Ayahuasca Cultural Appropriation – the western influence and its impact on indigenous communities

ayahuasca cultural appropriation

In today’s increasingly globalized society, the West finds itself concerned with the complexities of cultural appropriation, striving to distinguish between genuine appreciation and thoughtless exploitation. 

Ayahuasca, an ancient and sacred tradition deeply rooted in indigenous practices spanning thousands of years, hasn’t been spared from this topic. With its rising popularity in the Western world, Ayahuasca now stands at a unique intersection, where age-old tradition meets the West’s demands and new influences. These evolving circumstances calls for introspection and an earnest dialogue on how to approach such sacred traditions with the respect they deserve.

Key takeaways: 

  • It is problematic when profit driven business people open Ayahuasca Retreats without honoring the tradition and creating ways for sustainability and mutual growth 


  • Ayahuasca is opening up and the majority of indigenous tribes believe that Ayahuasca needs to leave the Amazon and be shared with people from the city to help heal from diseases of the mind and reconnect with mother earth.


  • Ayahuasca tourism is bringing a valuable economic driving force and external money to the much needed indigenous infrastructure in the amazon.

Table of Contents

The Problematic Side of Westernization: Profits Over Tradition

A glaring instance of cultural appropriation emerges when Western (often luxurious) retreat centers commodify Ayahuasca, often devoid of genuine respect for its cultural and spiritual roots. These establishments, driven primarily by profit motives, capitalize on the growing trend and fascination surrounding Ayahuasca in the West.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with businesses evolving around emerging trends. The issue arises when these centers prioritize financial gains over preserving the rich heritage and sustainability of the practice. 

By taking the sacred ceremony of the indigenous communities and repackaging them for lucrative purposes – without ensuring an authentic and respectful cultural exchange or prioritizing the sustainable use of Ayahuasca – such centers risk diluting the very essence of this ancient tradition.

The effects of Ayahuasca tourism in the Amazon: 

It is bringing in money into an ecosystem that needs it. 

The Amazon, with its rich biodiversity and stunning landscapes, is undoubtedly a captivating destination. My first journey into the heart of mother earth left me in awe, yet it also led me to question the economic dynamics of the region. Apart from the fascinating nature, one wonders how the local economy thrives and how people sustain themselves. Upon closer inspection, you realize that the economic lifeblood in many of these areas is infused by tourism, especially eco-tourism and, more recently, Ayahuasca tourism.

Bringing much-needed financial inflow into the Amazon, tourism, particularly related to Ayahuasca, has become a crucial economic pillar. Their economic growth is correlated to the the circulation of money. With limited traditional industries, the financial sustenance of many Amazonian communities rests on the visitors. 

However, Ayahuasca tourism is not the only economic avenue available. There are also more destructive paths, like deforestation for commercial purposes or, even more alarming, the illegal cultivation of coca to fuel the global drug market. Comparatively, Ayahuasca tourism seems like a more sustainable and harmonious choice.

Working closely with an indigenous family in the region, I’ve observed the tangible benefits of Ayahuasca tourism. Not only do we source our Ayahuasca from them, ensuring they get a fair price, but we also collaborate on guided jungle tours where the indigenous communities retain the majority of the earnings. These funds empower them to invest in land, cultivate more Ayahuasca plants (adding to the sustainability of the work), and contribute to the local job market by hiring workers for construction, garden maintenance, and other demanding physical labour. This money goes into their ecosystem, the workers, their family etc. 

Such ventures not only provide employment but also instill a sense of pride and purpose, strengthening community bonds.

In essence, while Ayahuasca tourism undoubtedly comes with its challenges and potential pitfalls, it can also serve as a driving force for sustainable development and economic empowerment for Amazonian communities when approached with respect and integrity.

Must read Blog: What is Ayahuasca – the mystery of the amazon explained

Non – trained indigenous ayahuasca shamans

cultural appropriation ayahuasca taxi driver or shaman

“Taxi driver or Ayahuasca shaman – whatever you need me to be” 

Ayahuasca’s growing popularity in the West, has unfortunately paved the way for opportunistic practices, especially in tourist-heavy areas. A close friend’s experience in Cusco, Peru, exemplifies this growing concern.

