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Samakai - Sacred diet with the Yawanawá indigenous people

With relish I bite off a piece of chocolate cake and take a sip of my freshly squeezed pineapple juice, which I just bought at a motorway service station. From tomorrow on, I think to myself, I will no longer be able to do this. I am on the road that leads from Belo Horizonte [1] to Extrema, a small town in the south of the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. There in the national park "Parque do Cabritos" in the middle of a reserve of the Atlantic forest I will participate in a spiritual diet group (Samakai), which will be led by the indigenous people Yawanawá [2]. It is very hot. No clouds in the sky. The sun burns mercilessly onto the car. My water bottle is always within reach. Even pure water will no longer be available from tomorrow on. Still, I am determined to tackle this adventurous challenge. Emerging uncertainties I rigorously push aside.


Samakei (translated as "diet") is a practice of spiritual immersion applied by the Yawanawá people. It is a time when the person should devote itself to studying and strengthening his or her spirit, and focusing on the goals he or she wants to achieve in his or her life.

            There are different types of diets in the tradition of the Yawanawá people, which are carried out with different medicinal plant spirits, for example with caiçuma ("mamã"), jenipapo ("nane") or red pepper ("yutxi") [3]. For our group it will be the first diet of its kind and therefore our medicine will be caiçuma ("mamã"), a drink made of maniok [4]. In total, the diet will last four weeks, two weeks together in the group and two weeks alone at home.

After eight hours of driving on the country road, I finally arrive at the village Extrema. There I am already expected and we set up my tent. For this I have choosen a quiet and secluded place in the forest. It's getting late. After a small dinner, I lie down in my little tent tired and fall asleep quickly.

            The next morning after breakfast the grand opening ceremony takes place. A total of 22 people are participating in the diet group. 21 women and one man. The participants come from all over Brazil, two of them even from Saudi Arabia and Ukraine. The Yawanawás themselves came for this special purpose directly from their village in the Amazon rainforest, which is over 3000 kilometers away.

            I am excited and anxious to meet the female shaman who will lead this diet. She is one of the first women that in the tradition of her people Yawanawá went through the rigorous training to become a spiritual leader, a strict one-year diet alone in the rainforest, which was previously only allowed for men. In addition, this is the first diet group open to non-indigenous people directed by her. A great opportunity to study the spirituality of the Yawanawá people.

Seya” - opening prayer for spirituality

Our group is sitting in a large circle in the lounge of the campsite. We are greeted and introduced to each other. The shaman has arrived with her five children. There is music.

            The group leader explains to us the sequence of the diet and its opening in the tradition of the Yawanawá people: “The shaman will say an opening prayer for each one of you (“seya”). She will say this prayer into a clay pot called "shumu". The “shumu” is filled with the medicine caiçuma (“mamã”), with which you will carry out this diet. When you - as the legend of the Yawanawá says - drink the medicine from the "shumu" sanctified by her, a seed is planted in your body and mind. It is then your task to let the plant that emerges from this seed grow within you during the samakei period."  

            Today, on the first day, the diet will be opened for three people. For ths purpose there is a raffle. I write my name on a small piece of paper and put it in a pot with the names of the other participants. I can't wait to get started, but I don't have too much hope. The group leader pulls out the first piece of paper. "Barbara," she calls. Then the second: "Carina". I feel disappointment. Then suddenly I hear my name. “Inga,” she calls and looks over at me. I am third! I'm relieved.         

            It's my turn. The shaman and I sit across from each other in her little tent. The clay pot ("shumu") filled with the medicine stands between us. "For the success of this diet it is important that you have clear goals, something that you want to learn, develop or heal," the shaman says to me. “What are your goals?” she asks. “I want to strengthen my mind and my body. I want to develop more confidence in myself and do something for my health,” I answer her. The shaman nods. "I will now connect with my ancestors and include your words in my prayer," she says to me. She lowers her head just above the clay pot ("shumu") and begins to pray. I close my eyes and concentrate on my goals. After about 20 minutes the shaman lifts her head and ends her prayer. She hands me the clay pot. “Now drink the caicuma. It is important that you always have your goals clearly in mind while dieting."  

            I thank the shaman. "Please don't eat or drink anything more for today," she admonishes me before I go back to my tent. This is where I hide for the rest of the day and focus on starting the diet.

The diet

In general, strict dietary and physical rules apply during the diet (samakai). Drinking pure water is prohibited. Our drink during the diet is caiçuma. Sugar, that is, all sweet-tasting foods, including sweet fruits, are banned from the menu. In addition, no salt should be used, no red meat should be eaten and sex should be avoided.

            As I wake up the morning after the opening ceremony, my stomach growls a bit, but fortunately overall I don't feel particularly hungry. The fresh caiçuma is already waiting in the kitchen of the camping resort. On the first day of the diet nothing should be eaten, only caiçuma should be drunk. Despite initial doubts, I survive this first day surprisingly well. The caiçuma, for which the cooked cassava is processed in a mixer until it is drinkable, has a slightly filling effect in itself.

