An amazing passage about the use of coca among of the indigenous Kogi and Ika people of Colombia, taken from p24 of anthropologist Wade Davis’ magical book on the ethnobotany of ceremonial chemicals, One River.
In a sacred landscape in which every plant is a manifestation of the divine, the chewing of hayo, a variety of coca only found in the mountains of Colombia, represents the most profound expression of culture. Distance in the mountains is not measured in miles but coca chews. When two men meet, they do not shake hands, they exchange leaves. Their societal ideal is to abstain from sex, eating and sleeping while staying up all night, chewing hayo and chanting the names of ancestors. Each week the men chew about a pound of dry leaves, thus absorbing as much as a third of a gram of cocaine each day of their adults lives.
The book traces Davis’ own travels, and those of his mentor Richard Evans Schultes, to understand the culture and chemistry of psychoactive plants among the native peoples of America, both North and South.
It’s an amazingly evocative book and is full of engrossing cultural insights into how plants like coca, the peyote cactus and psilocybin mushrooms have been used traditionally and how they were discovered by Western science.
As we’ve mentioned before, Davis has also given a couple of amazing TED talks that focus on traditional uses of mind altering plants.