'The Shaman's Apprentice ' Story Time

July 08, 1998|By Lynne Cherry and Mark J. Plotkin

Editor's note: A young boy is healed by the shaman's medicine made from plants found in the Amazon rain forest, and hopes to one day become a healer himself.

In the Tirio Indian village of Kwamala, deep in the Amazon rain forest, Kamanya lay in his hammock, burning with fever. His mother sat nearby fanning him.

"Kamanya, Kamanya," she whispered, but he did not answer. She spoke gently to her husband. "It is time. Take him." He picked up the boy and carried him to the hut of the shaman - the medicine man.

Softly chanting, the shaman Nahtahlah disappeared into the forest. He returned with leaves, roots, and bark, which he put into a pot of water boiling on the fire. Stirring and singing, he asked the sickness to leave the boy. Then Nahtahlah removed the pot from the fire, and when the mixture had cooled he lifted Kamanya's head and poured the warm medicine into the boy's mouth. The shaman's song ended as night came. Kamanya's parents sat beside him until morning. When the boy awoke, the fever was gone.

As the years passed, Kamanya would remember the shaman's ritual as if it were all a dream. But he never forgot that the shaman saved his life.

Unlike the other boys, Kamanya often slipped away and silently followed the shaman as he collected the plants from which he made his powerful medicines. Kamanya hoped that he could learn Nahtahlah's wisdom and one day become the next shaman. Nahtahlah was pleased with the boy and showed Kamanya which plants he used for healing.

One day while Kamanya was fishing, he saw another stranger coming up the river, a young woman accompanied by a guide from another village. Kamanya brought her to see the chief. The woman, Gabriela, explained that she had come to study the healing magic of the forest plants. The chief told her about the malaria and asked why she wanted to learn their medicine when hers was so much stronger.

"Do you know where the treatment for malaria comes from?" Gabriela asked. She explained that missionaries had learned about quinine, the medicine in the white pills, from the forest people of Peru. "This healing medicine comes from the bark of the cinchona tree," she said. The chief was astonished. A shaman's medicine had saved them after all.

Every day Gabriela followed the shaman through the forest and learned about the hundreds of plants he used for medicines; plants to cure earaches and stomachaches, snake and insect bites.

After several months Gabriela left. But every year she returned to Kwamala to learn, with Kamanya, more and more of the shaman's wisdom.

As always, Gabriela went first to call upon the chief. She carefully unwrapped her handbook of all their medicinal plants and said, "Now you have two books in your language - the Bible and this, the wisdom of Nahtahlah. Now your people will never forget the shaman's wisdom. Perhaps one day the people of the world may benefit from Nahtahlah's knowledge of the healing powers of the rain forest."

The next day Kamanya visited Gabriela and said, "The chief thinks your book is very important. He has asked Nahtahlah to teach a young man of our tribe all he knows. Nahtahlah has chosen me!"

And so it was that Kamanya became the shaman's apprentice.

And so it was that after Nahtahlah passed on to the spirit world, Kamanya became the shaman, patient and wise, who healed his people.

Excerpted from THE SHAMAN'S APPRENTICE. Text copyright 1998 by Lynne Cherry and Mark J. Plotkin. Illustrations copyright 1998 by Lynne Cherry. Published by Harcourt Brace & Company.

Pub Date: 7/08/98

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