My friend, who is on his path of Ayahuasca, was discussing his journey with a local taxi driver in Cusco. Intriguingly, the driver revealed that he occasionally also does Ayahuasca ceremonies. When he encounteres foreign passengers eager for an Ayahuasca ceremony, he takes them to the mountain, puts on his ponche, dresses up with some feathers and does a little ritual for them. 

This example isn’t just an amusing anecdote but shows a real concern. Simply being of indigenous descent does not automatically bestow one with the knowledge, experience, and spiritual wisdom required to guide an Ayahuasca ceremony. The art of conducting these ceremonies is a deep, sacred tradition, often passed down through generations. It requires extensive training, understanding, and respect for the medicine. 

When unqualified individuals claim to be shamans, they endanger participants by potentially mishandling the ceremony, which could lead to harmful or even traumatic experiences, causing a bad reputation for Ayahuasca. It’s crucial for anyone seeking to partake in an Ayahuasca ceremony to ensure that they’re placing their trust in a genuine, trained shaman. Doing so not only safeguards their own well-being but also respects the profound cultural and spiritual significance of the Ayahuasca tradition.

The Shift in Shamanic Motivations: From Spiritual Calling to Monetary Gain

Traditionally, the path of a shaman was one of immense personal and spiritual commitment. The role of a shaman wasn’t merely a profession; it was a life’s calling. Rooted in ancestral wisdom, the journey to become a shaman entailed significant sacrifices, extensive training, and a deep, unwavering dedication to the spiritual well-being of the community. It was a path not for personal glory or gain, but out of a profound sense of duty and purpose.

However, as Ayahuasca tourism booms and the West’s demand for these transformative experiences increases, the motivations for becoming a shaman have begun to shift in certain areas. The promise of financial rewards has tempted some, even within indigenous communities, to seek the shamanic title more for financial gain than being a deeper calling within.

While economic opportunities can be a positive force, especially in areas that need them, it’s vital to ensure that the spiritual integrity and authenticity of shamanic practices are preserved. The allure of money should not dilute the deep respect and commitment that the path of a shaman truly requires.

Ayahuasca Tourism: Sustaining Indigenous Culture during Changing Aspirations

While the growing global intrigue around Ayahuasca draws many to the Amazon, it’s essential to understand the aspirations and changing perspectives within the indigenous communities themselves. As I spent time in the region, I observed an interesting duality.

On one hand, the allure of modernity and global culture is strong. The daughter of an indigenous host at an Airbnb I stayed at aspired to be a model. Others I met dreamt of becoming actors, DJs, or soccer stars. These aspirations reflect the universal human desires for progress, success, and, in some cases, an escape from the rigorous demands of traditional life.

Indeed, life in the Amazon is not the idyllic, spiritual haven some in the West might imagine. The environment is perpetually moist, conditions can be harsh, and the comforts and conveniences of modern urban living are far removed. For many indigenous youth, the life of a shaman or the traditional routines of the Amazon don’t hold the same romantic allure. A contemporary apartment in a modern city often feels more appealing than the dense, challenging jungles of their ancestors.

However, this is where Ayahuasca tourism plays a role. While it’s true that many younger generations might feel more inclined to move away from traditional paths, the economic and cultural opportunities presented by Ayahuasca tourism offer a middle ground. Some see the potential in blending their ancestral knowledge with the demand from the West. They recognize the chance not only for personal growth but also for cultural preservation. The increase of tourists seeking genuine experiences ensures that the ancient practices, rituals, and wisdom do not fade away.

In essence, while Ayahuasca tourism is undeniably influencing indigenous communities, it can also serve as a bridge between the old and the new, helping to preserve that invaluable traditions aren’t lost amidst the winds of change.

Why Ayahuasca is leaving the Amazon

Some indigenous tribes rigorously believe that Ayahuasca should remain within the confines of the jungle, fearing that external influences, especially from the Western world, might dilute or distort its sacred essence. These concerns aren’t baseless; there are instances where the Ayahuasca is exploited. Upscale retreats have sprung up, catering to a clientele seeking exotic experiences and, in some cases, the essence of the ritual is compromised for profitability.

