Colombian shaman denies blame for Briton’s death after drug ritual
A Colombian shaman is showing no remorse and taking no responsibility for the death of a British teenager who drank a hallucinogen during a tribal ritual.
Guillermo Mavisoy says it's common to vomit and become ill while consuming the herbal concoction called yage. But he says he's never seen anyone die during the decades he's been serving the hallucinogen, which is made from the namesake vine and other plants native to the Amazon rainforest.
"When it's time to die, you die," Mavisoy said in rudimentary Spanish in a taped interview from his home on a tribal reservation in the southern Colombian jungles. "You can take the safest pill in the world and you can die. It doesn't matter if you have lots of money when the time has come."
Henry Miller's body was found last week dumped near Mavisoy's modest home after he and other foreigners attended a ceremony led by the shaman.
Authorities have yet to determine the cause of death but say the 19-year-old from Bristol, England fell ill during the ritual. Mavisoy says he ordered two family members to rush Miller to hospital on a motorcycle but when the teenager died en route the men panicked and left the body on the side of a dirt road.
The two men and Mavisoy have been questioned in connection with a manslaughter investigation but no charges have been filed.
Yage, also known as ayahuasca, has been venerated for centuries by indigenous tribes in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia as a divinatory tool and miracle cure for all sorts of ailments.
It was popularised in the West in the 1960s in The Yage Letters, a collection of correspondence and writings by William Burroughs, describing to fellow beat writer Allen Ginsberg his search for mind-altering experiences in the Amazon.
Mavisoy said in Tuesday's interview that he didn't seek out foreigners, but they found their way to his small ranch outside Mocoa. The going rate for an all-night session is about US$25, according to Filip Goemaere, owner of the Mocoa hostel where Miller and the other backpackers stayed.
"Indigenous tribes say they're not commercialising yage but almost every day tourists go to try it," said Goemaere, who estimates about a third of his guests ask about the psychedelic brew.