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Trail of Feathers: In Search of the Birdmen of Peru Kindle Edition
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About the Author
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- File size : 1743 KB
- Publication date : December 19, 2011
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 424 pages
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- ASIN : B006OALLEO
- Page numbers source ISBN : 1291528407
- Publisher : Arcade; 1st edition (December 19, 2011)
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #856,296 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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After also coming across a brief mention by an early 17th century Spanish monk by the name of Friar Antonio de la Calancha, who wrote "...the Incas flew over the jungle like birds," Shah decided to put together a one-man expedition to Peru and find out the truth himself. Could the Incas or other Andean peoples really fly, or was it just myth and legend?
What followed was a two part journey through the mountains, deserts, jungles, cities, and tiny villages of Peru. During the first half of his expedition Shah was largely alone and traveled from Machu Picchu to Lake Titicaca across the Altiplano through Nazca and on to Lima. On his quest for something - anything - that could shed light on whether there was flight among the Andean peoples Shah introduces the reader to the many unusual sights and people of Peru. Among the author's many encounters were the textile weavers of Taquile (an island in Lake Titicaca), who bemoaned that the once sacred cloth was mostly sold to tourists now instead of more properly being sacrificed to spirits, the chullpas (round-sided towers) of Sillustani (did the Incas once jump off of them; Shah recounted how there was a medieval fad of sorts, tower-jumping); and the famous Nazca Lines, huge geometric and animal shapes, so immense that they were only first noticed by a pilot in the 1930s. Shah wrote that this fact lead an American by the name of Jim Woodman in the 1970s to speculate that ancient man had in fact flown in balloons, citing the fact that ritual smoke balloons were used in Guatemala and the Quechua language had a word for "balloon-maker" (Woodman later built a working balloon he dubbed _Condor I_ and flew it). Shah found images of Birdmen in a museum containing Paracas textiles (Paracas being a pre-Incan culture of the Peruvian coast that existed between 1300 BC and 200 AD and was noted for the exquisite textiles they used to wrap their mummified dead, found in immense cemeteries in the desert).
After consulting with various people in his trip, Shah came to the conclusion that Incan and pre-Incan flight was likely more metaphysical, allegorical, or mental. One local urged him that in order to understand the Birdmen one had to understand the drugs that they took while they were alive. He stated that they drank a tea made from a vine, known as ayahuasca or "the vine of the dead" (scientifically it was two species, _Banisteriopsis caapi_ and _Banisteropsis inebrians_), which gave the user the feeling of growing wings and flying. A professor he met told Shah that ayahuasca was still in use by various tribes in the jungles of the Upper Amazon in Ecuador, Brazil, and Peru, including coincidentally, the Jivaro (which means "barbarian;" though that is their most famous name, the proper name for them is the Shuar, which means "men").
The second half of Shah's expedition becomes an often frustrating trek to find brewers of ayahuasca among the Shuar, an expedition that begins in the jungle city of Iquitos and takes him hundreds of miles downstream the Amazon River and its tributaries. After a series of adventures in Iquitos Shah manages to finally find a reliable guide, a very colorful man by the name of Richard Fowler, a Vietnam veteran (who volunteered for Vietnam, saying "As far as I was concerned it was an all expenses paid, two year snake hunt, with unusual and additional hazards thrown in"), who promised Shah only one thing, that he would keep him alive. Putting together an unusual team (including a local man by the name of Cockroach and a shaman) on a rickety, rotting wooden, rat-infested boat (infested by still worse things when Shah ordered the rats removed), they do make contact with the much feared Shuar, something many people had warned the author would do various dire things, including slit his throat, decapitate him and shrink his head, or eat him.
This was a very enjoyable book, as the author was an excellent writer and really did a good job of describing what he saw and the people he met. I loved how he contrasted his earlier expectations of the jungle and what "experts" in London said he would find with the real thing and found him often funny without trying to hard to be so (as some travel essay writers are prone to doing). He clearly did a good amount of research, as he had a several page bibliography and two appendices, one detailing the science and history behind ayahuasca as well as several other Amazonian flora-based hallucinogens and a number of Old World ones as well (some authors he said speculated that hallucinogenic content of Syrian rue might have given rise to the vivid geometric designs of Oriental carpets as well as legends about flying carpets) and the other the history and culture of the Shuar (going into detail about the how and why of the tsantsas).
I recommend this book to any arm-chair adventurer who dreams of Peru, and even more so to anyone contemplating going anywhere near the Amazon jungle. Seriously, this book is a worthwhile investment before signing up for work or travel in South America.
It is a great (could-it-really-be-true?!?) tale, told as always with great style and deep humor.
Top reviews from other countries
I do hope this book will be read with an open mind by many people. Medicine in the `developed' world has come to mean surgery, pharmaceuticals and ever more sophisticated technology for diagnosis and treatment of disease. Food and nutrition are barely mentioned in the medical curriculum, and spirit is treated with derision. We don't know how to observe spirit, or to measure it, and it isn't included as a variable in randomised, double blind, placebo controlled trials. We don't know how to allow spirit help us find solutions. Our health systems consume vast amounts of resources at the expense of the natural world, and most forms of alternative medicine have been shown to be no more effective than placebo.
Even if you don't accept the assertion of the Shuar shamans that it is the everyday world which is an illusion, there is much to enjoy in this book, as you accompany Tahir Shah on his travels throughout the length and breadth of Peru - from Lake Titicaca, through the Andes to Lima, Nazca and the Amazon jungle. The search for the Birdmen is a fascinating detective story where clues are found in the design of towns, in shrunken heads and in ancient textiles; and a Peruvian doctor confides that flight is not the content, but the container.
Ordered more of Tahir Shah's books.