Danny Nemu

The Shadow of the Academy: Prejudice and Neo-colonialism in the Academic study of Ayahuasca

All tribes maintain taboos, including tribes that hunt and gather in university libraries. Certain prohibitions have been followed for centuries in the indigenous world when working with ayahuasca, but celibacy and food exclusions have barely been studied in decades of scientific research. Shamans are not asked to sing icaros in brain imaging studies, nor are Daimistas asked to recite prayers. Tribal feathers add colour to our conferences, but why are we so disinterested in their traditional techniques?

One taboo that is observed in the developed world concerns SSRI anti-depressants, since two researchers proposed a “theoretical contraindication” in the 90s. No studies followed, no cases of serotonin syndrome have been reported despite thousands of people ignoring the advice - and yet the twenty-year-old taboo remains in place. Meanwhile centuries-old taboos from the indigenous traditions have been studiously ignored by the academy. Taboos in science are rarely based on evidence, but rather unexamined prejudice and the legacy of neo-colonialism.

While anthropologists are no longer caging Pygmies in the zoo as they were early last century, the academic project remains steeped in racism. This and other prejudices can be passed on into the discourse and "common sense" of well-meaning urban tribespeople of the industrial north. How can researchers with one foot in the jungle and one in the city overcome the traditional arrogance of their lineages, and begin to incorporate traditional wisdom into their inquiry into the nature of ayahuasca?

Daimista, Author of Science Revealed, Neuro-Apocalypse and Getting High with the Most High: Entheogens in the Old Testament. Danny has spent 18 years with the Daime ayahuasca community, including battling a flesh-eating protozoal parasite with ayahuasca for 8 months in the Amazon. He is a hypnotherapist an activist and independent researcher, covering Drugs in the Bible, Revelation and Realpolitik in Science, and the connection between Linguistics, Neurobiology, Perception and Cognition. His fundamental interest is in what we can know, and how we can overcome impediments to knowledge.