A Canadian man was lynched in a remote Peruvian village after relatives of a revered tribal medicine woman accused him of shooting her dead, authorities said.
Peruvian police recovered the body of Vancouver resident Sebastian Woodroffe, 41, from a shallow grave Saturday. He was found about a half-mile from the home of Olivia Arevalo, 81, an indigenous healer of the Shipibo-Conibo tribe, according to Reuters.
Ricardo Franco, Arevalo’s nephew, told a Peruvian TV station that Arevalo was “the mother that protects the earth in the jungle” and “the most beloved woman” in the tribe, according to the Washington Post.
Arevalo was killed on Thursday, and someone claiming to be a family member circulated a wanted poster on Facebook offering a reward for Woodroffe.
“brothers please pass this on on Facebook. This is the man who murdered teacher Olivia Arevalo, after making her sing an Icaro," it said, referring to an indigenous healing song.
"He found her alone, and asked her to sing, and then he killed her. We hope to find him, reward offered!!!”
Woodroffe’s killing was captured on video. It shows Woodroffe, bloody and disoriented, collapsed on the ground in front of a rudimentary structure with a thatched roof. As a dozen or so people, including children, casually look on, a man approaches Woodroffe from behind and places a noose around his neck.
Ricardo Palma Jimenez, a Peruvian prosecutor, told Reuters that an autopsy revealed Woodroffe died by strangulation after being beaten.
“We will not rest until both murders, of the indigenous woman as well as the Canadian man, are solved," he said.
Woodroffe, who was the father of a 4 year-old boy, visited Peru for the first time in 2013. He went to study plant medicine as an addiction treatment tool, according to a video he posted to YouTube. “I’m totally dedicated to this. This is what I want to make my life’s work," he said in the clip.
He said his mission was inspired by a family member’s bout with alcoholism, which Woodroffe believed could be more effectively treated with “plant medicine,” instead of traditional detox and counseling.
Woodroffe was part of a wave of Westerners who have traveled to the Amazon seeking traditional and spiritual knowledge from indigenous peoples, many of which accommodate the travelers.
The Shipibo tribe, which Arevalo belonged to, was one of those. The tribe operates the Temple of the Way of Light, which bills itself as a “pioneering Ayahuasca Retreat Center in the Peruvian Amazon.” The Temple’s website highlights its “female healers,” and features a YouTube video of Arevalo chanting an Ikaros, which the website describes as a healing song.
Ayahuasca, a Quechua word meaning “vine of the soul,” includes the powerful hallucinogen DMT. Ayahuasca has been used for centuries by indigenous South American peoples, and many people believe it enhances creativity and helps to heal ailments such as drug addiction and depression.
It's unclear if Woodroffe took the drug soon before Arevalo’s killing, but he expressed interest in it and had taken it in the past, according to Yarrow Willard, a friend of Woodroffe’s who spoke to the CBC.
Willard added that Woodroffe’s experiences in Peru left him “not broken, but troubled,” and he said "there is no way" Woodroffe would be capable of murder. Willard suggested Arevalo could have been killed by robbers seeking the dollars she was collecting from Western tourists, or for her environmental activism.
As of Monday, there have been no arrests for either death.
[Photo: Youtube screenshot; Wanted Poster, screenshot]