Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo

Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo (1912–1994) – Colombian anthropologist with particular interests in Amazonian peoples, especially the Tukano and Desana in Colombia. In addition to general publications about the cultures of these people and their neighbors, Reichel-Dolmatoff wrote specifically about shamans (or payé), cosmology, mythology, and “narcotic drugs,” including tobacco and ayahuasca. In The Shaman and the Jaguar (1975), he summarized that the principal spheres of a payé are the curing of disease, the obtaining of game animals and fish from their supernatural masters, the presiding over rituals in the individual life cycle, and defensive or aggressive action against personal enemies. In all these aspects the role of the payé is essentially that of a mediator and moderator between superterrestrial forces and society, and between the need for survival of the individual and the forces bent on his destruction—sickness, hunger and the ill will of others.

In his contribution to Peter Furst’s book about “the ritual use of hallucinogens,” Reichel-Dolmatoff argues that “the purpose of taking [yagé] is to return to the uterus” and thence to the creation of the cosmos and the establishment of society. Both knowledge and purification are obtained in this context. Reichel-Dolmatoff’s work is also notable for informing the shamanistic approach to rock art and its attention to entoptic phenomena: when Tukanoans were asked to draw their mental imagery, they tended to fill the pieces of paper he gave them with rows of formalized and reduplicated geometric motifs comparable with their painting of the same motifs on the walls of their houses. The Tukano identified these reduplicated forms as images derived from what they themselves recognized as the first stage of their trance experiences; there can be little doubt of their entoptic origin. (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1978, 12–13)


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007