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The A'i Council of Elders, 2024

In February 2024, three of us—Mar, Alexandre, and Lila—embarked on a journey to Ecuador as representatives of AWE, tasked with supporting a four-day council of leaders and healers from the A’i communities of Ecuador and Colombia. As our plane approached Coca, the scars of deforestation were clearly visible. Hectares upon hectares of palm tree plantations colonizing the Amazon rainforest. The small patches of rainforest that were still standing in the area now seemed like strange misfits in a land full of palm oil plantations. This encounter between these two worlds is palpable not only in the rural landscapes but also within the urban sprawl of Coca, where the memory of the jungle seemed to fade into the background of daily life, overshadowed by the non-stop move towards what people often call “progress”. 

Our journey continued to Lago Agrio, tracing the highways that cut through the heart of the region. Along the way, the stark contrast between the remaining jungle and the oil refineries, with their towering flames, were reminding us of the ongoing struggles faced by the A’i and other indigenous peoples for many years now. These visual markers underscored the narrative of resistance against a backdrop of environmental degradation, cultural invasion, and the erosion of sacred territories—a narrative that has become all too familiar to many indigenous communities across the globe.

The journey we embarked on, as well as our arrival at the community, served as a strong and powerful reminder of the significance of this event. Selva en resistencia. 

In addition to this, in preparation for this council, an invitation was extended among the  A’i communities which included a small image. The name of the event: Council of Elders. The date: February 22-25, and at the bottom of the invitation, a short and fitting phrase: Selva en Resistencia (Jungle in Resistance). This name was the one given to this gathering, and it was marking the continuation of a movement, a thought rooted in its own territory and resisting fading away.

Upon our arrival, at the village of Dureno, we were warmly greeted by a group of leaders, with Arleys at the forefront, wearing a crown of feathers. It was a very emotional moment for us, as it was the first time we saw him with a crown. At that moment, Mar said: “We made it, this in itself means we succeeded. The young apprentices are now the wise leaders.” It's crucial to note, that the path of learning for Arleys has been profound, lengthy, and challenging, yet above all, filled with immense devotion and belief in his lineage of healers, of Taitas, of individuals allied with the spirit of the jungle, the Yagé. 

Reflecting on that past, back when Lila went to this village in Ecuador for the first time, Arleys was still very young - both of them were. As time passed, Lila created ONCA (which is now AWE), and during this time Arleys began to envision an association of young Cofan. Throughout the years they began working on educational meetings where elders from different communities were invited to teach the young through weekend Yagé ceremonies. Arleys had always placed himself on the side of the young, who were seeking to learn from the elders such that they could preserve the tradition and the threads of wisdom between generations. Now, after many years, it was him with the crown - a symbol of this sacred knowledge and spiritual leadership having been passed down to the new generation.This signifies that the path has finally opened up for Arleys, and everything he has experienced was part of his own journey to becoming a leader within his community. A great success to say the least.

As part of the ongoing efforts from the association of young people, there was a collective vision to materialize a space where the project of inviting Taitas to conduct Yagé sessions could flourish, and where the youth could learn from them. This space, with its Maloka, was envisioned as a Community-based place, not owned by any specific Taita, but rather as a meeting place and a continuation for the tradition of this community and yagé.

In line with this vision, throughout the last year, AWE supported the Dureno Community to build a ceremonial and educational center. We had seen pictures, but it was the first time we actually saw it in person. As soon as we arrived at the village, we headed to this place to see the constructions. We bought a piece of land, close enough to the village, but also in a specific place where there isn't noise, only jungle. It includes a very big Maloka, three bathrooms, a place that will act as a teaching area, and two areas to sleep in hammocks. During the ceremonies of this council, this place hosted 100 A’i yage drinkers spread in between the four constructions.

Photos of the newly built maloca, as well as ceremonial and ancestral teaching spaces

The importance of the construction of this particular place was gaining life and significance.

