When British TV adventurer Bruce Parry visited a Sanema village in Venezuela for his BBC documentary series Tribe he found a people living between two worlds: the traditional world of the shamans, ebene snuff and hekura spirits, and the encroaching modern world with its medicines, metal cooking pots and machetes.
The Sanema are one of the four branches of the Yanoama language group, which includes their more famous cousins the Yanomami.
Cast in a subservient position to the dominant Ye'kwana people of the Caura River basin, the Sanema no longer live the nomadic lifestyle of the past and now face shortages of traditional hunting foods as the jungle is depleted of game.
Parry jumps into Sanema life with both feet, becoming an apprentice to a visiting shaman called Sosa who tells him that when shamans are in a trance after taking the hallucinogenic snuff they can see the Sanema spirits called hekura or hekula.
The hekura, Sosa says "are tiny beings, two centimetres or so high, which occupy all animate and inanimate things, from trees and streams to animals and humans."
"A powerful shaman can invite particular hekura to occupy him. The spirits crawl in through your feet or arsehole and up into your chest cavity, then hack away at the foliage which they believe to be there. They then string up a hammock between your ribs and start to sing. This is the song you hear coming out of the mouths of the shaman."
Parry finally tries the hallucinogenic ebene snuff, known as sakona to the Sanema and yopo to the Yanomami. Made from virola bark and other plant extracts, it is a powerful drug.
"At first I felt very light-headed and soon I became dizzy," writes Parry in the book of the series, "Tribe: Adventures in a Changing World" (Michael Joseph Ltd, 2007).
"The other shamans danced around me, chanting, and I began to have crazy visions. the shamans became holograms, as if a 3D image of each had been imposed on top of their existing forms. I could see straight through them and these new auras."
Click here to read Sanema Myth on Origin of Fire
Click here to read Yanomami Myth 2: The Origin of Endo-Cannibalism
Click here to read Yanomami vs. Sanema in Venezuela
To see Bruce Parry's fascinating book of the TV series "Tribe: Adventures in a Changing World" click here:
To get the complete DVD Box Set of the BBC TV series, including Bruce Parry's stay with the Sanema of Venezuela, click here: