Friday, December 14, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Ayahuasca (Part Eight)

Interviews with Shamans, Part Two.

Interview with Doctore Gido, Part Two

When Paula and I arrive in the thick of the jungle over the foot bridge and into the trees we enter Gido's house, him balancing of a pole as he uses a home-made hammer to pound some new nails into the palm frond roof that leaks pretty badly in the daily torrential rains. I look around for the ladder to take to him so he can climb down, but there isn't one in sight, and I wonder how he got up there 20 feet or more and got to the pole he's standing on. It looks acrobatic, and it looks dangerous, the fall to the wood planks being pretty hard even for a man in good shape and twenty years old, which Gido is not. He's light and agile, though, and he easily finds footholds on the tops of windows and doors and comes down to shake hands, smiling as always, a nice guy to be with, happy and friendly and seemingly glad to see me, though I don't know that he has any idea why I showed up again at his place. Paula tells him I want to talk to him about ayahuasca and his role in the village as shaman. He says yes, happy to talk about it all. One might think he had a premonition of my visit, we entering the shaman's office, as it were, the huge bare room in the next building that is his workplace. We sit and chat for a moment, hardly more than a minute, before I launch into what I hope will be questions impossible for him to answer, questions that will reveal ayahuasca use as a trivial and perhaps dangerous pursuit of spoiled and self-indulgent hippies from afar. But Gido's wife come in with a tray of lemonade and I like Gido and he's anxious to talk about his work and what he calls his “vocation” as a shaman from Pucallpa, Peru, the city six days down river where I first met the Shipibo people I have come so often to associate with in Iquitos. Gido is not Shipibo but from the Andes, Quechuan, a mountain man like me, though he's a very relaxed and happy guy. We sip lemonade and Paula turns on her dictaphone to make sure that if and when my Spanish fails me I will have a back-up to save the story. She sits back and holds out the machine, but soon she's leaning forward, interested in the conversation, learning about Gido's work and his grasp of ayahuasca for the first time, even though she has taken ayahuasca with Gido a few times already, but not having asked about it in this detail. Probably she doesn't know that Gido is an alta mesayoc, a “knowledgable Andean shaman,” not a local Amazonian shaman one might expect, like my friend Amelia's ancient father from Pucallpa, the centre for shaman training in Peru, he being unquestionably the meraya, or 'high priest' of the area. With 18 children he must have something going for him.

We take our spots at the back of the office in the corner, a six foot high medicine cabinet, the arte, of rough planks with shelves but no door between Paula and me and Gido on the other side, all of us sitting around a small rectangular table Gido banged together with that funny looking hammer. Looking around the room I see wood everywhere, and outside through the plastic screens I see more wood, but plants and trees, a giant palm tree so huge that I don't for a long moment even recognise it as such, it being so huge that the palm leaves look like pale green bedsheets dipping and bobbing gently in the breeze, and the occasional giant electric blue and black butterfly or huge glossy black beetle passing by. There some thing, a wasp perhaps,of a huge bee of some sort, that is shiny and brilliant gold. We sit and sip our lemonade and Gido lights a giant mapacho cigarette, possibly to ward off obnoxious questions I might ask him. I ask for a few minutes to inventory the collection of bottles on the table in front of us, and Gido and Paula chat about the kids and life around the house and village. My interest is focussed on plastic bottles of stuff in front of us. I count ten bottles. This is the working stuff of an Amazonian shaman, though the real thing is not bottled at all, as I think I come to understand as we speak later. But the bottled stuff is important, and I look at it in some close detail to ask about it as it might come up in our conversation. Gido can't see any of this coming because no one has ever dropped in from Modernity to ask him trick questions and to challenge him and make him unhappy about his life. I want to know if what I hear and see is bullshit, even if I like Gido and hope he will keep on liking me when I finish with him.

On the table I see ten bottles that look like they could have come from senile grandma's kitchen, a litre coke bottle filled with black stuff that looks like thin india ink, about the last thing on the table I'd consider drinking. Actually, it's Seven Roots, a popular cure all available at Belen market's Pasaje Paquito. This is the first time I've seen it in liquid form, the other times it being in plastic sacks one makes up at home. The Cointreau bottle looks better, but who knows what's inside? I don't. I never did get a proper answer to that. There's a small bottle of Agua de Florida, again a popular item at Belen Market, used to calm vomitting when the ayahuasca kicks in. It smells like hair tonic, and sure enough, Gido splashes some on his head and rubs it in his long black hair. Gido can surely find some cure for baldness, but since I would never have hair as nice as his I decide to remain a contented bald guy rather than an envious hairy guy. I see two Tabasco sauce bottles, one filled with clear violet, which turns out to be rose water, and very nice indeed, though I wonder where it comes from, roses not seeming to be around much in the jungle, itself almost devoid of flowers. I don't want to ask if it comes from a chemical compound at Walmart via Fedex; the second bottle filled with Key-Lime green stuff, Sangre de Gato, a cure for scars and ulcers. I come quickly to realise the bottles on the table are all ordinary things one finds at the extraordinary Pasaje Paquito at Belen Market. The two “energy drink” plastic bottles filled with what looks like onions and Chinese noodles turn out to be onions, garlic, camphor and other vegetables, camalonga, for example, some of which look like Chinese noodles. It smells to me like paint thinner, but it's vegetables soaked in rum. The rest of the bottles are much the same, ordinary stuff of vegetation, even the timolina, a Chinese remedy for that common if miserable ailment, now, thanks to modern marketing, too many ads on television, and people who don't understand English very well, known as “acid reflux syndrome.” It's heartburn. Gido has a remedy for it in a plastic bottle on the table. A whiff of the rum and garlic gave me a day-long headache, but I didn't realize it at the time or I might have asked Gido to cure me. There are a few other things on the shelves in the case behind us but I've seen enough to see the general thrust of the operation. It's about vegetables and other plants. The pile of mapacho cigarettes are vegetable, too, cigar sized smokes each the equivalent of 15 normal cigarettes all at once; but that the smokes are three times the normal size it would be like smoking three packs of cigarettes in five minutes. It's medicine here. The last thing I ask about is the soda bottle full of yellow-green pancake sludge with black bits and dirt in it. That would be your main item on the evening's menu, ayahuasca. 

Gido's medical stuff.

Set apart from the vegetation in bottles on the table is a stick wrapped in blue string, a bunch of dried, broad leaves attached, this being a rattle to scare off demons, a chakapa. It's all perfectly clear from the first moment that people who live in the jungle would see reality as being about plants. It took me a while to recognise this, my world being about concrete, steel, glass, and plastic, my gods being electricity and gasoline and silent, waiting warriors who live in dark, stone vaults and who delight in slaughter. Plants? I don't know so much about plants. Gido takes a huge huff of mapacho and blows it hard into the breeze in the room, dispelling spirits that could harm us or make our conversation unpleasant. The chakapa rattle, which Gido demonstrates for us, is meant to cleanse the body, curing colon problems, for example, protecting the eyes, (a bit late for me) and is used mostly to summon spirits good and bad. One uses it in conjunction with the icaros, the songs one sings to the plants.

The shaman accompanies himself with a shacapa as he sings icaros, magical songs meant to please the spirits he will encounter in his session to heal the ill, whether they have the usual parasites or are cursed by some evil spirit brought about by a bruha, or evil shaman often hired by a nasty neighbour or relative to cast a spell. The shaman sometimes literally blows smoke up ones arse, smoke from the sticky black tobacco from the Amazon, mapacho, as he takes on the role of tabaquero during the ayahuasca “ceremony,”* as bashful drug-using yuppies are so intent on calling it. From thereon, it's a mighty hour or two or more of puking and shitting and hallucinating. To a large extent, the city of Iquitos lives from this attempt by the alienated if not simply bored Modernist tourist looking for a better life of the mind. The city locals seldom touch the stuff, thinking of it as jungle behaviour they hold not in favour. Hippies love it. And they pay big bucks for it, too. But Gido, he's not making any money at this business. As far as shamans go, Gido is nowhere. Gido is about the last shaman the average drug tourist is going to consult about his psychic pain. Gido isn't in it for the money and not in it for the visions. He's about something entirely different. He's in it for the plants.

I don't have a lot of time for plants, so I demand some answers about ayahuasca. It takes 300 yahe leaves, 30 six inch long chunks of ayahuasca vine, 30 litres of water, and then, because I'm not a mathematician, the numbers about chakruna and mapacho turn into vivid butterflies flitting around and my mind wanders after them and I gaze into space and don't know nothing. I skip all that even though I could check it out on Paula's tape. Then the numbers come back to me, bringing me back to the world of accounting and quarterly reports and statistical tables of production and year end net earnings: 12 hours of cooking to make a litre of ayahausca enough for 20 people, stuff that lasts for eight days in a bottle before it ferments and becomes poisonous. I don't have a lot of time for numbers.

OK, I do have time for whatever pleases me. I ask about Gido how on earth he came to be a shaman in the Amazon jungle. “It's a calling,” he says. I get into a discussion with Paula about the word, saying a calling is the same as vocation, voca being the Spanish word we want here. I go off on some linguistic diatribe that leaves everyone confused. I want to know about Gido being a shaman and I want to know about ayahuasca. I want to know about the words.

Chakruna in Gido's Garden

Maybe I didn't get where I wanted to go with this, but Gido glides over my rough questions about words and talks about the essence of what I want. For him, it's not about words, it's about plants. He heard them calling him and he went to Pucallpa, a centre for shaman training, a town so many tourists avoid that I never met even one the time I spent there teaching English and learning more Spanish with my teary-eyed friend Jose, the lovely Yaneth, and the blushing Maria. I never even heard of ayahuasca there, but Pucallpa is the Harvard of hallucinations. Or healing, if you must. Pucallpa is not a tourist destination, those few who land there saying they got out as soon as they could for Iquitos to take ayahuasca. I might easily have stayed but for the call of the Amazon river at Iquitos up river six days by cargo boat. I didn't know at the time that in the city and all around is the grand collection of locals who are straight from the jungle, those who live in the city, cholos who have little idea what it means, like gringo me there, only different, called to plants. Gido was called to Pucallpa, and there he became a shaman. It took about 20 years; no sex, he says. I was married for a long time, and I can relate, so I don't pursue it. He's speaking and I want to know about words. I want to know about songs, icaros, about singing to plants.

Gido sings to plants sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in Quechua, it depends on the person who has come to him for medicine, for healing, sometimes in Shipibo. Gido has to sing in a native tongue so the plants can find the person and the person can be open to finding for Gido to do his magic. Gido's voice is not his own, though, but that of his grandparents sometimes, and other times that of a woman he can't identify further, knowing only that her voice works well in chasing away demons, the source of all ills. Gido sings to spirits, plants, for the person, against demons who bring ills, and he blows mapacho smoke at the bad spirits, banishing them from the person and the room, blowing away an array of demons that he describes in such a way that I think of Milton's war in heaven in which Satan's forces use a cannon to shoot at other angels, the iron balls passing through the heavenly bodies without effect. Gido stands up and acts out the fight between himself and devils, the latter firing guns and shooting arrows and darts and firing pistols. It's a full-blown war in Gido's office, and he wins by blowing smoke and communing with plants to banish the bad from the person suffering and the house itself. I can relate to that, too, the house being so calm as we sit that I am only disturbed slightly when Gido sits with his arms crossed and his legs moved away from me and his head turned as he says “Good” to almost every question I ask in rapid fire, taking notes and staring at him to look for lies.

Chakapa for chasing away obnoxious spirits

Gido blows some smoke to clear the air and tells us that plants are slow. I know they don't grow quickly, but when I see them in front of me there is no plant time in my mind. They are there, often dinosaur huge, and they have some power. But that takes time far beyond my experience of seeing them as they are, often full-grown, real and there in my moments. Gido says plants are slow, and I finally get it. One cannot just approach a plant, even as a shaman, and demand answers to rapid fire questions, expecting rapid fire answers from plants who have their own rhythms and time and who have to grow to know a person. Plants need time to receive respect. They need time to want to help a person and to become integrated with him or her. Gido says he can't “see” a person in three days. It takes time, and that is plant time. For the tourist with three days between aeroports, it's not going to work for Gido and his plants. It takes time.

Gido, to my surprise, says he doesn't use a lot of ayahuasca, and he seldom gives it to others, pretty much wrecking any chance he might have had to get rich. Tourists would avoid Gido like snakes. He's as slow as plants in the jungle. But that is fine for the people in the village, those whom he lives with, those who are part of the jungle, attuned to plants already. Gido does take ayahuasca himself when he deals with the ills the locals call to complain of, and sometimes he gives the locals ayahuasca, too; but mostly, Gido says, his work is about healing problems people have, and ayahuasca is not the answer to that as often as tourists would have themselves believe. Tourists see what they want to see when they take ayahuasca, they see demons and snakes and bad things and sometimes thereafter they see themselves as glorious and enlightened beings, all thanks to ayahuasca and their favoured shaman. For Gido's villagers, they see helpful and healing plants.

Medicinas, ayahausca hiding in the background.

Most of the locals who consult with Gido the shaman do not take ayahuasca, and Gido himself doesn't use it often. It grows outside his doorway, along side the leafy chakruna that coats the ayahuasca, allowing the ayahuasca to go to the brain before being nullified by the stomach otherwise. He usually has a bottle of it ready. He is more like a bartender than a drunk, though, not using it himself unless he wants to for some reason. That reason is medicine, he being a doctore, a healer rather than a drug tourist. Many a night have I stayed up sweating over the life of Lazarus, wondering what the man did when Jesus brought him back to life; wondering if, now that Lazarus had a chance to live a life he should not have had at all, a second chance and a chance to do it right, Lazarus went back to being a butt-grinding perv. on subway ride to work as a file clerk at the insurance company, or did he do something great and grand with this life he should not have had but for a direct and incredible personal gift from God. What, I wondered, would a man do with such a life? I think, I hope, I pray, that Lazarus went about his life much the same as before, more thankful this time round, thanking God for the chance to be small, to see his wife and kids after work each day, to be thankful he is just a guy in the village. Gido is just a guy in the village, a medical guy who has chickens in the wilds around the house. Gido is not a demi-god enlightened beyond the average guy; he is just a man who understands plants that can help others sort of get through life till they die. Not many men can do what Gido does, he having been called by the plants, but that doesn't make him special, just called for his work. Ayahuasca sometimes helps him at his job, a man living in the jungle taking to plants so he can be a better doctor. His job as a doctor includes giving advice about jobs, diets, marriage counseling, and the usual details of a medical man in a prescience world. He doesn't need ayahuasca for much of what he does, his pills and scalpels being wads of tobacco and broad leaves of many types. Ayahuasca is one plant among many, and when Gido uses it it is specifically for a patient's good, not for Gido to expand with the plant universe.

Gido talks to chakruna

Gido doesn't need ayahuasca to talk to plants. He can summon them with his chakapa, he can banish demons with his mapacho, he can float above the world and communicate telepathically with those he chooses to contact. He's been doing this work for a long time, and the plants know him. He might or might not know about chakras, but I definitely do not, and thus I cut here all reference to it, leaving that to those with at least a basic grasp of an otherwise unintelligible subject. Gido is about plants, first and foremost, and in the jungle one can sense why immediately. The stuff picked up from tourists I leave where I find it. For me it is enough that Gido claims he can summon plants and ask them for help in his work. His patients do not need ayahuasca, they not being able to see what Gido sees, not knowing what he knows, not understanding what he understands about the healing nature of the spirit of plants. Ayahuasca for Gido isn't self-help therapy with the most insightful facilitator in the universe; it is a cleansing potion that allows him to increase his powers of observation and diagnosis of the ills and ailments of others. With ayahuasca he can see like an X-ray machine, but only if an X-ray is called for. Ayahuasca gives Gido power, and that power is to do good for others. That, I think, is the difference between Gido taking ayahuasca and the others. Yes, I like Gido, he being a very cool guy. I'd love to get stoned with him. He sits without too much upset that I keep pounding him with questions he shouldn't have to answer, the nature of material, the meaning of the divine in a changing world of appearance, the point of an earthly life in a city of alienated beings rich beyond measure, questions meant only for myself that I hit Gido with till his legs draw under his bench and he turns his head and can't look at me directly as he answers my questions to the best of his ability. He's a village medicine man, not a Doctor of Philosophy. I finally get sick of myself and stop talking, taking time to think about Gido's life and work, home and family, the meaning of his life and time. But then my anger about drug tourists rises and I ask why they see snakes all the time.

The culebra, especially the boa, the anaconda, is the mother of the spirit of ayahuasca. I'm lost. The snake eats the ayahuasca user and they become one, good if the person can deal with the change, physical and mental that ayahuasca creates in a person. The snake Gido sees is a probe for problems, a way to see inside and know. Ayahuasca becomes the snake. The snake is the man. Gido knows the snake, and thus he can know the man if he has had time to know the snake the man becomes. It's not instant out of a bottle, not some quick fix tourist grab and run. The spirit of ayahuasca might come and it might reveal much to the man, but it's not what Gido sees as a shaman. Gido might not see more than a tourist hallucinating, though he might see the tourist's hallucinations as well. But what would that mean to anyone? It might mean attention at a cocktail party till someone else, somewhere else, goes on even better in the raconteur business. When the next new thing comes along, Gido will still be talking to plants and dispensing advice about plant spirits and doing odd chores around the house in the jungle. He ain't never going to get rich. You might find him high, somewhere up there at the ceiling fixing a leaky roof with a weird looking hammer, secure on that little pole that keeps him from falling to certain death.

I took a slow boat alone back to Iquitos to my daily life of dodging mototaxis and pounding it out on the Internet. The streets are recently paved, and I like crossing them because they're black and clean and sort of smooth. I went for ice cream at the corner, stopping in the park to watch families walking.  Ayahuasca? I have no idea. I don't talk to plants.

