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By Bill Kirk

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Yagé is the most important medicine in the Putumayo. It comes from a vine in the forest and with its visions, the healer, as much as the sick person who also drinks it, can obtain insight into the cause of serious misfortune and power to overcome it. Such power, however, does not necessarily come from seeing the causes of misfortune but instead can come from having a particular image, a pinta or painting as it is referred to commonly, and one of the ways of becoming a healer is to buy such pintas.

I leant over to my Indian companion from the woods of the Putumayo, like me, so far from home, and asked him what he thought of it all. "Only the rich," he said phlegmatically. "There weren't any poor people here. " He paused. "I've seen it before," he casually added. "These mountains. These stones. Exactly the same. " I was not only incredulous but disappointed. Hadn't I gone to extraordinary lengths to bring him to this extraordinary place discovered if not by Columbus at least by Hiram Bingham and immortalized by the great poets such as Pablo Neruda with his epic poem, Alturas de Macchu Picchu?

The second one is that the notion of context is so narrow. It turns out in Anthropology and History that what is invariably meant by appeals to contextualize is that it is the social relationships and history of the Other that are to form this talisman called the context that shall open up as much as it pins down truth and meaning. I say, to the contrary, that this is a deeply mystifying political practice in the guise of Objectivism, and that first and foremost the procedure of contextualization should be one that very consciously admits of our presence, our scrutinizing gaze, our social relationships and our enormously confused understandings of history and what is meant by history.

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