However, on the flip side, there’s a growing consensus within indigenous communities, that Ayahuasca has a larger role to play in the modern world. They believe that Ayahuasca has a mission beyond the Amazon – a spiritual assignment. The world is in the midst of an existential crisis, grappling with mental health issues, disconnectedness, and an increasing alienation from nature. Ayahuasca, in its profound wisdom, can be a catalyst for healing these modern diseases of the mind. By facilitating deep introspection and connection, it helps individuals rediscover their bond with the earth and the interdependence of life.

This perspective shows that the emergence of Ayahuasca in global consciousness isn’t just coincidental; it’s timely. As humanity stands at a critical point, at the brink of ecological collapse, Ayahuasca serves as a reminder and a tool for transformation. It shows us to reconnect with the land, respect nature, and realize that our survival is tied to the health of our planet.

The journey of Ayahuasca beyond its native jungle is thus symbolic of a larger call to humanity – to awaken, to heal, and to cherish our shared home. Whether we follow this call or let the echoes fade away is up to us.

The “necesity” for westernized Ayahuasca Retreats 

The romantic idea of drinking Ayahuasca in its most authentic setting – a traditional Maloka deep within the Amazon with an indigenous tribe – is undeniably powerful. Imagining the scene, where the local community gathers and ancestral songs fill the air, can evoke feelings of intrigue. 

However, the reality of accessing such an experience poses several challenges. The journey to remote parts of the Amazon can be long and daunting for many. Beyond the logistical hurdles, there are vital aspects to consider when it comes to the Ayahuasca experience, mainly the sense of safety and security.

While the Amazon offers raw beauty, its vastness and wildlife might be overwhelming for some, potentially triggering anxiety. Being far removed from familiar medical facilities can further increase such fears. It’s crucial to ask oneself: Can I truly immerse in the Ayahuasca experience if I’m constantly worried about my surroundings?

This is where Westernized Ayahuasca retreats fill a significant gap. They provide an atmosphere that prioritizes safety and comfort, ensuring participants can fully focus on their inner journey without external distractions. The structured setting of these retreats, complete with sharing circles and discussions, offers a supportive environment for introspection and processing. 

Additionally, having a facilitator familiar with Western lifestyles and challenges can bridge the cultural divide. While indigenous shamans possess unparalleled knowledge about Ayahuasca, they might not completely grasp the nuances of modern Western struggles. A Western facilitator, understanding both the traditions of Ayahuasca and the challenges of day-to-day life, so he can offer guidance that’s more tailored to the participants’ experiences.

In essence, Westernized Ayahuasca retreats aim to combine the spiritual depth of the traditional practice with an environment that resonates with participants from the west, creating an experience that’s both profound and accessible.

Mental attitude: “Shaman do a ceremony for me” 

In our consumer-driven society, particularly in more westernized contexts like the U.S., there’s an ingrained expectation: when money is exchanged, a service or product is expected in return, often in its most polished and convenient form. This mindset, however, can be limiting when applied to the world of Ayahuasca retreats.

Some participants come to a retreat with the notion, “I’ve paid, so now perform the ceremony for me.” While, of course, facilitators are there to guide and ensure safety, it’s crucial to recognize that the Ayahuasca experience isn’t something that’s just “delivered.” It’s co-created. The energy, intentions, and attitudes of every participant play a role in shaping the ceremony. 

Consider the seemingly small act of picking up a stray paper tissue on the ground. While this might seem insignificant, it symbolizes a larger mindset: an understanding that we are all co-creating the shared space and experience. Of course, staff will ensure the surroundings are clean, but when a participant takes that small step, it’s a reflection of their active engagement, not just as consumers but as contributors.

Witnessing such gestures always warms the heart, as it signifies a deeper comprehension of the collective nature of the retreat (and life :)). It’s about understanding that while the ceremony has its experts and guides, every individual present has a part to play. Instead of just being passive recipients awaiting enlightenment on a silver platter, embracing the idea of co-creation can lead to a more profound and enriched Ayahuasca journey.

