An Introduction to Yopo in the Venezuelan Piaroan Tradition

Piaroan Yopo Ceremony.jpg

Contributor article by Rafael Meneses of Salento, Quindio, Colombia

My name is Rafael, and this article covers the first part of my journey with yopo seeds. It details how the use of yopo and the contact with Piaroan shaman Rufino Pónare changed my life for the better. It also explains the ways in which the Venezuelan Piaroa tribes traditionally use yopo, the effects this substance has and the benefits it has brought to the people working with it.

Yopo is a snuff made from a preparation of various plants, the main one being the yopo tree seeds (Anadenanthera peregrina). It is also known as jopo, cohoba, parica or the calcium tree, and is a perennial tree of the genus Anadenanthera, found around the Caribbean and South America. Yopo seeds, bark and leaves contain bufotenine (5-HO-DMT), some N,N-dimethyltryptamine and also the tryptamine 5-Meo-DMT. It is taken as a snuff. 

I will start by saying that yopo has been part of my life routine for the last three years. I've been using the yopo, Banisteriopsis caapi (the ayahuasca vine) and tobacco in the Piaroan traditional way one to three times every week. I’ve done this with the shaman Rufino Pónare, as well as with friends; I have also been using them alone. 

A study into the effects of yopo

La Churuata: A traditional Piaroa building and home of the shaman and his family

La Churuata: A traditional Piaroa building and home of the shaman and his family

A study into the effects of yopo is currently underway. It is being carried out by several people and has been ongoing for around five years in the cities of Venezuela; however, it has been happening for over ten years in the jungle. 

In the Piaroan tradition yopo is a shamans' tool, used to see the future of the crops, sickness, enemies, and other matters pertinent to their culture. Many years ago, grandfather Shaman Bolivar and his son Rufino noticed that yopo did very nice things to those who visited the Churuata (traditional Piaroan building) seeking healing and guidance.  

They therefore decided to start sharing it with outsiders who came to visit, and when a group of people living near the shaman’s community started going and taking the medicine regularly, La Manada (the pack) was formed.

Yopo use in the Piaroan tradition  

The Shaman preparing Yopo seeds for ceremony

The Shaman preparing Yopo seeds for ceremony

It should be noted that yopo in the Piaroan tradition is not a shamanic medicine in the way that the ayahuasca brew is for some traditions. Here the tradition is that yopo is often used along with the caapi vine, which is chewed or drank several times one to two hours before taking the yopo.

This calms down the nerves and opens us up to the spiritual side of the medicine. It is a MAOI, which inhibits the enzyme that digests DMT and 5-MeO-DMT. Consequently, the medicine can take its full effect.

Tobacco is also smoked in ceremonial circle to clean the room and join the energies of all those present. At midnight the shaman crushes the little yopo pills and offers the dose one by one.  

The Piaroan shaman holds these ceremonies every other day of his life, with the notable exception that when he is present, the ceremony is not silent; he does traditional ancient shamanic chants either alone or with his followers.

The effects of taking yopo

When one takes yopo, the onset of the trip is fast. It acts before even five minutes have passed. The first Piaroan instruction is the position known as Kuami Kiachi. This means that one is not supposed to move, but to stay sat down in the position. This is important as the first sign that the yopo is doing its work is a sickness that lasts for five to ten minutes. One feels dizzy and sometimes purges through vomiting – a physical and energetic cleansing.

During the sickness the trip usually starts with visions of mandalas, but this is where the effects get really interesting: for some people, their ego shatters and they enter a deep internal meditation in which they see their true selves. Some go into interstellar trips. Some others have yopo visions, typically of the cross and the jungle.  

After around 45 minutes, people tend to start coming back to here and now, in the post-medicine high vibration state that we call Yopeados. They are at peace and willing to share meaningful conversations with their heart and mind open. In the night it is custom to offer yopo once or twice more to those who wish to go deeper into the experience. Until the dawn, we share our experiences, sing medicine music and bring the experience to a close. 

Amazing transformations happen through yopo 

Shaman Rufino Pónare, his wife Carmen and myself

Shaman Rufino Pónare, his wife Carmen and myself

I have seen truly amazing things. For example, how after only one or two sessions people leave addictions, start healing from physical illnesses, and start to truly live.

I have seen people stuck in a routine, yet after one yopo ceremony they start making art. Yopo seems to be a powerful tool for finding oneself, healing the body and improving life and work. Yopo is action… it is creation. 

It is not a process consisting of one night, however. After the ceremony, the following days bring insights and personal realizations. That is why it's a continuous study. It's not miracle healing in one night; one has to take the time to integrate that magical night of learning into daily life. Using yopo means one night in the galaxy, but then being better able to work on and improve oneself.

My own experience with yopo 

I started following this tradition and taking the medicine until I felt the call to share this experience with the people of my city. My life went through changes: some small, some very big and dramatic. Yet I'm grateful for each one of them - for letting me know and be at peace with the real me.

Now I have a beautiful family, and I work sharing these ancient medicines. I'm happy with my lot and mission in life. I plan to contribute a series of articles detailing the ins and outs of the yopo study in the cities, which is still ongoing. Thank you for reading, and watch this space for more yopo insights, as well as those on other medicines and consciousness enhancing substances.

Adiwa, my friends!

Rafeal Meneses

Author Bio: Rafael studies yopo with shaman Rufino Pónare of the Piaroa tribe. Together they have been working in the cities sharing this medicine. He also works on DMT extractions and shares it in ceremonial therapies in crystal and changa form. Rafael has deep training with Colombian taitas and the Santo Daime church.

Contact Rafael for ceremonies: Facebook and Instagram @AdiwaCO / Whatsapp +57 3213920606 / Email: menesesrafael@gmail.com

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