From F&ES to Shaman: The Incredible Story of Luke Weiss
Writer Alexander Zaitchik says he first heard about Luke Weiss ’15 M.F. from an elder of the Waorani, a tribe that lives along the Amazon tributaries in northeastern Ecuador. “He spoke of a white man living with the Secoya, a small tribe settled on a nearby river, but one who had ceased to be a white man,” Zaitchik writes in Men’s Journal, where he profiles Weiss in a new article.
“This man had become Secoya. He practiced the tribe’s oldest and most difficult traditions.”
In the 5,100-word piece, Zaitchik tells the story of how Weiss, once “just another dropout on the gringo trail,” became a tribal leader, heir to the tribe’s revered 103-year-old shaman — “and maybe their best hope for survival.”
How did a college dropout from Michigan enter a tightly knit tribe and not only overcome distrust but also assume a position of leadership? ‘It was a process, on both sides. I was just traveling, trying to figure things out, when I found this place,’ Weiss said over candlelight as his wife, Yamira, served monkey with rice and yuca in the high-stilted smokehouse next to their riverside home. He punctuated his thoughts with long ellipses in the staccato, oddly musical rhythm of Secoya speech. ‘I didn’t know where I was going,’ he said. ‘Then one day, so long ago I don’t remember it, it was home.’
At Yale, where he earned a master’s degree in 2015, Weiss explored ways to cultivate yoco, a caffeinated vine that provides a sustained energy boost. He hopes yoco might become a sustainable and profitable crop for the Secoya people who, in the absence of other opportunities, often leave home or take jobs with oil companies.
‘People have this false romantic image of indigenous people living under trees in the forest. We understand there’s no going back. We have a yearning to merge with society without losing our culture and the integrity of the forest. We don’t see it as one or the other.’