As the many attendees from different parts of Colombia and Ecuador continued arriving at the village, we took to our room to get a little break from the heat. After a little rest, we emerged to witness something quite beautiful. It was amazing to see people from Colombia who had never been to this village in Ecuador before greet family members native to this place. Words were exchanged concerning the borders that both countries historically installed, and these borders had cut their indigenous territory in two - splitting families, community connections, and shared strength. We could palpably sense the profound truth unfolding before us; this gathering had already marked a positive impact, crystallizing the essence of the project and the cumulative efforts of these years into something deeply meaningful that was strengthening them; they were recognizing each other and securing alliances for the empowerment of their people and their own beliefs. 

In total, the council was attended by 80 young leaders, curacas, and taitas coming from the following communities: Dureno, Chandia Na’en, Duvunu, and Sinangué from Ecuador; as well as Yarinal, Tsatsapai, and Ukumarikanque from Colombia.

We were the only three representatives of AWE. Intentionally, we did not invite anyone else, and information about the event was only shared privately to not attract foreigners. This was a special time for the A’i to focus their energy on strengthening their tradition, culture, communities, and ancestral knowledge. In this way, we were heartened to see that, in this contained and cared-for space, all conversations happened in their A’i language.

After dinner and some initial welcoming words and conversations, we proceeded to drink Yagé. It’s important to say that, as colonization and neo-colonization have continued, many A’i peoples have moved away from yagé - believing that they may go to Christian hell if they drink. It was hopeful to hear of A’i villagers that had never drunk yagé, or some who had drank only once, coming and drinking with the community - possibly inspired by the unity of so many taitas and young leaders. We had two ceremonies over the four days, with at least 100 attendees on each occasion, including the children. The Yagé ceremonies felt very important in this process, as they informed the direction of the council meetings and the meaningful outcomes that the community realized. 

During the days of the council, different themes were explored that were most important for them to address. Although the conversations were all in A’i, here is a summary of some of the things we gathered from small translations, as well as the notes taken in Spanish by the governor of the village.

Spiritual protection

They feel threatened and constantly attacked by two neighboring tribes. With yagé, the Taitas are doing what they can to protect the community and expel these attacks. This was a very important topic, especially for the Taitas who all agreed on this.



As they continued speaking and consolidating shared intention, they moved into their necessities and found that a practical way to support the conservation of their spirituality was to create a list of the kind of infrastructure they needed for their ceremonial spaces. Rebuilding these sacred spaces gives the communities that follow and apprentice with these elders enthusiasm, and helps keep their tradition alive.

They wish to seek economic support for seven Taitas of four different A’i communities in Ecuador and Colombia. here ypu will find more information 

Also, the women of Tsatsapai wish to build a temple to drink yagé, as in this community, the women drink separately from the men. They also wish to build a temple to teach how to make herbal remedies and create crafts together. These two spaces must be separate and cannot be the same space due to sacred reasons. They also wish to build a botanical garden. Related to this, they have begun writing a book to document herbs, and have begun to recollect and plant herbal medicines from different areas of the jungle. However, they wish to expand these efforts into a botanical garden to host more herbs from different climates. And in the future, they wish to prepare, sell, and trade their own natural creams, soaps, shampoos, and herbal remedies.


Another theme brought up by the women was the education of the children. How to educate the young ones to grow with appreciation and respect for the ways of Yage and the traditional authorities making sure that the younger generations preserve the traditions of the elders.

Amongst the attendees was a lead teacher of the community of Tsatsapai and he shared an invaluable experience in respect to that. In this community, once a month the teachers bring the students of the school (100 students from preschool to middle school) to the Maloka with the elders of the community for Yage Ceremonies. 

These are not only valuable in helping the young understand the value of Yage, but the teachers also have seen that the medicine helps the students to learn more, concentrate better, understand difficult concepts, and solve problems. Also, the kids learn to respect the tribal authorities (the elders). During this time, once a month, apart from the yage ceremony, the elders share stories about their tribe and history, the children learn to play ceremonial music, they learn from traditional healing modalities, and they receive direct individual advice from the Taitas. 