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: A General Introduction

What on earth is interesting in Iquitos, Peru? Well, just about everything one could never imagine. From the city centre at the Plaza de Armas where one finds the Iron House, designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1860, shown at the Paris International Exhibition in 1878, and bought and shipped in pieces down the Amazon River to be a Rubber Baron's mansion till the boat got stuck in Iquitos and the building was sold and erected in two parts, one at the corner of the Plaza de Armas where it stands today; to Eiffel's metal bandstand in the world famous Belen Market area of 75,000 people; to the seeming million mototaxis, (officially only 25,000) whizzing past without regard to lanes and stop signs; to the city's architectural heritage of Italian and Portuguese hand painted-tile buildings, and the rough wood-plank houses either floating or built on stilts to escape-- sometimes and somewhat-- the annual rise of the Amazon; to the cemetery filled with the Lost Jews of Iquitos and the dead rubber tappers of German; and the nightlife of the Malecon Tarapaca by the riverside; the city, isolated from the world other than by flights in or out or by sometimes week long journeys by cargo boat, the largest city in the world not a connected to a nation by road, the city of Iquitos is planted firmly and happily in the jungle on the left bank of the river where life goes by peacefully and quietly and happily for those who come to visit, perhaps to drink ayahuasca in a mind- and even life-altering time of high hallucinations and vomiting in the pursuit of spiritual salvation. One can venture from the city to the innumerable lodges set in the deep jungle where one can see wildlife only to be seen in the Amazon, or one can go to town and eat the very animals one would see in the jungle, f.i., fried alligator tails or wild pig legs, baked beetle caterpillars and black and yellow turtles, and one can wash it down with camu-camu, a citrus drink with 50 times more vitamin C than the equivalent amount of orange juice. Charm, "Charapa culture," history, adventure, excitement, the great outdoors, Iquitos has it all in abundance. Yes, it is hot and sticky and sometimes it can rain, with an “average relative humidity of 85%.” The river is low from June to November and rises in 'the wet season' from November to May. It's just as hot and just as sticky whatever the relative humidity might mean. It's better than snow. I came for a few days on my way elsewhere, and I don't know now if I will ever leave. What a great place to be. Iquitos, Peru. Who would have thought!?

Iquitos in the "Dry Season"

To read the rest of this story, please turn to the following link;

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Curse of the Naipa Card Readers

Some of the things I believe would make the average man laugh out loud. I can't think of even one example of the stupid that I take as real because I take it as real, not stupid at all, though my experience shows different people have crazed reactions to some of my beliefs. One thing I take as real and good that others go into frenzies over is that wishy-washy middle-class American Protestantism is more good than bad; and more or less, if I may be so bold, not so bad at all. This, of course, makes me a fascist. Everyone knows. 
I never read the Guardian unless it's by mistake in the pursuit of something else. I wrote, until recently corrected, to my high embarrassment, about the “Manchester Guardian” newspaper. I knew it wasn't really a newspaper, but now I know it's not a paper at all, being on the Internet, and that it is simply “The Guardian.” I am old, which makes me a fascist.

And though I know and like some of the local witch doctors in the area, this being the jungle and the Amazon and thus the Amazon jungle, I don't take them as seriously as I would a doctor trained in America at a recognized medical school. Yes, dear reader, I am a racist. I am also a fascist. Everybody knows.

So, it will come as no surprise when I fascistically read a piece in The Guardian about the murder of 14 shamans in the Amazon close to where I currently live, and in reading the story, which appears nowhere else on earth but on the Net via The Groniad, that I racistically became skeptical of the whole thing, my anti-science capitalism showing through clearly. I am, after all, a “right wing religious bigot,” which I find that hard to believe, but what do I know, me being a sexist and all.

Dan Collyns in The Guardian, 6 Oct. 2011, “Peru shaman murders investigated,” reports that 14 Shawi shamans (curanderos) have been murdered in the Amazonian rain forests of Peru around Balsapuerto, near the city of Yurimagaus, one of the closer ports from Iquitos. The killers are reputed to be the mayor of the town and his brother, Alfredo and Augusto Torres. The two men were named in a report from the public prosecutor's office. The Peruvian government sent team to remote Amazon region to look into killing of 14 shamans. No arrests have been made."

That is not the important part of the story. Shamans are as competitive in their fields as are medical doctors who poison each other at the slightest provocation and are notorious for having sex with all the nurses on TV. It's worse in the jungle than on TV because in the jungle, in small and isolated villages where most shamans practice their arts in exchange for carinos,* e.g. chickens and rice and such payment in kind, people get on each others nerves badly and sometime violently. It might look pretty on the surface, thatched roof huts and doorless dwellings where no one would think of stealing anything; happy and smiling people silently spitting into bottles as they twist sugar cane juice into bowls and chat amiably about others in the area; children running naked in the tall grass playing innocently in the warm fresh air under the clear blue skies; bananas ripening in the sun waiting to be plucked by the pleasantly hungry passer-by... but no. This is not Mexico, and it's not Somalia, but it is still planet earth, regardless of what some would have us believe. Petty quarrels are as nasty and vicious as anywhere else, and they are common in tiny villages isolated. If shamans end up dead, this is not surprising, any more than battered women and abused children and bloated dogs and sewage running everywhere in the wet season, everyone sick from the yacuruna devils that live in the water , and most running to the shaman for a cure for the dano or evil eye placed because a envious neighbour bought a cochinada, an evil hex from the brujo around the corner and causes all this misery. If the shaman knows the way through the realms hidden to most of us and uses his ayahuasca properly to consult with the entidades, the spirit entities that reveal the nature of the illness in question as the shaman is hallucinating, he might learn how to cure the problem at hand. Or not, and he will lose the respect of the villagers if not; or worse, he will succeed and be the most hated man on the equivalent of the rainforest golf course because he's making the other shamans look like fakirs. No, the important part of the story is the Christians. Don't believe me. I'm a fascist. Believe The Groniad. They know.

Roger Rumrrill, an expert on Peruvian Amazon cultures and a government adviser [and co-author of A Hallucinogenic Tea Laced with Controversy: Ayahuasca in the Amazon and the United States], alleges that the mayor, who is an evangelical Christian, ordered the killings on hearing that the shamans planned to form an association. He said the mayor's brother was known in the area as a matabrujos or witch killer.

I find that of all the 19th century “scientists” from Mesmer to de Gobineau to Marx are either debunked, defunked, or kerpluked, and yet somehow Darwin is a sort of a god, like Obama, beyond reproof, and I, being homophobic and evil, don't see Darwin as the final word on much of anything. Experts are not so important to me. This is part of my fascist make-up. When an expert places the dano, “evangelical Christian” on someone, only an evil brujo would counter-attack with one of his own. Consider that done here. But Rumrrill knows his brujeria, and he goes full-out vicious:

"For Protestant sects, the shamans are possessed by the devil; a totally sectarian, primitive and racist concept," he said.

And he keeps pounding away:

"Until now the death of 14 curanderos who are the depositaries of Amazon knowledge wasn't worth the attention of the press," Rumrrill said. "That's an expression of how fragmented and racist this country [Peru] is.

I think we can take it that Rumrrill is a Darwinist. He's too sophisticated to believe that God created the world in six days and then took off on the seventh to caddy for Obama. But he believes, one must assume, in the healing powers of shamans. So long as the belief is in the ugliness of Modernity and the beauty of the primitive, then the belief is pure and noble. What is orthodox belief in the postmodern world of scientistic religion? Let's turn to Gregor MacLennan, Peru programme coordinator for the NGO Amazon Watch. 
"The death of these shamans represents not just a tragic loss of life, but the loss of a huge body of knowledge about rainforest plants and the crucial role shamans play in traditional medicine and spiritual guidance in indigenous communities."

This leaves me confused, in part because I am a fascist, but mostly because I can't put together the fragmented presention of pagan wishfulness in the postmodern and the scientism of the same people who go out of their ways to hate the traditional religions of Christianity and Judaism, ie. totally sectarian, primitive and racist concepts. Big Bang + Darwin + Amazonian shamanism = Enlightenment and Truth. It's not religion, of course, but the idiocy of the day mouthed by conformity hippies who have no ideas of their own. But what do I know. Well, I don't know that the whole story above is bullshit. I do know that there is no story beyond the original based on a complaint by an anonymous someone somewhere that goes nowhere and is only referenced by those who want to believe in the purity of the primitive and who want to pose as enlightened neo-pagans. The story is solely for believers, that is to say, those who believe their own conformity hippie bullshit while dumping on the beliefs of the sanctioned Other/hate figure. Or, as one commenter puts it:

I am a shaman and well I cannot kill a person using witch craft will that even work in a court these days in another country ..... who knows
Ayahuasca is used as a cure all so it should be safe with other hidden health problems complications like the woman who died in Canada had or med reactions etc.....
I was guessing at the reason for the children dieing so if it wasnt that there is another reason for the deaths they need to research, because you cannot kill someone with witch craft alone nor would a shaman do it at all they have a calling to heal that is so strong they would rather die than kill the other person .... it's a calling a healing process not the other way around period.

"Shamans in the Peruvian Amazon use psychoactive plants such as the jungle vine ayahuasca for spiritual ceremonies. As early as the 16th century, Spanish and Portuguese missionaries described its use by native people in the Amazon as the work of the devil."

This is why I have mentioned it they are hinting at the brew being the devils work ....
The land is also being fought over for logging and planting and the native people dont want to give up their homes their life the water ways the fishing the food .... why try to take the lungs of the world away[?]

In all fairness, the comment above is typical. The painfully obvious point is that some people, even intellectuals, are often morons and even more often moral cowards who will spin in the wind in any direction at all, making whatever whistling noises required to remain hanging on the line with their fellows. Anything, no matter how evil, is OK with them. It argues in favor of rational religion, e.g. Christianity or Judaism or just plain shutting up and going bowling with friends. But people want to, and probably need, religion. Thus we find idiots demanding the deaths of men they do not know over a serial murder case that very likely never happened, all because it is the norm to say one is too sophisticated to believe in the ordinary religions of our culture. Not no fundie Christianity for us because we are too special. For me, sorry to say, I don't believe the pomo bullshit. Well, it's 'cause I'm a fascist. Yes, you can read it for yourself many times in the Guardian and other-- many other-- sites on the Web. It must be true.

