The Shipibo – Shamanically Based Indigenous Group

Jeff Oxford

On a layover before one of his pilgrimages to Peruvian sacred sites and study retreats, Bryan Bigelow noticed, in amazement, at a woman struggling to drag a behemoth bag across the Lima airport terminal floor. An hour later he found himself sharing a cab ride with that same woman who, as it turned out, lived a stone’s throw away from him in a Michigan suburb. Little did he know that his life’s ride was about to take him on a special journey.

Close Encounter

The big bag was full of medical supplies and the woman was Patty Webster, the force behind Amazon Promise, a US-based, non-profit group founded to provide healthcare to remote populations in Peru. Bryan, Founder of Shamans Market, and Webster found a resonance and continued to stay in touch.

Fast forward a few years later and Bryan, was an active member of The Heart of the Healer Foundation (THOTH), a US based group at the time dedicated in part to the preservation of indigenous knowledge and wisdom ways and encouraging shamanic studies.

THOTH supported a free meals program serving transplanted children, residents of a squatter’s community in Cantagallo, a settlement built over a former landfill in Lima. Bryan learned of indigenous Shipibo families, forced to leave their communities due to logging, illegal mining and infrastructure development in the Amazon basin. The infiltration of the Shining Path, a terrorist group then dominant in Peru, also contributed to the forced relocation. Through the meal and school supply program, Bryan met Julio Nieves, a Peruvian native who spearheaded the program. And for a second time, two strangers became friends and agreed to stay in touch.

In 2005, THOTH hosted an international gathering of shamanic practitioners, scholars, students and other learned and like-minded individuals in Michigan. Julio flew in for the event and reunited with his friend Bryan. Julio ran the Shaman’s Market concession featuring artwork designed and crafted by Shipibo women and would later send such work to Bryan.

They Always Come in Threes

Bryan’s third key contact soon manifested through THOTH member Kathryn Huber. Kathryn worked in New York City for more than a decade before moving to South America with her Peruvian husband. After befriending a pair of filmmakers in Peru, she would later author an article about “Voices That Heal,” a film, focusing on the life of a traditional Shipibo shaman, Herlinda Agustin.

The story of Herlinda, who died in 2010 of cervical cancer, and how she faced her own illness, helps us understand how healing can happen even when there is no cure. In an effort to help Herlinda pay for her medical expenses, Kathryn reached out to Bryan to see he would be interested in purchasing Shipibo embroidery cloths for Bryan’s now growing company, Shamans Market.

Henry, Herlinda’s son.

Through this daisy chain of synchronistic events, Bryan became acquainted with Herlinda and then her son Henry, who remains a source of Shipibo artwork and crafts for Shamans Market.

Ayni – Sacred Reciprocity

One of best explanations for ayni comes from Dorthe Steenberg, former owner of Power Spirit. She writes:

“When you give something, you are entitled to get something back, and when you get something you have an obligation to reciprocate and give something back.. Ayni is more than that, however. It is about lifting each other up to higher levels so that everyone grows. It is about sharing, so all have what they need. It is about sharing knowledge and wisdom so that humanity grows and harmony is strengthened. Ayni is a form of equality…that lifts all at the same time to ever-higher common heights…”

In recognition of and gratefulness for life’s bringing them together, and in demonstration of “ayni,” the word for sacred reciprocity in the Quechua language, (the language of the Incas,) Bryan honors these connections and the magical music from these encounters still plays.

His company contributes a portion of proceeds for Webster’s Amazon Promise, for Augustin’s local students’ soccer team and Christmas Chocolate Festival and to Julio and other Shipibo by providing an important outlet for the sacred arts of their indigenous community. A product of the meeting of these strangers years ago, Shaman’s Market is proud to offer many kinds of authentic and significant pieces from the Shipibo to shamanic practitioners and collectors alike.