Ayahuasca, Tobacco, and the Pursuit of Knowledge
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A trailblazing anthropologist and an indigenous Amazonian healer explore the convergence of science and shamanism

“The dose makes the poison,” says an old adage, reminding us that substances have the potential to heal or to harm, depending on their use. Although Western medicine treats tobacco as a harmful addictive drug, it is considered medicinal by indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest. In its unadulterated form, it holds a central place in their repertoire of traditional medicines. Along with ayahuasca, tobacco forms a part of treatments designed to heal the body, stimulate the mind, and inspire the soul with visions. In Plant Teachers, anthropologist Jeremy Narby and traditional healer Rafael Chanchari Pizuri hold a cross-cultural dialogue that explores the similarities between ayahuasca and tobacco, the role of these plants in indigenous cultures, and the hidden truths they reveal about nature. Juxtaposing and synthesizing two worldviews, Plant Teachers invites readers on a wide-ranging journey through anthropology, botany, and biochemistry, while raising tantalizing questions about the relationship between science and other ways of knowing.


“Jeremy Narby likes to pry into life’s mysteries, and in Plant Teachers he and coauthor Rafael Chanchari Pizuri carry on that noble pursuit with excellence. Taking on the challenging topic of tobacco as sacred medicine, they manage to make sense of it all in a manner exceeding what others have tried. Much of the book is a conversation between the authors. Rafael, a Shawi indigenous man and médico from Peru, offers experienced advice and unique insights into the discussion of the plants and their uses. He is wonderfully down-to-earth and straightforward. The long elucidation of ayahuasca is very finely done, and the book packs in a huge number of references. This is a fine piece of work. Bravo!”
— Chris Kilham, medicine hunter

“Once again the brilliant advocate of ‘bi-cognitive’ consciousness, with his usual crystalline clarity and scalpel-sharp precision, Jeremy Narby continues his unique lifelong exploration of how the tension between scientific and shamanic paths to knowledge can trigger penetrating new insights. In dialogue with his deeply informed, profoundly sophisticated interlocutor, Shawi healer Rafael Chanchari Pizuri, Jeremy dives into rarely discussed aspects of traditional Amazonian plant usage and the most updated scientific research on the topic, offering a much-needed corrective in a field recently deluged with far too many half-baked, overly romanticized takes on shamanism.”
— J. P. Harpignies, author of Delusions of Normality and Animal Encounters and editor of Visionary Plant Consciousness

“Jeremy Narby has done it again. This is just the book that is needed in these times: a bridge between indigenous knowledge and Western science that is both rigorous and accessible. Narby has deep respect for both ways of knowing and masterfully reconciles them together into a holistic perspective that is bigger than the sum of its parts. A tour de force for anyone interested in the world of plant teachers, ayahuasca, or tobacco.”
— Jerónimo Mazarrasa, the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research, and Service (ICEERS)

“A wonderful book, comprehensive and concise, bridging cultures at a time when we need it the most. Jeremy Narby, this time with the help of Rafael Chanchari Pizuri, invites science back to the dance — to learn, laugh, and remember.”
— Joseph Tafur, MD, author of The Fellowship of the River: A Medical Doctor’s Exploration into Traditional Amazonian Plant Medicine

Plant Teachers offers a rare glimpse into the worldview of a Peruvian healer, Rafael Chanchari Pizuri. Anthropologist Jeremy Narby is our guide, bridging Western science with traditional knowledge, traversing this gap delicately and respectfully. The first chapter describes the indigenous belief that certain plant species have an ‘owner’ or ‘mother’ — ‘something like a personality’ — and that it is possible to learn from that other-than-human source. This book presents an opportunity for Westerners to stretch their concept of reality and enter into the magical depths of the Amazonian jungle, a wholly different kind of learning.”
— Rachel Harris, author of Listening to Ayahuasca: New Hope for Depression, Addiction, PTSD, and Anxiety

“Tobacco is the preeminent medicine plant of the Americas, yet few anthropologists have ever paid attention to it. This book may be the first to take a serious and respectful look at the spiritual role of tobacco in an indigenous culture. Half of the book is about ayahuasca, and it makes a valuable contribution to ayahuasca literature, offering insights from the Shawi culture and a discussion of ayahuasca pharmacology that is one of the most thorough, up-to-date, and readable I have seen. But what makes this book stand out — indeed, what make it unique — is its treatment of the subject of tobacco. By juxtaposing ayahuasca and tobacco as plant teachers, this book conveys that tobacco is to be taken as seriously as ayahuasca. Plant Teachers may open the door to a new way of looking at tobacco.”
— Gayle Highpine, linguist and author of “Unraveling the Mystery of the Origin of Ayahuasca”

“Jeremy Narby’s interest in validating indigenous knowledge in the light of science is long-standing. Here, he juxtaposes interviews, evidence-based debunking of misconceptions about tobacco, and reconsidering of assumptions on DMT-enhanced ayahuasca to bring forth productive insights. Rafael Chanchari Pizuri’s views are informed by both his ancestral tradition and his acquaintance with biomedicine: he is clearly a cross-cultural knowledge seeker. Socratic exchanges on local understandings of ecology in an animist worldview open a small but irresistible window into the complexity of Amazonian shamanic plant knowledge. Are the hornworms, who prey on tobacco plants, pests or valued ‘spirit owners’ or both? Not merely a reductionist match between science and a Shawi shaman’s perceptions, this reference-packed little book leads the reader to a refreshing, open-ended questioning. By intertwining his and Chanchari’s ‘pursuits of knowledge’ in dialogue, Jeremy Narby successfully de-exoticizes both Amazonian shamanic and possible global therapeutic uses of tobacco and ayahuasca, bringing them closer together.”
— Françoise Barbira Freedman, affiliated lecturer in the department of social anthropology, University of Cambridge