Cultural exchange 

From my interactions, I’ve observed that many shamans embrace those who approach them with genuine respect, humility, and curiosity for understanding. They seem genuinely thrilled that individuals from the Western world and beyond express an interest in their time-honored traditions, philosophies, and the profound spiritual journeys facilitated by Ayahuasca.

But, it’s essential to realize that this exchange isn’t one-directional. While participants immerse themselves in ancient practices and indigenous philosophies, the shamans too are on a learning trajectory. They’re exposed to diverse perspectives, distinct thought processes, and innovative solutions that stem from our modern world’s challenges and contexts. 

The Unfolding of the Eagle and Condor Prophecy

In the indigenous cosmovision, the prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor stands out as a powerful testament to the unification of humanity and the potential for global healing. This prophecy paints a vivid picture: the Eagle, representing the North, signifies the realm of the mind, industrial strength, and fast-paced modernization. Its medicines include peyote and psilocybin. On the other hand, the Condor, symbolizing the South, resonates with the heart, spirit, traditions, and the deep-rooted medicines like Ayahuasca and Wachuma.

This prophecy foretells a time when the Eagle and the Condor will fly together in the same sky, marking an era of harmony, mutual understanding, and a bridging of ancient and contemporary wisdoms. It signifies a period when healing tools from both hemispheres will converge, uniting people from diverse backgrounds and creating a collective force for global transformation.

Currently, as more and more people from varying cultures and backgrounds gather in circles around sacred fires, partaking in these ancient rituals, it’s evident that this prophecy is not just a tale from the past but a living reality. We are witnessing the early stages of its manifestation. As these medicines reach across continents, they’re fostering deep connections, mutual respect, and a shared vision for a harmonized world.

Cultural appropriation as a guilt weapon 

The discourse around cultural appropriation is essential. It emphasizes the importance of recognizing, respecting, and honoring the origins and depths of traditions that have been cultivated over generations. However, like any profound conversation, it holds the potential to be wielded in ways that may not always be constructive.

Increasingly, accusations of cultural appropriation are being utilized as tools of guilt, constraining individuals from exploring and integrating practices that resonate with their personal spiritual or healing journey. While it’s crucial to approach other cultures with humility and a genuine intent to understand, it’s equally essential not to weaponize this awareness. 

When explored responsibly, traditions like Ayahuasca can serve as bridges, uniting disparate cultures and fostering shared insights. It’s a delicate balance to strike: respecting the roots while also allowing oneself the freedom to explore, learn, and grow. To navigate this landscape, it is pivotal to engage with an open heart, a keen awareness, and a commitment to honoring the depth and richness of the tradition in question.

I remember my first ceremony in the amazon jungle when the medicine women welcomed us and shared, how Putumayo is home to everybody and Ayahuasca is a medicine for all people. 


The dialogue surrounding Ayahuasca and cultural appropriation serves as a reminder of the need for conscious engagement with ancient practices. While it’s imperative to respect and honor the roots of these traditions, it’s equally crucial to recognize the potential for mutual growth and understanding. Approaching Ayahuasca—or any other tradition—with an open heart and genuine intent can pave the way for a meaningful, respectful, and transformative experience.


Is it cultural appropriation to drink Ayahuasca? 

No, it is not cultural appropriation to drink Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a medicine for everybody and the communities of the amazon have opne up and see an important mission in sharing Ayahuasca with everybody (including people from the west. 

What is cultural appropriation of Ayahuasca? 

Cultural appropriation of Ayahuasca is when individuals from the west build retreat centers out of the greed for profit without honoring the traditions or paying attention to the sustainable aspect of Ayahuasca. 

Cultural appropriation is also to facilitate a ceremony when you are not properly trained. It extend to using traditional tools in a ceremony like a wairy because one is hearing the call to use it or has seen videos of others using it. 

How can I support and show respect to the indigenous cultures and traditions of Ayahuasca? 

You can support indigenous cultures if you buy things from them, like arts or other remedies that they have for sale. Apart from money, ask them how they would like to be supported. Respect of course extends to a lot more than money and financial support. It is a warm smile, an openness to learn, to listen and just be a good human. 

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