We see then that many sophisticated postmodernists believe a story about fundamentalist Christian serial killers in the Amazon preying on shamans, which is a bullshit story in fact. That, as we know, is not important; the important part being the moral outrage against the acceptable other; the group bonding over the hated scapegoat; and the reaffirmation of solidarity with Romanicised pagans. Very few people will honestly believe in their beliefs in paganism, but it's part of the intellectual uniform one must wear in public. I'm a rebel. It means I'm a fascist.

Interestingly, at least for those rebel left brain linear type fascists, one finds the academic/hippie/druggie Marlene Dobkin de Rios on this track:

Turning to culture, her book goes on to discuss how these hypersuggestible states were utilised by indigenous groups in initiations, socialising young people into their proper roles as emerging adults, and thereby contributing to the long-term survival of a group. Such transitional initiation rituals were usually managed by elders, within a socially sanctioned and often revered framework.

If only they knew, and if this were true, which seems possible, the above should set off alarms in the conspiracy theory chambers of young drug abusers and enlightenment types of all ages, but particularly those young enough to be suseptible to the charge. Most will not know and will not consider the implications of Dobkin's thesis. I wonder....
Being a fascist hardly slows me down in my pursuit of things to learn about the world, most of which is so painfully stupid I often wish I had stayed in bed—even if I had to stay in bed alone.One thing I got out of bed for was a trip to see Maestro Curandero Naturista y Advino sr. Ronel G.R.  We can skip the 20 things he can do as listed on his business card, that being the piece of photocopied paper with a smudgy graphic of a pentagram inside a circle with balls around it and other spooky magical stuff, and get right to the meat of the matter: he tells fortunes. He is so good at this divination business that he not only can tell the future, he can also tell the present! I'm a believer. Anyone who can charge $8.00 for that and actually get it is someone I want to hear from. He knows something I don't know, even if all it is is how to get money out of people for telling them the present.But there is more, far more, to it than that. The Maestro is a follower of none other than Shirky Gama. 

The things one learns.
In 1968 Claudio Cedeno Araujo, also referred to as Shirky Gama, founded the Sacred Mystical Order of Septrionism. Dobkins de Rios describes Septrionism as "a contemporary mystical approach to self-knowledge and self-development, with emphasis on change. Personal knowledge of the spiritual world is primary. The goal is to control our instincts and passions. It sees as its role to provide a new view of the world and to delineate universal laws of causality. The doctrine questions the mission of human beings in society and their relationship to eternal forces. The primary focus of the doctrine is helping humankind to achieve spiritual peace and to overcome afflictions and tribulations."

The Maestro is not the first of most well-known of the Belen Market Naipe Card readers, she being instead Marlene Dobkin de Rios, Ph.D. "who grew up in a Russian Jewish household in New York and studied anthropology in a field that could be labelled 'psychedelic anthropology' – the cross-cultural study of consciousness-modifying drugs and the non-ordinary states they facilitate."

One might well be skeptical of many things in this world, but the evil eye? That and other problems are better addressed by a maestro who knows the full story, and who can find it from a consultation with the magic of the cards. Dobkin de Rios is an American expert worth consulting before going straight to the man himself, Maestro Ronal.

Marlene Dobkin de Rios “The History and Structure of the Naipes”

The naipes are used often by folk healers who cure with herbs or psychedelic plants in a society in which witchcraft beliefs exist and people often expect that illness is caused by the evil will of others.

The cards become a psychological adjunct to a healer's therapy, a sort of intake procedure to learn more about a client so that the healer can appear to be omnipotent and replete with knowledge and power. We
cannot talk about the naipes as a divination technique without understanding the context in which these cards are used, particularly among the urban poor of Belen, who live in abject poverty in their shantytown. Healers are able to manipulate situations of misfortune that dog the steps of the urban poor as the healers diagnose illness and misfortune, appearing all-powerful and worthy of their fees.

Napoleon's spiritual adviser, Madame LeNormand, was born in a small village in France in 1773 and arrived in Paris when she was twenty-one years old. She opened a salon and read the fortunes of a number of highly placed ­individuals who were politically active in the French Revolution, including Robespierre. Apparently, Josephine de Beauharnais, later married to Napoleon Bonaparte, was one of her clients, and Madame Marie was reputed to have regularly read the naipes for Napoleon.

The naipes help healers to tap in to the causality of illness while, at the same time, allowing them to present themselves as all-powerful. This cannot help but dispel fear, anxiety, and self-doubts in their patients and provide a high expectation of cure. This personal influence of healers increases their manipulation of the patients' anxieties and provides a path toward eventual cure.

Witchcraft Beliefs and Illness

The residents of Belen recognize and openly discuss illness they believe to be caused by the malice of others. This becomes important in understanding the motivation of Beleños to seek out their fortune and often to discover who has caused them to be bewitched. Informants speak of malice everywhere-for instance, the evil will of neighbors and relatives who frequently seek out a witch to cause harm.

Healers who use the hallucinogenic plant ayahuasca receive visits from patients who not only want to be healed from an illness but also may want to bewitch someone in particular for purposes of revenge. Some curanderos reject the proposition to do evil, but others specialize in the use of these hallucinogens for that purpose -- the brujo (witch) is socially shunned and secretive. Many ayahuasca healers themselves read the naipes at an initial interview of a client who is readying to take the hallucinogenic purge. This is done in order to get an idea of the stress facing the client.

Regarding witches, this class of individuals was known to harm others. Unlike African societies, in which witchcraft was suspected but never proved, in the Amazon, these witches are ready to take hard cash in advance to harm a client's enemy. They keep a little book in which they write down the details of the psychic "hit." Listed below are the main illnesses suffered by the Beleños, which often propelled them to seek help, first by a curioso, who reads the naipes, and subsequently by an ayahuasca healer to reverse the magical spell and return it to the perpetrator.

Daño This is an illness that is believed to be due to a witchcraft hex. Daño has various symptoms and chronic development. It can be caused by motives of vengeance or envy. In the Amazon, it is believed that daño is caused by a powerful medicine thrown on the threshold of a house in the early hours of the dawn. It can cause a period of bad luck, called saladera. Witches use ayahuasca, the plant hallucinogen, to cause this illness. The ayahuasquero claims to fly through the air and cause incurable illnesses and horrible misfortunes to his client's enemies. Some believe that witches control a series of spirits, whom they call upon to cause the evil. Still others believe that a thorn can be sent through the air, like a lance, toward an enemy. The witch is paid in advance on behalf of the vengeful client.

Mal de Ojo This syndrome is found throughout the Peruvian Amazon and all of Latin America, and is known in English as the evil eye. It includes symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fevers, weight loss, insomnia, and depression. It is motivated by envy and afflicts children and adults whose personal beauty has caused them to be victims of the evil eye. Beleños believe that their neighbors or relatives envy whatever good fortune they may have. Anything can attract envy -- a light-skinned complexion, appearance of good health, indications that a person is eating well, and so forth. A person can provoke the malice of others if he has an amorous spouse or if his house is free from rancor. The naipes reading functions as a diagnostic tool as much for the client as for the ayahuasquero.

Historical Data on the Naipes Printed playing cards have been traced by Alfred Kroeber, one of the important founders of anthropology, to tenth-century China, and they appear four centuries later, almost simultaneously, in several European countries such as Italy, France, Germany, and Spain. Kroeber suggested that either the Mongols or the Muslims might have transmitted such cards from China to Christian nations, despite the fact that Islam forbids all gambling. Another theory, mentioned already, is that Hindustani-speaking Gypsies, according to Papus and Levi, brought the cards from India to Europe. A game of French playing cards called tarot, used in divination and popular during the Middle Ages, was believed to have resulted from an adaptation of a card game called naibi (also referred to as nayb and known in Italy in the fourteenth century), to which was added a series of point cards. There are many theories about the origin of the naipes, some linking the cards to the minor arcana of the tarot or the esoteric Jewish kabbalah traditions. In the naipes deck, there are three picture cards in each of four suites: the King, the Caballo (Horse), and the Sota (Page). The Pages are used to represent women, and the Caballo and King represent men with different traits and characteristics. The Jack in Western card decks is replaced by the Sota (Page). The twenty-two major tarot cards are said to be related to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

If we turn to the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, the term naipes is etymologically derived from the Arab word naib, "he who represents," or laib, "he who plays." Mention of the cards occurs in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and may have been introduced into Europe by the Crusaders. The game of naipes was said to symbolize the feudal structure of society. By 1377, the naipes were in wide use. The Gypsies were the first to use the cards for divination. If playing cards used in divination were known in fourteenth-century Spain, it would not be at all difficult, despite the lack of historical documentation, to trace the movement of such divinatory aids to Spanish America. Certainly, the Conquest period was a time in which men seeking adventure and wealth in unknown lands might be expected to take gaming cards along with them. A deck of forty or forty-eight cards, small and easily portable, without doubt found its way into the Hispanic world at the time of the sixteenth-century Conquest.

What is clear is that the naipes are not simple amusement for the clients but rather are used by them and healers as a diagnostic technique, especially when most clients believe that illness is caused by evil willing or witchcraft machinations on the part of "others." The healers manipulate a category that I call misfortune cards to plumb the depths of interpersonal conflicts, material loss, and sickness or death of loved ones to make their diagnosis.

