Tobacco snuff is a sacred shamanic medicine or tool, that has been used by tribes of the Amazon basin for thousands of years and is an essential part of their tribal culture and history. Rapé is the name for one of many of these snuffs, and it’s foundation lies by numerous indiginous tribes in Acre, Brazil. Curiously, Rapé is not sniffed, snorted or inhaled. Instead, it is administered (blown) into the nostrils with a special blowpipe called “Kuripe” (self administration) or “Tepi” (another person administers). This “blow” is quite forceful and not specifically pleasant. It can be rather shocking.
The appearance of a Rapé is a grey- to sand coloured, very fine and dry dust. It is traditionally prepared by ceremonial pounding of Tobacco (N. rustica) with tree ashes, followed by patiently filtering it through a fine mesh, resulting in a dust as fine as 125 micron. The varieties of Tobacco used are not the commonly known N. tabacum, but N. rustica, such as “Corda” or “Moi” and in cases also “Mapacho”. Given the potency of the tobacco, Nicotiana rustica, which is stronger and darker than Nicotiana tabacum, it can elicit mind alerting and grounding effects
The ashes that are the second important component in a Rapé come from the bark of a variety of medicinal or sacred trees. The production and choice of ashes and the exact composition and ratio of ingredients often remain a secret of the tribe.
South American shamans use tobacco as a sacred, wholesome medicine and there exists a very close connection between tobacco use and shamanism that has little in common with our western way of tobacco use. Indigenous tribes use tobacco in ceremonies, to predict good weather, fishing, or harvest, and for spiritual (e.g. vision quest, trance etc) and curing purposes, but rarely for smoking. The use of tobacco by indigenous tribes in South America, such as the Kaxinawá, Nu-nu, Yawanawá, and Katukina, is profoundly entrenched in their culture, and has been employed at least since the Mayan civilization for ritual, medicinal and recreational purposes.
Effects and Usage
Using Tobacco snuff or Rapé has many different purposes for indigenous tribes, whereof female puberty rites, initiation rites, cashiri drinking festivals, social rites, and healing ceremonies. Yet, every tribe has their own routine: some apply it every day after breakfast and dinner, other tribes use it three times during the night.
A typical Rapé ceremony involves a mutual administration by two persons. The Rapé is blown high up into the nostrils with a pipe made from bamboo or bone. The intense blow immediately focuses the mind, stops the chattering, and opens the entire freed mindspace for your intentions. Furthermore, this helps releasing emotional, physical, and spiritual illnesses and eases negativity and confusion, enabling a thorough grounding of the mind. Likewise, shamans use Rapé to re-align with their energy channels and with their higher self, and to intensify their connection with the world and the universe. In addition, Rapé paves the way for detoxifying the body and cleans out all excess mucus, toxins, and bacteria, thereby, assisting in fighting colds and snuffles. Moreover, Rapé stimulates the mind with its nicotinic content that in turn releases a.o. epinephrine, acetylcholine, and dopamine, supporting an increased focus, presence, and intuition. Interestingly, their are many rumours that Rapé could decalcify the pineal gland(1), which is involved in melatonin secretion, circadian time perception, and drug metabolism. Calcification of the pineal gland has been associated with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and fluoride exposure, which further stresses the importance of a healthy pineal gland. Yet, whether Rapé can really help the decalcification of the pineal gland, is highly debated and needs still to be scientifically proven.
Origin and History
The beginning of Rapé is reflected in the origin of tobacco, which supposedly stems from the Americas. The first written tobacco snuff use ever reported, was documented from the Incas, who used it to cure sundry diseases and to “purge the head”. The Inca used only wild tobacco varieties and ground the roots of the plants. Already 5,000 years ago, Native Americans cultivated tobacco and were probably the first ones to smoke, chew, and inhale tobacco. Until today, America remains famous for producing tobacco: in 2010, Brazil became the world’s largest tobacco exporter and the second largest tobacco producer (FAOSTAT). This is mirrored in the Rapé use and production of Brazilians: indigenous people in Brazil are well-known for producing one of the best Rapé blends. Furthermore, Brazilian indigenous tribes were the first ones known to use snuff (WHO). Whereas, snuff was only introduced to Europe in 1500; the Franciscan monk, Friar Ramón Pané, who travelled with Christopher Columbus in 1493, was the first European to found out that the Indians used snuff and introduced this exquisite sacrament to Spain when he returned. This was the beginning of a long tobacco and snuff area in Europe.
Production of Rapé
In addition to Tabaco, a blend of Rapé is composed of tree ashes, aromatic or medicinal plants or the ashes thereof. The Tabaco is first cut into small pieces and then dried over a low fire. Then, ashes and tobacco are pounded and pulverized in a large mortar and pestle. After many days of slow and ceremonial pounding, the result is sieved through the finest cloth, and the remains ground up again until finally a very fine, smooth dust is obtained. The mixture is stored in bottles or plugged tubes, or ornameltal bottles which are often made from bone, to keep the produce as fresh as possible.
