Danny Nemu is a writer, activist and ayahuasca researcher with academic background in the History and Philosophy of Medicine. He first encountered ayahuasca when living in Japan, and eventually followed the trail back to the source of Daime in the Brazilian Amazon. He was bitten by a sandfly, which proved to be a great teacher. The resulting 8 month battle with a necrotic parasite provided a window into Daime ritual technologies, and an opportunity to explore the meaning of illness and health from a different point of view.
Interests include traditional perspectives from both indigenous culture and scripture, and traditional modes of engagement with areas of human experience usually dominated by academic, pharmaceutical and state bodies – health and neurodiversity, insight and innovation, psychedelics and extraordinary experience.
His books Science Revealed and Neuro-Apocalypse are available from Psychedelic Press UK, and he is a regular contributor to the Psypress journal, as well as Reality Sandwich and Bia Labate’s blog.
The Shadow Side of the Academy: Prejudice, Neo-colonialism and Taboo in the Academic study of Ayahuasca
All tribes maintain taboos, including tribes that hunt and gather in the libraries of educational institutions.
Taboos can be both repositories of knowledge and obstacles to it. Indigenous prohibitions on certain foods and practices that have been followed for centuries may optimise one’s relationship with ayahuasca, but indigenous wisdom on ayahuasca has barely been studied despite decades of academic study. The influence of sexual dieta, the menstrual cycle and avoiding certain foods has not been looked at. In brain imaging studies subjects are asked to perform cognitive tasks, but why haven’t subjects listened to icaros, and why haven’t Daimistas been asked to recite prayers? Shamans in feathers add colour to our conferences, but why are we so disinterested in the techniques they train in?
One of the few taboos that does hold sway in the cities of the developed world concerns SSRI’s, because a psychiatrist and a neuroanatomist hypothesised a possible danger 20 years ago. No studies have been performed since, and not a single case of serotonin syndrome has been reported as a result of the combination – and yet the taboo remains in place while centuries-old taboos rooted in indigenous knowledge are ignored.
If this and other taboos are not based on evidence, why do we observe them? Anthropologists are no longer exhibiting Pygmies in the zoo as they were in the early 20th century, and modern psychiatrists would no longer describe slaves that kept running away as drapetomaniacs, but the legacy of neo-colonialism lives on in our unexamined prejudices. Racism has infected the root of the academic project, and is passed on via the media into the “common sense” of urban tribes of the industrial north.
How can researchers with one foot in the jungle and the other in the city overcome the traditional arrogance of their lineages, and begin to incorporate traditional wisdom into their quest to understand the nature of ayahuasca?