sustain this hypothesis—which has become the orthodoxy in contemporary anthropological research—by reviewing the historiographical sources and offering a different ethnographic interpretation and terminological analysis. In short: the hypothesis of a relatively recent spread of ayahuasca and/or ayahuasca shamanism throughout the Ucayali basin is not well founded, and a thorough analysis of the available sources points in the opposite direction.