Who’s Murdering Peruvian Shamans?

Last week the government of Peru issued a statement saying that fourteen shamans in the country’s north-eastern region have been killed in the span of twenty months. The provincial prosecutor’s office alleges that these killings were ordered by Alfredo Torres, the mayor of Balsa Puerto, and carried out by his brother. Author and indigenous leader Roger Rumrrill claims these killings are part of a wider witch-hunt by the brothers, who are members of an unnamed protestant Christian sect.


“The provincial prosecutor’s office said that the murders were allegedly ordered by the mayor of Balsa Puerto, Alfredo Torres, and carried out by his brother, Augusto, locally known as “the witch hunter.” Only seven bodies have been found, however —either shot, stabbed or hacked with machetes. The seven other shamans have been reported missing. Rogger Rumrill, a leading researcher on Amazonian issues, said the murders are related to “protestant sects” that Torres and his brother belong to, the daily said. “For these protestant sects, the shamans are people possessed by demons, so they have to be killed,” Rumrill said.”

Torres denies these allegations, saying the shamans, all 14 of them, were killed by vengeful families unhappy with their services.

“For many years they have practiced the ancient custom of killing the witches, making them responsible for the death of some family member who was receiving treatment from the shaman.”

The shamans, all from the Shaui community, were planning to start an association to share knowledge. The Foundation for Shamanic Studies has called for supporters to contact Peruvian authorities, asking them to act in addressing these atrocities, and to prevent further murders. Things have been tense, to say the least, between indigenous communities and the Peruvian government, but that has shifted somewhat as the South American “pink tide” sweeps through Peru, bringing center-left politician Ollanta Humala to power. While Humala is no Evo Morales, the fact that the government is making these allegations seems to be a positive sign that some sort of investigation is underway. What we don’t know is how much religion, specifically these “protestant sects,” are involved. While I won’t rule out religiously-motivated violence, I think the political implications of the shamans forming an association could also have something to do with it.

We’ll keep you posted as any further updates come our way. My thanks to Andras Corban-Arthen for bringing this to my attention.

ADDENDUM: The Guardian confirms that the Peruvian government is sending a team of investigators. Quote Gregor MacLennan at the NGO Amazon Watch: “The death of these shamans represents not just a tragic loss of life, but the loss of a huge body of knowledge about rainforest plants and the crucial role shamans play in traditional medicine and spiritual guidance in indigenous communities.” Also, this blog post gives some excellent background on the killings.

“One of those who must die, however, survived. Inuma Bautista, apu shawi community of Paradise, was ambushed, but survived a machete attack that cost him an arm and left deep scars on the body. That was probably the beginning of the media scandal. After recovering from the wounds, gave a testimony Inuma which directly accuses Augusto Torres, brother of Mayor Balsapuerto as one of those who wanted to kill him. Similarly, one of the alleged gunmen, Solomon Napo, appeared in a video, confessing his involvement in the death of Mariano Apuela. Among his statements, the figure having been hired by Torres brother to commit the act in exchange for five thousand nuevos soles, which were not delivered.”

More on this as I find it.

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  • Anonymous

    Reading a story like this is difficult because it is truly tragic on many fronts. I hope that the Peruvian investigation uncovers those responsible and punishes them to the full extent of the law but all things considered, that is highly unlikely; especially if the accusation regarding the mayor is true.

  • Obsidia

    This reminds me of the so-called “Witch Killings” in Africa. Somehow, in both scenarios, a Protestant Christian group seems to be involved somehow. Hm. And, of course, the Traditional Spiritual Practitioners are somehow “possessed by demons.” Reminds me of something I just read, here in America! And what about Jesus, himself…..a shaman?

  • Fvrnite

    The prejudice against tribal beliefs by certain sects of Christianity is something we’ve heard before, though not as severe as actually committing intentional serial murder like this story shows. One of my concerns has been the rhetoric certain Christians say that is intolerant ( and they are proud of being intolerant) and how someone who hears that translates that into destructive action. In America we had the ” pro-lifers” claiming no responsibility when one of them commits murder, the denial that gay bashing is a hate crime and the attempts by some prison people to classify Wicca and other religions as second class beliefs. If the core behind these murders does come from a certain Protestant church, you won’t hear about it on Fox News.

  • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

    One should not assume that “pink” politicians are friendlier to indigenous religions than conservatives. In fact just the opposite can easily be the case. For example, followers of Aristide in Haiti have been implicated in violence against Vodouisants. Of course when leftists carry out such attacks they claim that they are going after “enemies of the people.” But Christian witch-hunters always claim the same thing, of course.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kenazfilan Kenaz Filan

    The situation in Haiti is complicated, to put it kindly. Keep in mind that a fair number of Houngans and Mambos were also members of Duvalier’s “Tonton Macoutes.” The Macoutes started out as a populist movement to protect the popularly elected Papa Doc Duvalier from a military coup but which soon morphed into something far more sinister. After the fall of Baby Doc a number of Houngans and Mambos connected to the Makoutes were killed by mob violence which was primarily fueled by politics rather than religion.

    There is also a burgeoning Evangelical/Pentecostal Protestant movement in Haiti. For at least the past few decades, the Catholic Church has generally been content to speak out against Vodou from the pulpit, knowing full well that a good chunk of their congregation also practice traditional beliefs. (See the American Catholic church’s stance on birth control: we’re not the only country which engages in “cafeteria Catholicism”). The Evangelicals take a much stronger anti-Vodou stance and there have been incidents of mob violence led by Evangelical pastors.

    As far as the Lavalas attacks on Vodouisants, my first guess would be that the Vodouisants in question were affiliated with (or accused of being affiliated with) right-wing groups. There are a lot of old Macoutes who still look back fondly on the Good Old Days when Papa Doc was in charge and the tap-taps ran on time. Aristide has made speeches wherein he has alluded positively to Vodou and there were a fair number of Vodouisants in Lavalas (The Flood), the grass-roots movement which brought Aristide to power. But there are also a fair number of Evangelicals who are sympathetic to Lavalas and antipathetic to the Ancien Regime.

    Bottom line: there is a lot of violence in Haiti. Some of it is fueled by religion, some by politics and most by widespread poverty, desperation and hunger.

  • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

    Kenaz Filan: “Bottom line: there is a lot of violence in Haiti. Some of it is fueled by religion, some by politics and most by widespread poverty, desperation and hunger.”

    Wellll, there is also “a lot of violence” in Peru, and “the situation” is also “complicated” in Peru. And in Peru, the Christians also claim that the Shamans are not targeted because of religious bigotry but because of legitimate grievances. meh.

    But the point I was making is still very relevant. And the point is this: the left is not automatically an ally of indigenous religions. Just ask the Tibetans. Or ask the Native Americans who were the victims of “Jacksonian democracy”.

    As far as Haiti goes, there is actually a well-established historical pattern of liberals and leftists attacking Vodou in the name of “progress”. This goes back to the 19th century.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kenazfilan Kenaz Filan

    I can definitely agree with your assertion that leftists and liberals have regularly attacked Vodou. (To add an extra twist to the situation, this is because a fair number of Houngans and Mambos had ties to the Duvalier regimes and their excesses. Not every practitioner of indigenous/folk religions measures up to Western standards of acceptable political behavior, alas).

    As far as the situation in Peru goes, who benefits from attacks on the shamans? This could very well be sectarian Christian violence. But do Torres and Balsapuerto have business interests which would be served by getting rid of indigenous leaders? (We’ve seen violent attacks of this nature throughout South America, so it’s entirely possible that is what is going on here).

    In other words, is Christianity spurring these attacks or is it being used as a convenient excuse by people with other axes to grind?

  • Lioness

    It is chilling that this piece came out the same day our local public radio station aired Fresh Air’s interview with C. Peter Wegner http://www.npr.org/2011/10/03/140946482/apostolic-leader-weighs-religions-role-in-politics

  • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

    It is especially chilling when one realizes that the “protestant sects” in question are a direct consequence of intense missionary work by American evangelicals who have been targeting Latin America with great fervor for many decades. Their hard work is now starting to bear fruit.

    The same American evangelicals have also been hard at work in those parts of Africa that have recently seen a wave of sickening violence against children accused of being “witches”.

  • Cindy

    Hmmm… the Shamans were on theto verge of sharing there holy knowledge and then this. I hate chri$tians. They are the true” devils”.