Traditionally, indigenous families wake up together at dawn to drink guayusa. They sit around the communal fire drinking gourds full of guayusa until sunrise. During this time, the 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 guayusa ritual continues to be a cornerstone of Kichwa culture, a practice that brings the family and community together around the simple experience of drinking tea.
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 also interpret dreams from the previous night,
and make recommendations to guide the community and help them live in harmony with the rainforest. After drinking the first gourds of guayusa, children are often sent to go bathe in the river and receive its strength and cleansing for the day to come.
While many of the indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon grow coffee or tea (plants imported from other parts of the world), guayusa, in contrast, is a native plant of immense cultural importance and mythological significance. Growing guayusa and sharing it with an international community is a powerful way for the indigenous communities to appreciate their culture and recognize its value in the modern world. By drinking guayusa you give these farmers the opportunity to continue living and evolving as Runa.
Jesuit missionaries fell in love with guayusa in the 1700’s, and surrounded many of their missions in Ecuador and Colombia with bright, leafy guayusa trees.
Many indigenous communities say that guayusa is a plant teacher, and forms an important part of their 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 have poise and presence through difficulty.