If I talk to you about Teresa you are going to nurture a desire to meet her one-day. But it is not easy to reach the village where Teresa lives. It is such a remote place that we need at least four or five clear days to get to see her. I rarely set aside this many days for one visit. Moreover, you have to take into account the risks of the journey; as it is not uncommon for boats to capsize in these parts.
And when the boat capsizes it’s goodbye back packs, camera, and telephone…. Goodbye masks as well. If the weather is bad and the rains are too heavy, you sometimes have to wait one or two days longer so that the boat can get to this little village and dock to take on passengers. The river is capricious; it’s nature that rules here, not man. In the past there was a small landing strip, which allowed you to arrive in a tiny plane from Panama. But I have only known this small piece of land as overgrown with tropical vegetation, with a few cows grazing peacefully accompanied by stray, hungry dogs. The route was suspended a few years ago and very quickly nature took over and no one comes here anymore.
Teresa is the shaman of the Indian village. I make clear that it is the Indian village for there, as in many other villages, there are two very different hamlets, and . Each one stays with his own and the inhabitants very rarely cross over the border that separates them. Teresa is a beautiful person, a true, authentic shaman, and a wonderful woman. Once I have left my shoes at the bottom of the ladder, I climb up the steps and reach the living quarters, there I sit on the ground or in a hammock and I give a little money to her son who goes out very quickly and happily to buy some coffee. I can arrive at her house at whatever time. She invites me to make myself comfortable, have a coffee, and stay with her for several days.
You feel at ease with Teresa and she speaks freely about her art. It’s always a marvelous moment, there is an invisible communication which weaves itself into her words. Her gestures are calming, her look and her smile comforting. She explains to me the usage of the masks and the sticks. Unlike the masks, which are habitually destroyed after the , the sticks belong to one shaman who keeps them for life. They are charmed and I cannot touch them, only the shaman can use them. In Teresa’s case, it is her grandfather who gave them to her, she, herself will leave them to the one who succeeds her. In the event that no one succeeds her, she would have to burn them.
Whoever should take hold of one of them without being invited to do so, could fall gravely ill and could die. People have told me many terrible stories on this subject The masks themselves are made for the by the families themselves. Not all the shamans use the masks; everything depends on the situation and the way in which the shaman is going to treat it. The shaman always works at night. All night long they stay with the patient, with the help of prayers and litanies, they then call up the guides, their spirits to guide them in their work in helping to chase away the malign spirits, which are hidden in the body of the patient and are tormenting him.
All through the night, the shaman struggles with the evil spirits. It is a lengthy process and without respite. They converse with them, exhort them, helped by the of corn, the traditional alcohol made from chewed and fermented corn they enter a higher state. They communicate with the hidden world. At the propitious moment in this struggle, to deceive the malign spirits who know their face, they are going to use the masks to change their appearance and mislead them. After they have been used the masks disappear, that’s why ancient pieces do not exist. They are not made to last but to be used at an exact moment.
At Teresa’s there are also little wooden statues, bunches of dried plants which hang from the ceiling, old plastic bottles containing concoctions, one of them was in fact very effective for my sunstroke. I do not leave empty handed from Teresa’s, she gives me something she picked that same day, a bunch of aromatic herbs or her produce , small, sweet, orange peppers. Teresa has nothing but she is generosity itself. She always suggests, that I stay and sleep at her place and share her days, as she likes visitors. And there is between her and me a particular bond, which I felt immediately and which I keep the memory of deep within me. Since my first visit her words have profoundly touched me.