But the Maestro is the man at hand, and so it is that I hiked over to Belen Market to Pasaje Pauquito to get my cards read. I'm not at all impressed with conformity hippie bullshit in the Groniad, and I couldn't care less about bashing Christianity just because it's hip to be Gnostic. I'm not a believer in pomo orthodoxy. But Naipe cards, well that's a whole nother story!

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Ayahuasca (Part Seven)

Ayahuasca (Part Seven)

Interviews with Shamans Part One

Interview with Gido, Part One

I've been on vacation so long now that anything resembling an appointment means I'm sleepless all the night before; and last night as I lay awake in bed was no exception because I didn't sleep at all. That's how nervous I was about my up-coming doctor's appointment. Not a blink. I was too nervous; so I went with Paula, she being five years older than I, and thus at my age she's old enough to be my mother. This is not to say, which I mistakenly did once before, that she is a little old lady. I erazed that from the public record, for all the good it does me, Paula continuing to bring it up, often in Spanish, sometimes in French, and when she's particularly pissed off at me, in her broken English. So, I got her to take me to the doctor, on the chicken bus across town to the most run-down dock in the city, the place only peke-peke boats dock at, canoes with outboard motors on poles and a man at the throttle swinging the boat around against the current by main strength when he drags the motor at the end of the pole through the water as passengers sit on wooden benches along the length of the canoe, their feet in the water that sloshes inside when a fiberglass and windows “fast boat” comes by and swamps us, or when it rains and the water comes through the thatched roof. Or when someone spills a bucket full of wet stuff. We could see the boats all jammed together between the petrol station on the water and the barge that sells supplies for the river trade, the peke-peke boats so tight together that one must leave for an incoming to unload, unless one walks across a lot of boats to the mud that is the shoreline. I've done this before and thus, nervous as I was, I felt I should have some breakfast to make my day as normal on the surface as I could. It was a bit overcast as the chicken bus pulled into the roundabout in the centre of the dockyard and we jumped down to the pavement, missing the sink hole and the heap of vegetable stuff and meat, and we picked our way across the slick pavement to the row of stalls streetside where I decided to grab something tasty but light, something healthy but yummy to calm my nerves and my growling stomach at 8:00 a.m. before my big day at the doctor's office.

Fried maggots and roasted nuts on a stick

The first stall I came to had balls of banana leaves filled with mystery, so I got two and looked for something more substantial in case whatever inside was totally gross. Luckily I found a bucket of live qui and a skewer of those giant maggots already fried on the brazier. Uh. But no. I turned to the next stall because of the smell of charcoal roasted alligator arms and fried bananas with dinosaur fish soup. There is this girl I like a whole lot, and I like her so much that I'm trying to lose weight and get into some kind of decent shape to impress her. I looked longingly at the alligator claws and that lovely yellow flesh just calling out my name, and then I said no again. Paula, like the motherly type she is, had bought two packets of instant coffee, and I had a half bottle of diet soda from the night before, so I decided to leave breakfast for the time being and feast when we arrived at the village an hour and a half later for my doctor appointment. There's nothing at all wrong with me, in spite of Paula's constant claims that I don't take care of myself, but I came close to losing an arm when I casually draped it around a post on the peke-peke boat and a wave came and rippled all the boats one after another up and down and against each other even closer, my arm whipping back around just in time to slam my knuckles into the sideboard. But not enough to warrant a trip to any doctor at all. I was faking the unwell and in need of healing stuff. It's really OK, I know the doctor and he knows I'm a fine guy who has no need of healing and that I wanted to talk about plants-- ayahuasca in particular. Even so, an appointment with a doctor in the jungle who lives in a wooden shack with plastic wrappers all around, who doesn't have a secretary or a phone, who doesn't wear a white lab coat, who doesn't look any more like a doctor than I do, I was still nervous, even though I know him an like him and wish we could hang out together if his wife would let us, maybe getting in a round of golf and some cigar smoking after the links, a bit of time for guys to talk about stuff. I ended up hungry looking at the banana leaves. Greasy. I resisted. It must be love. Love-sick don't need no cure. 

Bananas and gator heads for breakfast

I'd been to the village with Paula before, once to go to school and then play hooky when the kids got bored and wandered off to play, the adults, as it were, going in search of peace and quiet in the dense jungle, finding there a resort of sorts where I poured myself a cup of complimentary coffee that, as a non-guest, I felt I should pay for, causing endless trouble because no one at the resort had any idea how much to charge, my temper getting ragged, and finally all of us leaving in a huff, Paula promising to return a week later to pay whatever the $0.50 tab might be. Thus it was that my first time in the village had led us all around the jungle and to a rise by the abandoned church that I wanted to buy and turn into a jungle fortress to hide out from my enemies who probably couldn't ever find me if they tried, and then into some plain wooden building where somehow all of our stuff was piled in a corner, the building somehow being the very place we had gone to in the morning when we dropped off our things before going to the school. It was some kind of miracle, I thought, though Paula told me I have a bad memory. It was at the collection of wooden houses in the thick of the trees and the plants all around that I chatted first, or probably the second time, with the owner of the place, a short and happy little guy of 42 who has a 20-something wife and two kids, five and one and a half. That guy is Gido, Paula's landlord in the village. I like him instantly, his easy smile and calm demeanor, his happiness and openness and obvious lack of menace. I was that day too dead tired from lack of sleep the night before. I was forgetting things badly, but I liked my host and remembered that impression, if not the actual man, embarrassing when we met at a party a week or so later and I asked who he is. He is the village doctor, Gido, and cool guy to hang out with. I even had photos of him showing me his garden. He was the doctor I decided to consult about the psychic pains of Modern Man, me being so fine I'm fine.

From a peke-peke boat on the Amazon

I am a sentimental guy, I admit, finding myself wiping away the tears as the credits roll past, “Mirv Newland. Mirv Newland produced by Mr. and Mrs. Newland” and so on, thinking of the sheer horror of the final moments of the movie as Bambie is crushed mercilessly by Godzilla's giant foot. I can't help myself. I am too emotional sometimes. It's my psychic pain coming out, Bambie meets Godzilla catching me unawares each terrible time. I fight it, and when we crossed the foot bridge in the jungle over the garbage choked ravine on the way back to Gido's place in the thick of it all I stopped and, in a surge of manliness to restore my harmonies with the universe and balance my chakras, I took a piss over the edge, a mere mist sticking to my bare feet. From there on I walked proudly through the thickets and to the doctor's office, my nervousness dispelled like a bad charm, my mind clear and at ease. Paula called and we entered the doctor's office, me feeling better already, the calm of the place embracing me and the sight of Gido repairing something of the ceiling made of overlapping meter long woven palm frond lengths climbed lightly down slight edges of windows and doors in the room to the floor and came to greet us, making all my fears of shiny metal cutting instruments and solemn pronouncements of miserable doom after years of unbearable pain from an incurable psychic pain gone from my mind. Gido shook my hand, and now, after some previous warnings, didn't try to kiss me. I like him more all the time. We went into his office and sat down and Paula explained why we were there, me to talk to Gido about ayahuasca. 

Gators and taters

My interest is in public health, when I care about health at all. Public health, according to me, is the best one can do, cleaning up the living environment, in a sense, pulling the ripcord and letting people float where they may, the wind and gravity of life doing the rest till they land. The hard thump of a life without sewers and soap is pointlessly cruel and stupid, though it took all of our time till a hundred years ago to figure that out, our miraculous life now so different that we come to see it as the only life anyone has ever lived, our benefits being so obvious we can't, most of us, comprehend how new and strange it really is. So long as half the children born don't die before they reach the age of five, then I think medicine has done its job well, and health is for the living thereafter. Individuals, of course, are right to pursue their own interests in living well and without pain, and so it is that we have doctors who make things wrong right as they can. I don't expect much. A hundred years ago they worked for chickens and were overpaid for it. Today, well, they do somewhat better, to what point I do not know. Or, I do know when I go to the doctor and demand a cure for my pains, whatever they might be. But for the lives of others I stand in amazed disbelief that they cannot accept that life is hard and we all must die. I go to the doctor often because I live like an idiot and get injured and sick often. But if there were no doctors I would live or die as well. Maybe I'd go to see a man like Gido and ask for relief. Maybe Gido is the first man I would consult to find out about my psychic pains. That would be personal, not an “interest” at all. But Gido, as a jungle doctor who deals in jungle medicine in a remote village on the Amazon, is in the public health business in that he is the one who heals the ills of the villagers generally, though one at a time. Gido doesn't do so much with tourists. He'll never get rich as a doctor. 

Doctor's office

Gido is 42, married to a young woman, has two young kids, and lives in an unfinished wood-plank house with mosquito mesh on some of the windows below a grass roof that the government is going to replace for him and seemingly every other voter in the Amazon. Gido's place, for what it is, a house in the jungle, isn't that nice. Because his house is in the jungle all the wood is from the jungle, rough planks that don't join well, walls open, floors with gaps, and an enormous open space in the middle of the floor where somehow no one has gotten around to nailing down more planks to keep the kids in or the chickens out. Maybe that is the plan. In a fit of delicacy, I didn't inquire. Gido likes to wear his hair in an Elvis do, and his pants need a wash, and in all, Gido is not your average medical man in Manhattan. He is, however, a man of seriousness that I find attractive in ways missing from the medical professionals of Modernity. Gido is a medical man and doctor in ways one might otherwise describe as a medicine man and a witch doctor. If I were unwell I might consult those more to my own tradition, as if it were traditional at all to bombard a man with spaceage stuff I know nothing about; but I might, and I hope I could, consult a man like Gido to inquire about death instead. That, for the seriously ill man, is the best healing one can hope for, a peaceful surrender to the inevitable end of a life, though I would live happily in my miseries for a thousand years. That's not going to happen, and I would consider talking to someone like Gido about it if I have such a chance at the end.

