In this unstable time when so many of us are searching for their ethnic, cultural or religious roots, the man who has a Dutch passport in the name of Anton Santiago Jordaan and a Colombian cedula in that of Santiago Ceriyatofe Ceryama is the prototype but also the exception, because it is not a matter of wishful thinking. In fact, her quest is so authentic and intriguing that it deserves to be made into a movie one day.
Born in Bogotá in 1986 to a Huitoto mother abandoned by his father, Santiago was adopted by a Dutch couple at the age of three months and grew up in a small town in the Netherlands as a typical Dutch child whose only glimpse of its origins was the vague remark of its parents that “you came with the plane when you were small”.
That changed when, at the age of ten, his adoptive mother’s last wish was for him to reconnect with his birth mother, but finding out that he was Huitoto meant nothing to him, and the feeling persisted when he met her ten years later after what he described as a “very strange” flight to Colombia with a group of other adoptees who had the same goal and more, as they had to use a translator.
However, as soon as the plane landed, Colombia felt right at home. “My first impression was how open the people were – welcoming, kind and more tolerant of each other than in Holland, where if you drive like they do here you would have a fight. Colombians are more subtle, they try not to hurt your feelings. He was so impressed with his short stay that he started using his name Huitoto when he returned to Holland.
But his identity was still unclear to him over the following years as he transitioned from social work studies to call center and restaurant jobs, then found his occupation as a mixed martial artist, he thought, until the undefeated amateur lost his first professional fight. “It depressed me a lot for a few years, but it activated something and I started investigating my internet roots and drank yajé (ayahuasca) with a Peruvian shaman in Holland. At the first ceremony, I felt the strong love of my adoptive mother. In the second, that I had to visit my mother’s community and discover its culture and its yajé.
To finance it, he became a steeplejack on offshore oil platforms in the North Sea. “Inspection and maintenance is tough: climbing 60 or 100 meters on the tower, working in hard positions to inspect the blades of electric wind turbines or cleaning the coal ovens inside. But I only realized how dangerous it was when a steel cable snapped and almost beheaded me. Yet the really difficult part is psychological. The platforms are like a cell, there is nowhere to go. That’s why they pay you so well.
In 2016, he finally visited his mother in the village of La Chorrera in the Amazon. “I didn’t know anything about native life, it doesn’t exist in Europe other than the Cowboys and Indian movies, so it was interesting living in this plank house with a galvanized tin roof and a toilet. and the jungle all around, and see how people walk barefoot and fish or pick fruit from a tree. I admired the way they live with very little and have a strong connection to nature. Every animal they eat has a place in their cosmo-vision. Yet, for some people there, I was just a tourist, so it was very important for me to be baptized into their clan, the Amena, which means ‘the tree of life’. The ceremony was at my uncle’s maloque. They painted my chest and face with a black dye while everyone chewed coca powder and licked tobacco paste. Then my mother gave me my native name, Amenatofe, after a cacique: this is the piece of wood from which the maguare * is made.
I must explain that before the atrocities of the rubber boom reduced the Huitoto population from 60,000 to 7,000, they only had one name. It was only after their return to their territory that they adopted family names, because of the missionaries. Mine is Ceriyatofe, after the only member of our clan who returned to La Chorrera.
My uncle led the ceremony and about 12 people from my family showed up. Since they were happy, it didn’t matter anymore that other members of the community treated me like a extranjero. “
This exploratory visit extended from the two weeks he had planned to four, due to the chronic vagaries of air travel in the Amazon, but though it sometimes annoyed him hopelessly, it taught him two related lessons: First , that unlike the Inganos or Kofanes, for example, the use of yaje by the Huitotos has always been very occasional and is now disappearing and / or forbidden to outsiders, and secondly that his dream of studying their medicinal plants would depend on his family who would find a willing shaman in a remote neighborhood or another part of the Amazon where their clan lives.
But the culture shock of his return made him even more determined. “Everything in Holland looked very small, like the way the trees are planted in neat rows, because there is only little space for living things. I was struck by the fact that western society is all about consuming. I want to know why the Huitotos live with Nature, instead of coming out of it. I want to show people that when we destroy Nature, we exterminate our future. With every tree we cut down, the planet gets warmer. “
But in order to do that, he had to go back to platforms and his business of organizing mixed martial arts events. With the money saved, he returned to Colombia in November with a flexible plan to apprentice to a Huitoto shaman. “A possibility is a cacerio near La Chorrera where there is a guy who makes yajé who knew my grandmother. Another is this small island in a side river of the Caquetá where my aunt lives. Her husband not only knows about yajé but also knows another psychedelic plant, ooh-koo-he * that Dennis McKenna was looking for, but they didn’t give him the real resin because it’s so dangerous you can die if you don’t follow one. diet* previously. He is still little known in the West. I’m also going to see Leticia.
Besides, these words are his, because like most Dutch, Santiago is a linguist, who has been fluent in English for a long time and now has a good command of Spanish. As for Huitoto, “as much as possible,” he admits. “I want to know more about the ancient Huitoto culture in general: their cosmology, their medicinal plants, their relationship with the jungle and animals, what happened in the past, why they still have this connection with nature . “