How to replicate this valuable process in other communities that do not have it? Because some of the teachers of the other communities have never drank Yage and may need some inspiration, and those who are Yage drinkers need to experience this first hand in order to learn how to replicate it in their schools; representatives of the Dureno, Dovuno, and Chanda Na’en communities believe that the first phase of this project should be to create an retreat of teachers and healers in the Tsatsapai community during one of these days that the children of the schools meet to go to ceremony. This means gathering all the teachers of these communities during a weekend retreat, paying for their transportation, housing, and food, and giving a recognition/gift to the Tsatsapai teachers and healers.

Arts: Music and Dance: 

The arts were also an important theme during these days. They are also believed to be essential in the conservation and continuation of their tradition. Crafts were already mentioned in the infrastructure area for the women of Tsatsapai. They conserve the visions of Yage and are made to resemble the jewelry that the invisibles use. There is also a special form of dance that is performed during the Yage ceremony with harmonica and waira to cleanse the space and bless but not many know how to do this. Guitar music also helps to conserve the language as well as the traditional stories within the lyrics.

They would like to acquire musical instruments used for ceremonial music, that is the music that is played after 4am in their ceremonies. Harmonicas, Charangos, Guitars, and Requintos. Some of the instruments, like the guitars and requinto are better quality because they wish to use them to participate in musical competitions.

Two afternoons also included exchanges of traditional dance groups, and of course, the most important part of the reunion: masculine and feminine soccer matches of Colombia vs Ecuador

Some conclusive thoughts:

One of the efforts that AWE made during 2022 and 2023 was to support the young leaders of Dureno that had been working with Lila and AWE (ONCA), to create their own non-profit organization. At Awe, we felt that this was a good way to support self-empowerment and leadership. 


With 6 years in the making, and with joy, we can now say that this intention has been manifested with the creation of an organization led by yage drinkers of the A’i community, called AYTA’IK (Asociacion Yage Tsampi A’i Kofan). Originally it was thought of as an association of the young cofan, and then it developed to an association for yagé drinkers. 

22. Ecuador.jpg

The inception of the idea six years ago began as a conversation between the A’i and AWE, and then three years later it began coming into fruition as a legitimately registered organization - including involvement of lawyers, accountants, etc. In each step of the way the taitas have been drinking yagé to stay in contact with their ancestral knowledge and inform each step of the way in forming this organization. This Council of Elders meeting in Ecuador was the first time that the AYTA’IK association put on an event like this, in collaboration with AWE.

Similar to the case of seeing Arleys with the crown, it was meaningful to see AYTA’IK (Asociacion Yage Tsampi A’i Kofan) growing and developing such a great project - this council. They received a lot of help from Paula and Lorena at the admin team of AWE and which deserve a special recognition; but most of it was organized by AYTA’IK which, although new in official papers, arose as a mature and very rooted organization.

To conclude, Leo, who has also been crucial for the development of the projects with the community, shared with us a story about venturing deep into the jungle with his brother Arleys to take yagé with a Taita who never leaves the depths of the forest. In this encounter, the Taita prepared a yagé using another plant that only has potency if it grows wild in the jungle. It was the first time that they were seeing someone doing this way of drinking yagé, and it became one of the most profound ceremonies for Leo. He realized the importance of protecting the jungle, telling us it is home to people like him, people we do not see but who are there, flesh and bone, and that their own territory gave them the knowledge of how to use plants, granted by the jungle. With deep emotion, he expressed how he came to see the critical need to protect the jungle and its people. Hearing him was a reassurance of what we all were doing in that encounter. 


We returned to our homes with hopes of finding creative ways to support the A’i with these dreams. If you know of someone who might be interested in supporting these projects financially, please share this information with them.


We appreciate all your support in helping to preserve the ancestral knowledge and integrity of the A’i community.  

Photos of Alexandre, Mar, Lila, Amaru.

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