Who’s Murdering Peruvian Shamans?

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Last week the government of Peru issued a statement saying that fourteen shamans in the country’s north-eastern region have been killed in the span of twenty months. The provincial prosecutor’s office alleges that these killings were ordered by Alfredo Torres, the mayor of Balsa Puerto, and carried out by his brother. Author and indigenous leader Roger Rumrrill claims these killings are part of a wider witch-hunt by the brothers, who are members of an unnamed protestant Christian sect.

“The provincial prosecutor’s office said that the murders were allegedly ordered by the mayor of Balsa Puerto, Alfredo Torres, and carried out by his brother, Augusto, locally known as “the witch hunter.” Only seven bodies have been found, however —either shot, stabbed or hacked with machetes. The seven other shamans have been reported missing. Rogger Rumrill, a leading researcher on Amazonian issues, said the murders are related to “protestant sects” that Torres and his brother belong to, the daily said. “For these protestant sects, the shamans are people possessed by demons, so they have to be killed,” Rumrill said.”

Torres denies these allegations, saying the shamans, all 14 of them, were killed by vengeful families unhappy with their services.

“For many years they have practiced the ancient custom of killing the witches, making them responsible for the death of some family member who was receiving treatment from the shaman.”

The shamans, all from the Shaui community, were planning to start an association to share knowledge. The Foundation for Shamanic Studies has called for supporters to contact Peruvian authorities, asking them to act in addressing these atrocities, and to prevent further murders. Things have been tense, to say the least, between indigenous communities and the Peruvian government, but that has shifted somewhat as the South American “pink tide” sweeps through Peru, bringing center-left politician Ollanta Humala to power. While Humala is no Evo Morales, the fact that the government is making these allegations seems to be a positive sign that some sort of investigation is underway. What we don’t know is how much religion, specifically these “protestant sects,” are involved. While I won’t rule out religiously-motivated violence, I think the political implications of the shamans forming an association could also have something to do with it.

We’ll keep you posted as any further updates come our way. My thanks to Andras Corban-Arthen for bringing this to my attention.

ADDENDUM: The Guardian confirms that the Peruvian government is sending a team of investigators. Quote Gregor MacLennan at the NGO Amazon Watch: “The death of these shamans represents not just a tragic loss of life, but the loss of a huge body of knowledge about rainforest plants and the crucial role shamans play in traditional medicine and spiritual guidance in indigenous communities.” Also, this blog post gives some excellent background on the killings.

“One of those who must die, however, survived. Inuma Bautista, apu shawi community of Paradise, was ambushed, but survived a machete attack that cost him an arm and left deep scars on the body. That was probably the beginning of the media scandal. After recovering from the wounds, gave a testimony Inuma which directly accuses Augusto Torres, brother of Mayor Balsapuerto as one of those who wanted to kill him. Similarly, one of the alleged gunmen, Solomon Napo, appeared in a video, confessing his involvement in the death of Mariano Apuela. Among his statements, the figure having been hired by Torres brother to commit the act in exchange for five thousand nuevos soles, which were not delivered.”

More on this as I find it.