Other sedge varieties are rubbed on the hands while planting specific crops to make them more hardy. Women also cultivate their own sedge varieties for bathing babies to fight of fevers and other illnesses as well as to defend them from harmful animal and plant spirits.

Women also cultivate their own sedge varieties to improve their concentration and skill spinning and weaving native cotton.


A wide variety of sedges are used for more typical medicinal uses: headaches, fevers, cuts, diarrhea, birth control, hemorrhages during childbirth, insanity, and so on. In more acculturated regions, there are even sedge varieties thought to provide protection from terrorists and army troops lurking in the jungle. Sedges are thus the most important traditional medicine of the Machiguenga, and are cultivated prodigiously by Machiguenga farmers.

Many of the sedge varieties used by the Machiguenga appear to be botanically identical plants, and only their owners are able to distinguish one variety from another. When I first witnessed the use of sedges for such a wide variety of conditions, from monkey

hunting to childbirth to valor in warfare, I wrote off this unusual phenomenon as superstition. However, with time, I came to appreciate the Machiguenga's extensive knowledge about the rain forest and its plants. Anything they have ever told me, whether it appeared at the time to be factual or superstitious in nature, has always turned out to be true. Finally, I tried one of the sedge varieties to relieve a splitting headache. Not only did the plant relieve my headache, it also instilled in me a phenomenal, albeit temporary, ability to juggle grapefruits.

To amuse the people who invariably hang out by my tent to watch the gringo, I would sometimes pick up a few fruits and begin a clumsy juggling act, only to give up amidst laughter and a shower of fruits splattering on the ground. A few hours after taking this particular sedge variety for my headache, I happened to repeat the juggling act. To my own surprise, not only did I not drop any fruits, nor drift frantically as usual, but I was also able to perfect a number of tricks and variations that I had never before been able to master. While the Machiguenga were amused by the performance, I was both amazed and intrigued. Somehow, the sedge plant had improved my hand-eye coordination, or at least my nerve, turning a clumsy juggler into a smooth showman, at least temporarily. "If it can do that for me," I mused, "imagine what it can do for a highly skilled and experienced bow hunter!"

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