Doctor Gido

Gido is a busy man, though one might not think so to see him sitting with me and Paula for four hours talking about plants while we sip lemonade and he smokes mapacho cigrarettes rolled as thick as contraband Cuban cigars, acrid smoke and black tobacco that Gido uses not to satisfy a nicotine fit but to dispel bad spirits for the house and the village. Second-hand smoke, in this world of shamans, is a good thing. He lays his burning cigarette on the edge of a plain plank table and puts back his head and thinks about some particularly tough question I stayed up all night thinking of, and he smiles and grins and tells us about the universe of living things all round that we don't see because we don't see. Gido is busy because his life is filled all the time with beings demanding of him. He spends his time talking to plants and their spirits. He is a very busy man. He talks to me for hours in the middle of the day.

Next in this series, what a local shaman has to say about plants and spirits and ayahuasca.

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sewers and toilets in Iquitos, Peru (Part Three)

The sewer system of Iquitos, Peru is old, built originally around 1890, during the Rubber Boom, and it needs a serious upgrade; or, in fact, a total redo. Much if not all of the city is now undergoing that process, and it brings with it some inconvenience, and in some cases, more, sometimes serious injury and death due to construction that impedes traffic and ends up killing people when roads aren't closed or even properly marked as under repair. Some people in Iquitos are justifiably outraged. But progress marches on, and the new sewer system will come about regardless.

To read the rest of this story, please turn to the following link;

Until recently sewage was an assumed aspect of life that one endured along with disease and debilitation and war and death. Few gave it it the slightest thought, relieving themselves at will regardless of place or occasion. There have been sporadic attempts to remove sewage from living quarters, but they were rare and discontinued shortly. People endured the filth.

3200 BCE Scotland: In the Orkney Islands excavations show early drainage systems. At Maes Howe the “first lavatory-like plumbing systems were fitted into recesses in the walls of homes -- with drained outlets. Certain liquid wastes drained to area(s) either under or outside of buildings/homes.”

India is perhaps the first site of toilets and sewers, (c.f. D.W. Walker, A Genealogy of Left Dhimmi Fascism, Vol IV. Oikos II: World and Man. [In progress])

Ancient cities used covered channels and pipes to remove wastes from buildings, probably as far back as 8000 B.C. There is evidence of indoor plumbing pipes in Scotland from that time, although the sewage was tunneled straight out to a nearby creek [source: Bloomington]. Cesspits were found under homes in Iraq dating from as long ago as 4000 B.C. These systems fell into disrepair during the Middle Ages. Throughout this era, wastes and refuse were simply thrown out into the street. By the 18th century, many large cities had systems for removing rainwater, but sewage was usually disposed of in cesspools.

Because man is at least a social if not a herd animal, the concept of personal privacy is a late development, man generally having lived in immediate proximity to other men, and also with domestic animals, the sewage piling up unnoticed till the rise of cities during the Industrial Age and the population explosion brought about by rational agricutlure, at which time people began dying en masse due to what was at the time thought of as the curse of miasma, i.e. bad air, the cause of disease as if was understood before the general if reluctant acceptance of germ theory. Previously, sewage systems were spotty at best.

4000 - 2500 BCE Eshnunna/Babylonia - Mesopotamian Empire (Iraq)
  • Had stormwater drain systems in the streets; drains were constructed of sun-baked bricks or cut stone. Some homes were connected. [The need for proper disposal of human wastes was not fully understood -- but there was a recognition of some of the benefits (less odor, etc.) of taking these wastes away from homes.]
  • In Babylon, in some of the larger homes, people squatted over an opening in the floor of a small interior room. The wastes fell through the opening into a perforated cesspool located under the house. Those cesspools were often made of baked perforated clay rings -- ranging in size from 18" to 36" in diameter -- stacked atop each other. Smaller homes often had smaller cesspools (18" diameter); larger homes ... more people ... had larger diameter cesspools. The annular space (1') outside of the cesspools' walls were often filled with pieces of broken pottery to better the percolation rates.
  • Origin of the earliest known pipe: Babylonia was documented by many as one of the first places to mold clay into pipe (via potter's wheel). Tees and angle joints were produced and then baked to make drainage pipe ... all as early as 4000 BCE.

Rome was probably the first Western city to house a permanent population of one million people, c. 1 B.C. They created an aqueduct system to provide water to the city, and the overflow cleaned the streets by chance. Public latrines made an appearance, and the Cloaca Maxima was constructed.

800 BCE - 300 CE Rome
  • Complex drain systems evolved (initially, and primarily, for storm water and for draining marshes).
  • Public latrines were used by many people, but for the most part, human wastes were thrown into the street.
  • First sewer constructed between 800 and 735 BCE.
  • Rome had extensive street washing programs (water supplied by aqueducts, the first being built in 312 BCE). Only a few homes had water piped directly from the aqueducts. The vast majority of the people came to fountains to gather their water. Even though not many homes were directly plumbed into the sewers, when the wastes were thrown into the street, the street washing resulted in most of the human wastes ending up in the sewers anyway!
  • Direct connection of homes to the sewers was not mandated until nearly 100 CE. (Cost was a factor; also mandating such a connection was then considered an invasion of privacy.)
  • Sewage resulting from the public baths and the included latrines was discharged into sewers. It is worth noting that the Romans recognized the value of their water (which had been transported to the city via aqueducts, often over a distance of 20-30 miles); as such, any wastewater from the public bath facilities was often re-used, frequently as the flushing water that flowed continuously through the public latrine facilities. From the latrines, it flowed to a point of discharge into the sewer system.
  • The Romans were proud of their "rooms of easement" (i.e., latrines). Public baths included such rooms -- adjacent to gardens. There Roman officials would sometimes continue discussions with visiting dignitaries while sitting on the latrines. Elongated rectangular platforms with several adjacent seats were utilized (some with privacy partitions, but most without). These latrine rooms were often co-ed, as were the baths. As noted earlier, water from the public baths, or brush water from the aqueduct system, flowed continuously in troughs beneath the latrine seats; the sewage (along with waste bath water) was delivered to the sewers beneath the city, and eventually to the Tiber River.
  • In Rome, water was distributed with lead pipes. To make pipe, sheets of lead were cut in ten-foot-wide strips and bent around a wood mandrel and joined by solder.
  • The 11' x 12' Cloaca Maxima ("Main Drain" -- finished in 510 BCE, and made of hewn stone, no cement) drained to the Tiber River. Its original purpose was to drain a marsh ... upon which a large portion of Rome was eventually built. The sewer has remained in service for over 2400 years.
  • Sewer infrastructure throughout the city was essentially completed by 100 CE; some direct connections of individual homes began to appear. Terra-cotta pipe was utilized. If a pipe had to withstand pressure, it was often fully embedded (i.e., sealed) in concrete -- a practice the Romans started.
  • Sewer odors were a problem, since there were very few vents from the sewers. Any connections to public baths, or to the few houses that were connected, served as vents in the early years -- making life interesting (odor-wise) in those facilities.
  • The initial purpose of the early sewers was to accommodate storm water runoff (and in at least one case, to drain a marsh); later, sanitary sewage began to be slowly added to the flow.
  • Dejecti: Effusive Act: Damages to be paid by the throwers of wastes into the street -- if the person hit was injured (no damages paid for clothing), and only if the incident happened in daytime hours.
  • Roman courtesy also extended to visitors, and to people with emergencies:
  • Huge vases were provided for use at the edges of towns at entrance roads and at exit roads (i.e., early port-a-potties.)
  • Vendors worked the streets of Rome and other cities providing access to pottery jars (and "modesty capes") -- for a price.
The result was fewer wastes on the streets of Roman cities; still, the majority of human wastes (of the masses) ended up in the streets.

The Roman Empire fell in early CE along with the concepts of baths, basic sanitation, aqueducts, engineered water or sewage systems, etc.

With the fall of the Roman Empire Europe was cast into what French historian Jules Michele called “a thousand years without a bath,” also known as The Dark Ages. Between the inability of the northern invaders to admnister the previous empire and the Muslim destruction of civilization and blockade of most of Europe from trade on the Mediterranean, Europe slid into autocracy, the manorial system of production in which locals starved to death within site of their unhelpful neighbours in a much romanticised commune system. The population of Europe plummeted, and any concern about hygiene in a time of frequent famine was secondary at best. With the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and the growth of Western European economies again reaching the level of the Roman Imperial age, the population of Europe rose as well, and with it the rapid development of cities, necessitating, though delayed, resisted, and dismissed as useless, the installation of sewage systems. But cities were a literal death trap, and workers were needed to keep up industrial production in them. To an extent, london's lowest classes were the sanitation system in the first half of the 19th century, scavenging and sorting debris and filth and keeping it from the guts of at least some city residents.

