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Ayahuasca Religions in Acre: Cultural Heritage in the Brazilian Borderlands



The Brazilian ayahuasca religions, Santo Daime, Barquinha, and União do Vegetal, have increasingly sought formal recognition by government agencies in Brazil and other countries to guarantee their legal use of ayahuasca, which contains DMT, a substance that is listed. This article focuses on new alliances and rifts that have emerged between and among different ayahuasca groups as they have sought and in some cases achieved formal recognition and legitimacy at the state and national levels in Brazil and abroad. It presents a historical overview of the origin of the main ayahuasca religions, and their connections to the Amazon region and the state of Acre in particular, where the political environment has facilitated petitions seeking the elevation of ayahuasca as cultural and historical heritage in Acre and Brazil. This process has resulted in the active selection of certain symbolic, cultural, and historical elements and subtle changes in the ways various ayahuasca groups represent themselves in the public sphere. It also resulted in the reconfiguration of political alliances and a recasting of the historical facts regarding origins. The article reflects on notions of origin, place, authenticity, and tradition throughout the ongoing transformation of ayahuasca from “dangerous drug” to state and national heritage.