            From day two and the rest of the first week of the diet, there is a lot of corn, green bananas, potatoes, cassava, and of course caiçuma. With the start of the second diet week, our menu is expanded to include rice, beans, nuts, eggs and salads. Our main drink is still caiçuma, but now there are also some bitter teas allowed such as chamomile or hibiscus tea or juices such as acerola or acai juice.

            During the diet I spend a lot of time in nature. The park is located in a reserve of the Atlantic Forest, one of the most species-rich and at the same time most threatened forests on the planet [5]. Here I have a lot of time to think and to watch the big blue butterflies dancing in the wind and the colorful hummingbirds pollinating the blossoms of the plants. The maritakas are chirping happily and from time to time I hear the lizards snaking through the bushes. However, I have to watch out for the spiders, because this is where one of the most poisonous spiders in the world lives, the Brazilian wandering spider.

            The time that we spend on our own and to concentrate on our goals is supplemented almost daily by rituals with the sacred plant medicines ayahuasca and rapé [6]. These rituals sometimes last all day or all night long and are accompanied by music and singing. They help to deepen our spirituality and should support us in reaching our diet goals. In preparation for these rituals, the Yawanawá people paint themselves with the red and black colors of the rainforest fruits jenipapo (black) and urukum (red) and we, the participants of the diet group, also receive a painting. This face paintings serve as energetic protection for all of us.

At home – results

The first two weeks of the diet in the Atlantic Forest are over. Now it's time to go back home. Here the diet has to be carried out alone for another two weeks. I am determined not to give in and to stick to the diet until the end.

Every day I carefully prepare my caiçuma and my meals. Hardly any feelings of renunciation arise, no longing for sweets plagues me. I notice more and more how well this radical change in diet is doing me. My sense of taste increases and I can see how different foods taste in their natural form, without adding sugar or salt.           

            At the end of the Samakai I am happy to have followed this diet for four weeks. In relation to my goals, I can say that I have gained more confidence. Mentally and physically I feel energetically cleansed and everything seems more in balance. In regards of my outer appearance I notice that my hair and skin have gotten better and that I have lost weight. For the future, I have decided to continue with this diet, as it gives me a lot of joy to do something good for myself and my body.

            Some time later: It's been several months now that I've completely changed my diet. Old traditional indigenous knowledge can easily compete with modern nutritional science. For the shamans of the indigenous peoples, special diets are a means of further education, because for them the body has to be constantly shaped and transformed. For them this transformation takes place through these diets. I don't want to miss this either any more.

[1] Belo Horizonte is the capital of the state of Minas Gerais in southeastern Brazil.


[2] The Yawanawá are an indigenous people who live in the indigenous region of Rio Gregório in the municipality of Tarauacá in the west of the state of Acre in Brazil. There are around 450 people in this indigenous tribe. The name “Yawanawá” means “Povo do Queixada”, which translates as “people of the umbilical pig”. The symbol of the peccary (yawa) (umbilical pig) confirms the cohesion of the group and the stable relationship with their area, which is currently the indigenous territory.

The Yawanawá have had continuous relationships with whites for about a century. More detailed information on the Yawanawá people can be found under the following links (in Portuguese):ás


[3] All of these diets have different energies and different times of completion.


[4] Caiçuma is a fermented drink that is consumed by the indigenous people on special occasions. The "mamã", or caiçuma of corn or manioc, is also used as the only drink allowed during the initiation diet of the shamans Yawanawa. It is important to differentiate ‘diet caiçuma’ from ‘party caiçuma’, as the first must be boiled every two or three days at the most, to avoid excessive fermentation, while the second is appreciated more fermented.


[5] "The Atlantic Forest is one of the five 'hotspots' of most important biodiversity on earth and the largest biosphere reserve designated by UNESCO, representing one of the priority regions for conservation worldwide. Centuries ago, the forest stretched for more than 130 million hectares along the Brazilian east coast, including northern parts of Argentina and eastern Paraguay. Today, in Brazil, only 7% of the Atlantic Forest in good condition, distributed in isolated fragments over 1,000 hectares each. The last remnants of this lush forest harbor a wealth of biological diversity comparable to the famous Amazon." (...) See:


[6] The most important traditional rituals of the Yawanawá people are performed with the herbal medicines "uni" (ayahuasca) and "rume" (rapé). They are spiritual purification ceremonies and bring healing and energetic revival.

"Rume" (rapé) is a snuff that consists of dried and finely ground Mapacho tobacco, as well as parts or the ashes of various medicinal plants or sacred trees, such as the "Tshunu tree", and with the help of a pipe (tepi ) is blown into the nose. "Uni" (ayahuasca) is a sacramental drink that is made by jointly boiling the following two plants native to the Amazon rainforest: The grape variety with the name „Banisteriopsis caapi“ and the leaves of the coffee plant called „Psychotira viridis“ (Chacrona).

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