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Shamans, or medicine men, of the Indians of the Peruvian Andes. Joseph Skinner described them at the beginning of the nineteenth century: "These admit an evil being, the inhabitant of the centre of the earth, whom they consider as the author of their misfortunes, and at the mention of whose name they tremble. The most shrewd among them take advantage of this belief, to obtain respect; and represent themselves as his delegates. Under the denomination of Mohanes, or Agoreros, they are consulted even on the most trivial occasions. They preside over the intrigues of love, the health of the community, and the taking of the field. Whatever repeatedly occurs to defeat their prognostics, falls on themselves; and they are wont to pay their deceptions very dearly. They chew a species of vegetable called puripiri, and throw it into the air, accompanying this act by certain recitals and incantations, to injure some, to benefit others, to procure rain, and the inundation of the rivers, or, on the other hand, to occasion settled weather, and a plentiful store of agricultural productions. Any such result having been casually verified on a single occasion, suffices to confirm the Indians in their faith, although they may have been cheated a thousand times. Fully persuaded that they cannot resist the influence of the puripiri, as soon as they know that they have been solicited by its means, they fix their eyes on the impassioned object, and discover a thousand amiable traits, either real or fanciful, which indifference had before concealed from their view.

"But the principal power, efficacy, and, it may be said misfortune, of the Mohanes, consist in the cure of the sick. Every malady is ascribed to their enchantments, and means are instantly taken to ascertain by whom the mischief may have been wrought. For this purpose the nearest relative takes a quantity of the juice of floripondium, and suddenly falls, intoxicated by the violence of the plant. He is placed in a fit posture to prevent suffocation, and on his coming to himself, at the end of three days, the Mohan who has the greatest resemblance to the sorcerer he saw in his visions, is to undertake the cure, or if, in the interim, the sick man has perished, it is customary to subject him to the same fate. When not any sorcerer occurs in the visions, the first Mohan they encounter has the misfortune to represent his image."

It seems that by practice and tradition, the Mohanes acquired a profound knowledge of many plants and poisons, with which they effected surprising cures on the one hand, and did some harm on the other. They also made use of charms and superstitions.

One method of cure was to place two hammocks close to each other, either in the dwelling, or in the open air. In one of them the patient laid extended, and in the other laid the Mohan, or Agorero. The latter, in contact with the sick man, began by rocking himself, and then proceeded in falsetto voice to call on the birds, quadrupeds, and fishes to give health to the patient. From time to time he rose on his seat, and made extravagant gestures over the sick man, to whom he applied his powders and herbs, or sucked the wounded or diseased parts. Having been joined by many of the people, the Agoreros chanted a short hymn, addressed to the soul of the patient, with this refrain: "Thou must not go, thou must not go." In repeating this he was joined by the people and augmented as the sick man became fainter so that it might reach his ears.


Skinner, Joseph. State of Peru. London, 1805.