All of these occupations were considered to be of low social class.
  • Toshers, also sometimes called grubbers, scavenged through the sewers looking for anything of value. They helped to ease the flow in the sewer systems by removing small items. Often whole families worked as toshers. This gave them some immunity to sewage-related diseases that killed many.
  • Mudlarks scavenged in the mud of the Thames and other rivers. They were generally young children who retrieved small items and sold them for very small amounts.
  • Nightsoil men removed human, animal, and household waste from London to farms outside the city for use as manure. However, as London expanded, there were fewer farms and they were further from the city. A farmer would have to pay an average of 2s 6d (12½p) for the manure. The trade ceased almost completely in 1870 when guano (deposits of bird droppings) from South America became available more cheaply. This caused an increase of households dumping waste into the street where it made its way to the Thames through the sewers and rivers.
  • Flushermen were employed by the Court of Sewers. These men would literally "flush" away waste and anything that might block the flow of water in the new sewer system.

C.f. Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, Four Vols. 1851 - 1861. [Three volumes 1851; Vol Four co-written with Bracebridge Hemyng, John Binny and Andrew Halliday, 1861].
But the scavenging poor were not enough. People we dying in large numbers.
Unlike today when every minor ache and pain seems to have a remedy available at the local pharmacy, previously one endured or died without painkillers. Dr. John Snow was the first to use ether during operations, treating patients without inflicting so much pain they died from that alone. He did even more.

When cholera spread through early 19th century London, most residents thought the deadly disease was spread by some sort of mysterious airborne organism. Severe outbreaks killed tens of thousands of people four times between 1831 and 1854 in several industrial English towns and the worst London outbreak in 1853 killed more than 10,000 people alone. Anesthesiologist John Snow was able to map the Soho outbreak and the relation between cholera deaths and pumps located near sewage in the Thames River [source: Summers]. He was able to convince local citizens, authorities and fellow physicians that the disease was not an airborne one, but related to the sewage-tainted water.

Snow was able to convince people living near the water source of cholera at Soho to stop drinking the population that was killing so many, and he did so by padlocking the pump. Reason prevailed later. When it did it had some great help from parliamentarians so sick from the stench of the Thames river outside the House of Parliament that they could not endure it longer, and they began the long and expensive project of cleaning up London by installing a sewerage system, the leader of that project being Joseph Bazelgette. Bazelgette was called in to deal with The Big Stink. Miasma, or bad air, was assumed to be the cause of cholera, and to eliminate the bad air the idea was to remove what caused it, i.e. sewage. The germs involved were not counted for. Still the sewerage system was built.

Imagine the smell that three million Londoners could make if their toilets poured into overflowing cesspools or drains in the street, or if they emptied chamberpots out of their windows. It’s unthinkable now, but that was reality in 1855.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Victorians knew this wasn’t healthy, but not why. When Queen Victoria came to the throne, only half of London’s infants lived to their fifth birthday. Diseases such as cholera were rife in the capital.

The first recorded case of cholera in England was in Newcastle in 1831, and there were major outbreaks in 1849 and 1854. But there was no cure and no treatment.

Since Roman times, it had been thought that diseases like malaria – and, by extension, cholera – were spread in the air by ‘miasmas’ or terrible smells. This was why the Romans had built sewers – to get rid of the smells, not the sewage.

The Big Stink was so big, so stinking, that one hundred years later the expression was common in the United States, my grandfather often scoffing at some minor kerfuffle with the line, “What's the big stink?” Mention of cholera, on the other hand, made his face turn pale from painful memories.

The 1854 discovery by Filippo Pacini of Vibrio cholerae, the bacterium that caused the disease, was ignored until it was rediscovered thirty years later by Robert Koch. In 1854 London physician Dr John Snow discovered that the disease was transmitted by drinking water contaminated by sewage after an epidemic centred in Soho, but this idea was not widely accepted. Consolidating several separate local bodies concerned with sewers, the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers was established in 1848; it surveyed London's antiquated sewerage system and began ridding the capital of its cesspits—an objective later accelerated by the "Great Stink".

The experts of the London medical establishment of the time were committed to a useless idea they mostly refused to let go of: miasma, or disease caused by “bad air.” Yesteryear's experts were no stupider than ours today. Two men, however, John Snow and a local minister, Reverend Henry Whitehead, fought the establishment and eventually won, closing the Soho pump that was spreading cholera in the city.

Having attended many patients during the 1849 outbreak without contracting cholera himself, he [Dr John Snow] realised that it could not be transmitted through the air. Then, the pattern of an outbreak in 1854 in Soho allowed him to track the source to a popular water pump in Broad Street (now Broadwick Street). Particularly telling was the fact that none of the 70 workers in the local brewery died, as they only drank beer.

Although Snow was [not immediately] unaware of it, a sewer was leaking into the Broad Street well. Sadly, such cross contamination between the sewage system and water supplies was typical.

Snow did figure out the problem of contaminated water from the well, and thus saved countless lives and created the first demand for a proper sewerage system in London.

Only when the problem was literally forced up the noses of MPs at their new Houses of Parliament during the ‘Great Stink’ in the summer of 1858 did something get done about it. Parliament gave £3 million to the Metropolitan Board of Works to sort out the problem. The task was taken on by chief engineer Joseph Bazalgette, who designed and constructed five major brick-lined sewers measuring 132 km (82 miles); three north of the river and two to the south. These connected with existing sewers and pumping stations were built at strategic locations to keep the sewage flowing.

In the Middle Ages, cities in Western Europe were mostly centres for military and religious quarters, a few guilds allowed inside the city gates for supply, the rest of the population relegated to the outside and to semi-self-sufficient farming manors. City populations rarely exceeded a few thousand people, and sewage, regardless of how we would see it today, was not a considerable problem for those residents. But with the rise on industrial production and the need for floating populations of workers at hand, cities grew to previously unimaginable sizes, bringing with them their physical needs as well as their labour. Sewage and overcrowding brought disease on a massive scale.

In earlier times Londoners got their water from wells or the river. There were few people and the sewage, though a problem, was not devastating,

Until the late 16th century, London citizens were reliant for their water supplies on water from shallow wells, the River Thames, its tributaries, or one of around a dozen natural springs, including the spring at Tyburn which was connected by lead pipe to a large cistern or tank (then known as a conduit): the Great Conduit in Cheapside. ...
Wealthy Londoners living near to a conduit pipe could obtain permission for a connection to their homes, but this did not prevent unauthorised tapping of conduits. Otherwise - particularly for households which could not take a gravity-feed, water from the conduits was provided to individual households by water carriers, or "cobs". ...
In 1582 Dutchman Peter Morice leased the northernmost arch of London Bridge and, inside the arch, constructed a waterwheel that pumped water from the Thames to various places in London. Further waterwheels were added in 1584 and 1701, and remained in use until 1822.

Recycling might be some good idea in some cases, but it turns bad when one recycles sewage into household use. Many residents of the Belen area of Iquitos, Peru face a problem similar to that of London in the 19th century. Disposing properly of household waste is expensive and impractical for those living on floating houses or houses built on stilts on the riverbank. Sewage goes, and sewage comes back again.

[I]n 1815 house waste was permitted to be carried to the Thames via the sewers, so for seven years human waste was dumped into the Thames and then potentially pumped back to the same households for drinking, cooking and bathing. Prior to the Great Stink there were over 200,000 cesspits in London. Emptying one cesspit cost a shilling - a cost the average London citizen then could ill afford. As a result, most cesspits added to the airborne stench.

In the Belen area many building lack basic plumbing, and thus during the six month low water season, the sewage is not swept away by the Amazon river. Belen in effect becomes one large cesspit. At least there are very few toilets to add to the mess.

Part of the [London] problem was due to the introduction of flush toilets, replacing the chamber-pots that most Londoners had used. These dramatically increased the volume of water and waste that was now poured into existing cesspits. These often overflowed into street drains designed originally to cope with rainwater, but now also used to carry outfalls from factories, slaughterhouses and other activities, contaminating the city before emptying into the River Thames.

The summer of 1858 was unusually hot. The Thames and many of its urban tributaries were overflowing with sewage; the warm weather encouraged bacteria to thrive and the resulting smell was so overwhelming that it affected the work of the House of Commons (countermeasures included draping curtains soaked in chloride of lime, while members considered relocating upstream to Hampton Court) and the law courts (plans were made to evacuate to Oxford and St Albans). Heavy rain finally ended the heat and humidity of summer and the immediate crisis ended. However, a House of Commons select committee was appointed to report on the Stink and recommend how to end the problem.

Consolidating several separate local bodies concerned with sewers, the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers was established in 1848; it surveyed London's antiquated sewerage system and began ridding the capital of its cesspits—an objective later accelerated by the "Great Stink".
[I]in 1855 the Metropolitan Board of Works which, after rejecting many schemes for "merciful abatement of the epidemic that ravaged the Metropolis", accepted a scheme to implement sewers proposed in 1859 by its chief engineer, Joseph Bazalgette. The intention of this very expensive scheme was to resolve the epidemic of cholera by eliminating the stench which was believed to cause it. Over the next six years the main elements of the London sewerage system were created. As an unintended consequence the water supply ceased to be contaminated; this resolved the cholera epidemic.

Iquitos has a sewerage system, now antiquated and in the process of up-grading. The original and the current projects are thanks to men like John Snow and Joseph Bazalgette. 

