Written by Brian Williams, Staff Writer
The department of Modern and Classical Languages held a screening of “Embrace Serpent” on Oct. 6 as a part of their Hispanic Heritage Month movie night series.
“Embrace of The Serpent” is a movie Directed by Ciro Guerra and features actors Nilbio Torres, Jan Bijvoet and Antonio Bolivar. The movie is based on diaries kept by scientists Theodor Koch-Grunberg and Richard Evan Schultes during their travels to the Amazon. It tells the story of past and present through the journey of the two white men searching for a sacred healing plant and their encounter with an Amazonian shaman.
“Embrace of the Serpent” is the first Colombian film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. The movie’s characters Koch-Grunberg and Schultes are accurate depictions of the actual scientist, and Karamakate is a fictional character based on multiple encounters of shamans that both men had.
The film opens in 1904 with young Karamakate being approached by a boat carrying a clothed native Amazonian, Manduca and a very sickly Koch-Grunberg. Karamakate immediately scolds Manduca and his people for submitting to the white man without a fight. Manduca insist that Karamakate is the only shaman who can heal his sick travel partner.
The film shifts to 1940 with old man Karamakate who is drawing on a stone wall when a snake swimming in the water he is standing in passes, revealing Schultes approaching him on a boat. Schultes introduces himself and asks the shaman to help him to find a mystical plant called yakruna, in hopes that it will make him dream. “I once dreamed of a spirit who was sick.” Karamakate replies. “The only way he could heal was to learn how to dream.” Karamakate admits they he has forgotten the teachings of the serpent and needs Schultes to help him remember. Schultes must direct the way.
The old man is upset that he has forgotten his shamanistic ways. He believes he has turned into a chullachaqui, a hollow copy of himself that drifts about life like a ghost. He no longer remembers the important knowledge passed onto him by the messages he heard from the rocks, trees, and animals.
Karamakate discovers Schultes has Koch-Grunberg’s journal, and he starts to remember the journey they had together. We see the similarities in Karamakate’s experiences with both Koch-Grunberg and Schultes. The journal causes Karamakate to day dream, leading him to recall an instance where Koch-Grunberg and Karamakate walked up on a distraught tribesman who has been mangled from harsh working conditions of slave labor extracting rubber from the trees.
Schultes and Koch-Grunberg appear to have taken the same route along their way down river with Kamakate. The movie passes back and forth between Karamakate with Schultes and with Koch-Grunberg. The land markers Schultes and Karamakate pass along the way awaken memories of Karamakate and we see into the past events where the outside influence of the white man show themselves. Koch-Grunberg and Karamakate encounter what’s left of Karamakates tribe, now taken over by missionaries preaching against their ways of life. Schultes and Karamakate then encounter the same and now there is a new white messiah in charge who resembles Jesus Christ and is indoctrinating the tribesmen with alternate religious beliefs and lifestyles. Both end with hostility.
Karamakate remembers how to prepare the sacred cocktail using yakruna that grows in his old homeland, and he and Schultes both drink the sacred potion. The movie ends in a psychedelic showing of Schultes dreaming and Karamakate relearning to embrace the serpent.
Moi Enomenga, an actual practicing shaman joined us for the viewing of the movie “Embrace of the Serpent.”
It takes 30 years for someone to become a shaman, according to Enomenga. Shamans do in fact contact and receive messages from animal spirits, said Enomenga. Enomenga also said that through his visions he was guided by the spirits and was able to foresee the travesties of hurricane Katrina and the attacks of 9/11. According to him, there will be a major Earth event happening on February 15, 2028. The audience had a very limited time to ask him questions but he said he liked the movie and let us know that it was decently accurate from his experiences