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The Shipibo are one of 14 indigenous tribes living in the Amazon basin in Peru and at present consist of around 35,000 people living in over 300 villages in the Pucallpa area situated mainly along the Rio Ucayali. They believe that the universe was sung into being by a giant anaconda, and as she sang, the patterns of her skin covered the universe. The intricate weavings created for centuries by the Shipibo are an ornate representation of the serpent's skin and, at the same time, are the actual, written music for the songs (icaros). Traditionally, the knowledge of the weaving patterns and songs has been passed down through the women, but due to the recent presence of western influences on the younger generations of women, these traditions are rapidly being lost.
The textile you see here is from the family of the late Herlinda Augustine and other women of the village of San Francisco. Herlinda Fernandez Augustine was one of a few Shipibo-Conibo indigenous woman healers – onaya or auahuasca shaman, whose life work is a unique repertoire of ancient songs (called icaros) which she uses to affect healing of her people and change in the world around her. Her songs speak of the power of plants and the importance of harmony between Man and Nature. She was featured in the award winning documentary film by Anna Stevens and her icaros are featured in a CD by the same name. Herlinda is survived by her husband Enrique, mother Manuela, daughter Magdalena and son Henry.
Icaros are medicine songs, used as part of the rituals of shamans and curanderos in the Peruvian Amazon Basin. The doctor spirits teach the shamans their icaros. They are expressed in the form of song and are a major system of delivery of the shaman's spiritual energy. They are used to bring on mareación (the visionary effects of the ayahuasca), take mareación away, call in different plant spirits, call in the spirits of others or the deceased, take away dark spirits and dark energies, and manage the ceremony. Icaros are either whistled or sung, and can be expressed in any language. The shamans generally sing in a spirit dialect that is a mixture of their native language (e.g., Quechua, Shipibo-Conibo, Asháninka), Spanish, and different evocative sounds.