On a stage in a yurt in the Berkshire countryside, the leader of the Huni Kuin tribe from the Brazilian Amazon speaks about indigenous culture.
In 2000, Ninawa Pai Da Mata decided to move his village deeper into the jungle in Acre state to protect and revive traditional life.
“We had to move to escape many of the things Westerners brought with them – alcohol, foreign music – and to recapture our own culture and spirituality, to hear the wisdom of nature,” he says.
Bonfire session at the festival. Photo: Jethro Tanner
Today his village Nuovo Futura (New Future) is flourishing – but the struggle to save the homeland and the culture continues. Ninawa is here, he says, to talk about the need to protect nature and indigenous ways of life, and to share the traditions of his people.
It’s a fitting talk at Medicine, a new festival held last month at the Wasing estate outside Reading, where profits are used to support indigenous tribes. Medicine is not the most tempting name for a festival, but the idea is to offer visitors “medicine” in the form of a deep immersion in nature, community, wellbeing and music – and to offer a platform for cultural exchange.
“Everyone’s been through so much,” says Josh Dugdale, who started the festival with friend Ben Christie. “We really wanted to move forward. People need that – being outside, connecting, having fun, but in a gentler way than some festivals. “
The festival features yoga and breath work, a fire circle for storytelling and singing, and a lake for swimming. Photo: Samuel George
After the 2020 disaster, Covid-19 hit festivals hard again in 2021, with more than 50% of events canceled for more than 5,000, according to the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF). Boomtown and BST Hyde Park were among the victims while others turned – Glastonbury became a campsite and Shambala hosted smaller weekends.
There is a growing interest in events that are not just a big rave and do something positive for people and the planet in Josh Dugdale, medicine festival
However, medicine seems to have made use of an increasing demand for more curative forms of events – in which hedonism (it is alcohol-free) is not in the foreground, but “going wild” in a different way. Into the Wild held a smaller festival than usual in Sussex for its eighth year and introduced small monthly Wild Weekends, all with an emphasis on being close to nature. A larger eco-festival is planned for next year, which will focus on promoting biodiversity and rewilding, with environmental projects being financed with profits. Other holistic festivals, such as Balance (November 12-14 in London) and Wellnergy, a new opening in Oxfordshire postponed until next year, focus on wellness and fitness activities.
“There’s a growing interest in alternative events that aren’t just a big rave and do something positive for people and the planet – I think Covid has an impact on what people want too,” says Dugdale.
The area around Medicine on Gut Wasing, a working organic farm that has been in the family for seven generations, features a swimming lake and a walled garden offering treatments from massage to acupuncture. There is a lot of yoga and breathing work, a circle of fire for storytelling and singing – accessible via a forest path – and a colorful family area.
“It’s a non-alcoholic affair (the bar serves botanical cocktails and beers), but there’s no shortage of the usual festival escapism.” Photo: Jethro Tanner
I hike through the forest and join a forest bath that ends under an ancient yew tree. I am often drawn to the tent at Liminal Lake, where Bruce Parry talks about his tribal travel and community life, the Seed Sistas about medicinal herbs and environmental activist Satish Kumar about the importance of soil health.
“Without sounding too serious, the festival asks how we can be medicine in these times of ecological and social chaos,” says Dugdale. “It’s an intercultural exchange: We share insights into the wisdom of our ancestors from home and abroad as well as modern solutions – things we can all do to help.”
And while it’s a non-alcoholic affair (the bar serves botanical cocktails and beers), there’s no shortage of the usual festival escapism. Dugdale used to host the Glade trance festival here – and it is celebrated until the early hours of the morning. Soul Mate Speed Dating is one of the funniest festival sessions I’ve ever attended.
Singer-songwriter Nick Mulvey. Photo: Samuel George
Musical highlights on the wooded main stage range from Nick Mulvey, nominated for the Mercury Prize, and folk singer Sam Lee to dub / electronica sets by DJ Gaudi. One of the standout moments is a traditional cocoa ceremony (a sacred drink for South American tribes) for 500 people, followed by the Huni Kuin, who takes the stage with traditional songs from the jungle.
Perhaps it is the joy of going to such an event after the pandemic chaos, but the atmosphere is one of celebration.
“It’s like a European festival,” I hear a woman say to her friend while I am packing up my tent. “Everyone dance all night and are so friendly, but nobody is wasted!”
After three days of partying on the meadow, I leave happy – stimulated by lectures and workshops and nourished by the wild backdrop and dancing under the stars – and feel better than when I arrived: something I couldn’t say in all my festival years .
Medicine takes place from 18.-21. August 2022. Tickets are available now, medicalfestival.com