The death of Kokama community leader Guilherme Padilha Samiaslast May due to COVID-19 changed the way the community treated those with symptoms of the disease. In an article for the Mongabay published August 17, 2020, Maria Fernanda Ribeiro, Kokama chief Edney Samias was quoted saying “At first, we relied on the medicine of non-Indigenous people, but our people went to the hospital and left there in a coffin…Now, everyone with coronavirus symptoms is treated at home, only with ayahuasca and other traditional medicines. Now we are saving many lives”.
Since mid-May, a multidisciplinary health team from the Kokama Indigenous Group would visit other community members to monitor for symptoms of the coronavirus. When individuals are suspected to be infected, they are immediately prescribed treatment which involves ayahuasca. Samias says that around 800 community members were offered this treatment.
60 deaths are recorded among the Kokama, 56 of whom died between mid-April and mid-June. Only 4 has been added to the death toll since the group decided to use ayahuasca exlusively for COVID treament. Evidence of the drink’s potential for for psychological disorders and diseases such as cancer exists, but it has not yet been tested for its impacts on COVID-19.
Editor’s Note: We often think of indigenous people as superstitious, but the reality is that major field in anthoropology dedicated to the study of indigenous knowledges systems, pays respect to the wisdom of the indigenous sciences. It is also a well-known fact that 50% of the medicines today are derived from the ethnobotanical knowledge of indigenous peoples, an issue now more commonly known as biopiracy. The knowledge of indigenous peoples is not something to be laughed at, for theirs has been passed on from generation to generation, and unlike modern medicine, has been developed through their understanding of how nature works.
With regards to COVID-19, the Mongabay article offers several takeaways. The first is that early treatment is a matter of life and death. When the Kokama decided to monitor the health of their community members and gave immediate prescription to address symptoms of COVID, they have prevented the aggravation of the disease. Whether those treated were truly infected by the coronavirus or not is immaterial, what mattered is that many did not develop severe symptoms, and were able to recover outside of the hospital system. Keeping a majority of coronavirus-positive patients (global data from Worldometers shows that atleast 80% of coronavirus cases are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms only) out of hospitals and quarantine systems will ensure that medical resources are allocated and focused on those most in need of it. Early treatment combined with excellent hygiene practices will go a long way in curtailing infection, and preventing panic.
The second important insight from this article is this: our indigenous cultures may already have the solution to COVID-19. The “white man’s medicine”, reductionist medicine, equates the human physical body to a machine that can be taken apart. Because of specialized treatments and drugs developed by modern medicine, delivery of important health care services have been affected by capacity to pay and access to supply. Healing has become commodified, to the detriment of the poor and marginalized. The Kokama shows us that nature has provided us health, as well as medicine for our ailments, if we are only willing to listen to old world wisdom .
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