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Medical Drug or Shamanic Power Plant: The Uses of Kambô in Brazil

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Abstract

The secretion from the frog Phyllomedusa bicolor, known in Portuguese as kambô, has traditionally been used as a stimulant and an invigorating agent for hunting by indigenous groups such as the Katukina, Yawanawa, and the Kaxinawa in the southeast Amazon. Since the mid 90s, its use has expanded to large cities in Brazil and, since the late 2000s, abroad to Europe and the US. The urban diffusion of the use of kambô has taken place via healing clinics offering alternative therapies, by way of members of the Brazilian ayahuasca religions, and through travel, mainly by Amazonian rubber tappers, the Katukina, and the Kawinawa Indians. In this article, we present an ethnography of the expansion and reinvention of the use of kambô. We describe the individuals who apply the substance, who are a diverse group, including indigenous healers, ex-rubber tappers, holistic therapists, and doctors. We argue that the frog secretion has a double appeal among this new urban clientele: as a “remedy of science,” in which its biochemical properties are stressed; and as a “remedy of spirit,” in which its “indigenous origin” is more valued, as if kambô was a kind of shamanic power plant analogous to peyote and ayahuasca.

Labate, B. C., & Lima, E. C. D. (2014). Medical Drug or Shamanic Power Plant: The Uses of Kambô in Brazil. Ponto Urbe. Revista do núcleo de antropologia urbana da USP, (15).
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