Traditionally, indigenous families wake up at dawn and gather around a communal fire to drink gourds of guayusa. During this time, village elders teach the youth about ancestral myths, hunting techniques, social values, and about what it means to be “Runa” in the indigenous cosmovision. The ritual continues to be a cornerstone of Kichwa culture, a practice that brings family and community together around the simple experience of drinking guayusa. Community shamans, known as yachaks or rukus in Kichwa, will also play a traditional bamboo flute (known as kena) and a two-sided weasel skin drum and sing soft rhythmic songs during these early morning hours.
The shamans interpret dreams from the previous night and make recommendations to guide the community and help it live in harmony with the rainforest. After drinking the first gourds of guayusa, children are often sent to bathe in the river and receive its strength and cleansing for the day to come. In contrast to many indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon that grow coffee or tea (plants imported from other parts of the world), the Kichwa people grow guayusa, a native plant of immense cultural importance and mythological significance. Growing guayusa and sharing it with an international community is a powerful way for this indigenous community to practice traditional culture and recognize a new value it holds in the modern world. By drinking guayusa, you help give these farmers the opportunity to continue living and evolving as Runa.
In modern times (if you call the 1700s modern), Jesuit missionaries fell in love with guayusa and surrounded many of their missions in Ecuador and Colombia with bright, leafy guayusa trees.
Many indigenous communities say guayusa is a “plant teacher,” and the species plays an important role in shamanic traditions. Several myths recount how guayusa was the first plant that taught human beings how to dream, and how the ritual of getting up at dawn protects humans from wandering spirits in the night. Guayusa is said to teach people how to conquer fears and maintain poise and presence through difficult trials.