John Snow (15 March 1813 – 16 June 1858)

Snow was a sceptic of the then-dominant miasma theory that stated that diseases such as cholera or the Black Death were caused by pollution or a noxious form of "bad air". The germ theory of disease had not yet been developed, so Snow did not understand the mechanism by which the disease was transmitted. His observation of the evidence led him to discount the theory of foul air. He first publicized his theory in an essay On the Mode of Communication of Cholera in 1849. ... In 1855 he published a second edition of his article, documenting his more elaborate investigation of the effect of the water supply in the Soho, London epidemic of 1854.
By talking to local residents (with the help of Reverend Henry Whitehead), he identified the source of the outbreak as the public water pump on Broad Street (now Broadwick Street). Although Snow's chemical and microscope examination of a water sample from the Broad Street pump did not conclusively prove its danger, his studies of the pattern of the disease were convincing enough to persuade the local council to disable the well pump by removing its handle. This action has been commonly credited as ending the outbreak, but Snow observed that the epidemic may have already been in rapid decline:

Snow later used a dot map to illustrate the cluster of cholera cases around the pump. He also used statistics to illustrate the connection between the quality of the water source and cholera cases. He showed that the Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company was taking water from sewage-polluted sections of the Thames and delivering the water to homes, leading to an increased incidence of cholera. Snow's study was a major event in the history of public health and geography. It is regarded as the founding event of the science of epidemiology.

Later, researchers discovered that this public well had been dug only three feet from an old cesspit, which had begun to leak fecal bacteria. The nappies of a baby, who had contracted cholera from another source, had been washed into this cesspit. Its opening was originally under a nearby house, which had been rebuilt farther away after a fire. The city had widened the street and the cesspit was lost. It was common at the time to have a cesspit under most homes. Most families tried to have their raw sewage collected and dumped in the Thames to prevent their cesspit from filling faster than the sewage could decompose into the soil.

After the cholera epidemic had subsided, government officials replaced the Broad Street Pump Handle. They had responded only to the urgent threat posed to the population, and afterward they rejected Snow's theory. To accept his proposal would have meant indirectly accepting the oral-fecal method transmission of disease, which was too unpleasant for most of the public to contemplate.

Entrenched interests often impede progress and cause countless unnecessary deaths and immense suffering before the forces of reaction are swept away by a few brave men with the right idea. One such man is Joseph Bazalgette.

Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, CB (b. 1819 – d. 1891) was chief engineer of London's Metropolitan Board of Works. His major achievement was the creation (in response to the "Great Stink" of 1858) of a sewer network for central London which was instrumental in relieving the city from cholera epidemics, while beginning the cleansing of the River Thames.

[When] London's short-lived Metropolitan Commission of Sewers ordered that all cesspits should be closed and that house drains should connect to sewers and empty into the Thames, [the result was] a cholera epidemic (1848–49) that killed 14,137 Londoners.

Bazalgette was appointed assistant surveyor to the Commission in 1849, taking over as Engineer in 1852. [A]nother cholera epidemic struck in 1853, killing 10,738. Medical opinion at the time held that cholera was caused by foul air: a so-called miasma. Physician John Snow had earlier advanced a different explanation, which is now known to be correct: cholera was spread by contaminated water. His view was not generally accepted.

Championed by fellow engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Bazalgette was appointed chief engineer of the Commission's successor, the Metropolitan Board of Works, in 1856.... In 1858, the year of the Great Stink, Parliament passed an enabling act, in spite of the colossal expense of the project, and Bazalgette's proposals to revolutionise London's sewerage system began to be implemented. The expectation was that enclosed sewers would eliminate the stink ('miasma'), and that this would then reduce the incidence of cholera.

At the time, the Thames was little more than an open sewer.... Bazalgette's solution ... was to construct 82 miles (132 km) of underground brick main sewers to intercept sewage outflows, and 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of street sewers to intercept the raw sewage.... The outflows were diverted downstream where they were dumped, untreated, into the Thames. ...
The scheme involved major pumping stations at Deptford (1864) and at Crossness (1865) on the Erith marshes, both on the south side of the Thames, and at Abbey Mills (in the River Lea valley, 1868) and on the Chelsea Embankment (close to Grosvenor Bridge; 1875), north of the river.
The system was opened by Edward, Prince of Wales in 1865, although the whole project was not actually completed for another ten years.

Bazalgette's foresight may be seen in the diameter of the sewers. When planning the network he took the densest population, gave every person the most generous allowance of sewage production and came up with a diameter of pipe needed. He then said 'Well, we're only going to do this once and there's always the unforeseen' and doubled the diameter to be used. His foresight allowed for the unforeseen increase in population density with the introduction of the tower block; with the original, smaller pipe diameter the sewer would have overflowed in the 1960s, rather than coping until the present day as it has.

The unintended consequence of the new sewer system was to eliminate cholera not only in places that no longer stank, but wherever water supplies ceased to be contaminated by sewage. The basic premise of this expensive project, that miasma spread cholera infection, was wrong; however, instead of this causing the project to fail, the new sewers succeeded in virtually eliminating the disease by removing the contamination.

Bazalgette's capacity for hard work was remarkable; every connection to the sewerage system by the various Vestry Councils had to be checked and Bazalgette did this himself and the records contain thousands of linen tracings with handwritten comments in Indian ink on them "Approved JWB" "I do not like 6" used here and 9" should be used. JWB" and so on. It is perhaps not surprising that his health suffered as a result.

Below are some fun facts about sewers. Who knew!?

"Sewer - A pipe or conduit, generally closed, but normally not flowing full, for carrying sewage and other wastes."

"Sanitary Sewer - A sewer which carries sewage and excludes storm, surfaces and ground water."

"Flush Tank - A chamber in which water, or sewage, is accumulated and discharged at intervals for flushing a sewer."

"Lamp-hole - A small vertical pipe or shaft leading from the surface of the ground to a sewer, for admitting a light for purposes of inspection."

"Manhole - A shaft, or chamber, from the surface of the ground to a sewer, large enough to enable a person to have access for the purpose of inspections or cleaning."

"Manhole Head - The cast iron fixture surmounting a manhole. It is made up of two parts: A 'Frame' which rests on the masonry of the shaft, and a removable 'Cover.' Frames are either 'Fixed' or 'Adjusted' in height. Covers are 'Tight,' 'Ventilated,' or 'Anti rattling.' "

Manholes covers: covers started off as slabs of stone, maybe pieces of wood -- which they remained from 3500 BC through the 1750s-1850s CE. For the last 200+ years, iron works in the United States have made cast-iron manhole covers, some weighing as much as 300 lbs. each, some rectangular, some square, but for the most part, round. The oldest available foundry catalog for manhole covers dates back to 1860.
The phrase "manhole" -- even though some people today want to change it for gender-sensitivity reasons -- was first used to describe the access holes between the decks of old, all-male, sailing ships. The word "manhole" (initially) had nothing to do with sewers.

It wasn't until later that the term was used to describe the structure through which access to sewers (initially, to new "separate" sewers) for maintenance could be achieved. Perhaps the name was adopted because it was, in essence, a hole into which a person (man) would go to do maintenance, or it was adopted from one level (street level) to another level (the sewer beneath the street). We'll probably never know for sure.
In fact, some believe the word "sewer" is derived from the term "seaward" in Old English. Early sewers in the London area were open ditches which led to the Thames River, and from there on down to the sea ("seaward").
As you can see, not a whole lot has changed in the years between the 1870s and now relative to the philosophy of manhole design, definitions, etc.; mainly materials and installation techniques have changed. The early designers had an amazingly good sense of what was needed.
Sewer pipe: In the very early years of sewers in the United States, hollowed-out logs were utilized to convey sewage from a single dwelling to the nearest stream or, sometimes, as a part of a larger conveyance "system" for a small town. Some larger "combined" systems utilized brick, sometimes cut stone, slate, or even wood (mostly, for the inverts); many combinations of materials were utilized depending on the types of materials available locally. The size/shapes of the sewers varied in almost direct proportion to the number of designers involved.

Sometime in the 1820s in Europe, the concept of building oval-shaped sewers evolved [See John Roe, named after fish eggs, conceivably the inspiration for his egg-saped sewer pipe,] (as opposed to the previous flat-bottom, rectangular cross-sectional sewers), supposedly to help diminish the possibility of the sedimentation of solids/sand via the provision of higher (scour) velocities at low flows.

As the industry improved, and it was realized that fewer joints (especially if they weren't always well sealed) were better, the industry responded with 3' laying lengths of pipe.

Cast-iron pipe began to become available in the mid-1700s for municipal water service. The first large-scale use of cast-iron pipe for distribution of water occurred in 1664 at Versaille, France. A 15-mile cast-iron main was installed from Marley-on-Seina to the palace at Versailles; the system is still in service today. The bell-and-spigot joint was developed by Sir Thomas Simpson in 1785 (London) for cast-iron pipe and has been in use ever since. The early versions used "butt" joints sealed with metal bands.

And the sewerage fun will continue as soon as Senor Marvin Rios of Iquitos gets off his arse and decides to continue our interview about the state of the sewer up-grade project in the city. He has much to offer, though he has recently been somewhat constipated when it comes to letting it all out for the interested public.

When Sr. Rios stops pissing on my shoes we'll have more on this story from Iquitos, Peru.

For those whose appetite for all things sewer and toilet is only whetted, please turn to the following links for more, far more, about this fascinating if weird topic.

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