The design system, or kené as it is called in the Shipibo language, is not only one of the most important codes within the inhabitants of the Ucayali River basin, but an element that differentiates them from other pre-Columbian cultures. What sets apart the Shipibo-Conibo design from other cultures is the source of inspiration. It is accessed through the acquisition of own knowledge, through the visions received during the ceremonies of Ayahuasca and other power plants, called “rao“. According to Shipibo thinking, these visions are a materialization of positive energy, called “koshi“, which is not visible to the human eye, but can manifest in colorful and colorful patterns thanks to the intake of medicinal plants.
The design is mainly made by women and decorates a wide variety of objects, such as ceramics, textiles, ornaments, weapons and even the human body. Unlike other cultures in which shamanism is exclusive to men, Shipibo-Conibo women can not only access Ayahuasca ceremonies but can also develop in the art of healing and access the highest levels of healing specialization (Meraya). These visions are an essential element in shamanic healing therapies. According to the Shipibo-Conibo tradition, when applying these designs on different elements, they are endowed with great healing powers. The kené not only embellishes but heals people and things with the light of the energy of the plants. That is to say, in the material and immaterial, kené aesthetics and medicine merge. The complexity of these designs is not just another element, but summarizes the Shipibo world-view, the knowledge and aesthetics of an entire people. Such is its importance that it has been declared a cultural heritage by the National Institute of Culture in April 2008.
Different methods are used to trace the kené, one of them is with natural dyes that are applied with wood chips or brushes. This method is the one that is usually used to decorate surfaces, be it cloth, ceramic or wood, and even on leather. Embroideries or wood carvings or fresh ceramics are made, we also work on large looms and can make necklaces, crowns and bracelets using beads of different colours.
Women begin to prepare themselves as girls in the Shipibo art of kené, for this they spend many hours with their female relatives observing the work they perform, and they are also ritually prepared to acquire the gift of visualization. The ritual consists of the application of piripiri in their eyes and in the navel, a grass-like grass, which can easily go unnoticed. It is considered that the ritual not only contributes to the visualization, but also to improve the dexterity in the layout of the designs. It should be noted that women do not use elements to trace or measure designs, they do not make any type of sketch or previous model. They simply place themselves in front of the object and begin to capture kenés, whether it is painting, embroidering or sculpting, as they imagine it at the moment. In recent times, more and more men are seen specializing in the art of kené.
KENÉ AND SHAMANIC PRACTICE
The kené can also be sung, in this way, an even deeper connection between this art and shamanic practice is opened. During an Ayahuasca ceremony, the designs can be seen, touched, heard and sung by both the shaman and all the participants, further strengthening the link between beauty and health. In the healing process, the shaman can see, hear and smell the designs of the participants, that is their light and their energy. A person who enjoys good physical, mental and emotional health, will have perfumed airs and colorful light designs, while who is not in good health has lost his designs and is surrounded by “dark bad airs” (jakónma wíso níwebo), but these evils will be cleansed by the shaman, so that the person can return to receive his designs and fresh airs. In this sense, the process of shamanic healing is like an art of painting the energetic body of the person, and this act of restorative painting is performed with the chant of the shaman. The design guides the voice and the voice paints the design. Some people call ícaros the “painted songs”.
It is also important to note that the shaman does not create his own designs, he has dieted a number of power plants and therefore their codes have been revealed, which are considered much more beautiful than the painted designs. During the Ayahuasca ceremony, the shaman can recover those codes, see their designs and sing their songs. It is said that all the designs of the energy of the plants originate in the “mother” of the Ayahuasca and the waters, in the primordial anaconda ronin.
In Yosi Ocha we have a collection of Shipibo art objects that are part of the permanent collection of the Merayas ancestors. They are pieces of great cultural value and energetic power that we use in our rituals.