For indigenous Americans, tobacco is medically used as a cure of certain diseases, sores, wounds, and as a defense against insects (Curtis 1935) and also as an analgesic and narcotic substance that eases fatigue, pain, hunger, and thirst (Elferink 1983). Rapé enters deep into the nostrils, thereby cleaning out any residual mucus and exerting potent antibacterial effects (Pavia et al. 2000). If the body is too congested with toxins, vomiting can be a side effect that leads to a thorough cleansing. There are even special Tabaco blends (Machiguenga snuff) that are made to counteract influenza and other diseases (Russel & Rahman 2015). Furthermore, the Tabaco that is contained in most Rapé blends can potentiate the healing capacity of other plants, like Ayahuasca. Moreover, in its original sense, tobacco is even a hallucinogen. It contains two alkaloids, namely harman and norharman, which are closely related to harmine and harmaline (Janiger et al. 1973). These two beta-carbolines inhibit monoamine oxidase (Herraiz et al. 2005), leading to antidepressive and stimulatory effects (Farzin 2006).
As Rapé contains nicotine, its use increases the brain blood flow and affects the release of several stimulatory neurotransmitter, such as epinephrine, acetylcholine, and dopamine (Wolk et al. 2005, Cryer 1976; Domino et al. 2000), thereby heightening your focus, presence, and intuition and opening the body to higher communication and holistic thinking and understanding. As mentioned above, Rapé has the reputation of decalcifying the pineal gland, which is involved in melatonin secretion, circadian time perception, and the function of the immune system (Skwarlo-Sonta et al. 2003). Even though, this has not been confirmed by scientific studies, this is of great interest, given that degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson´s disease, and fluoride or mercury exposures can lead to calcification of the pineal gland (Luke 1997; Luke 2001). The calcification of the pineal gland can easily be tested by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that show the degree of calcium phosphate on the gland. Furthermore, even normal aging has been associated with pineal gland calcification and decreased melatonin production (Kunz et al. 1999), whereas children rarely show calcified pineal glands. Moreover, it is suggested that our polluted water, which is often filled with hormones and residues of pesticides, as well as food additives, excess sugar and sweeteners, can lead to calcification of the pineal gland. Pineal gland calcification has also been shown to be associated with decreased melatonin levels and a high risk for ischemic stroke, intracerebral hemorrhage (bleeding), and with breast cancer (Kitkhuandee et al. 2014; Cohen et al. 1978). This risk for stroke was still higher when the patients were also affected by high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol/triglycerides (Kitkhuandee et al. 2014). The most prevalent movement disorder, Parkinson’s disease (PD), is also affected negatively by decreased amounts of melatonin (Polimeni et al. 2014). The main pathological event in PD involves the destruction of dopaminergic neurons, through oxidative damage. Melatonin can prevent this oxidative damage to occur (Antolín et al. 2002), making melatonin a possible preventive treatment in PD and other diseases where oxygen radical-mediated tissue damage occurs. In sum, melatonin enhances brain plasticity, interacts with the immune system, counteracts oxidative stress within the nervous system, and a key hormone in circadian time perception and other crucial biological functions. Tools, like Tobacco snuff or Rapé that potentially promote a healthy pineal gland function, thereby counteracting its calcification and heightening its melatonin production, are of great interest and the subject is highly debated.
Application: A Ceremony Between the Giver and the Receiver
Traditionally, Rapé is administered with two different types of pipes, which are made from bamboo or bone. The first type of pipe is requiring the presence of another person, who will blow the snuff powerfully into each nostril of the partner who is going to receive the Rapé. For that reason it is generally referred to as the blow pipe and in Brazilian it is called the „Tepi“. The other type of pipe is a self-applicator and is named „Kuripe“. The connection between mouth and nose is easily established through the V-shape of the pipe.
Blowing the Tepi involves an intimate connection between the Rapé giver and receiver. Both are closely connected by mouth, nose and by breath, and both need to open and allow the other spirit and intention to enter, permitting the healing to take place. Often the person blowing needs to be an experienced tribe member, as he sends his intention and spirit to the person inhaling, which affords a strong mind and clear focus. Hence, the essence of this blowing ritual does not depend on the strength of your blowing, but whether you can share yourself while doing it and thereby empowering the receiver. These ‘blowing rituals’ are of great importance in the shamanic tradition, which perceives the healing energy of breath (also known as ‘Soplada’ – which means blowing healing energy) as a major tool for healing (Fotiou 2012; Jauregui et al. 2011).
If you are an inexperienced Rapé user, it is easier to receive your first experience with the use of the Tepi, and an experienced user as the giver. The first blow should quickly be followed by the second blow in the other nostril. This can be challenging for an unexperienced user, given that the first blow can be totally overwhelming. Still, if you are using the Kuripe, it is important to continue with the second blow as soon as possible, to harmonize the energies of both nostrils and hemispheres.
Huni kuin Rapé administration
There are many different ways of blowing, depending on the intentions used. The most common blow affords a deep inhalation that is followed by a long blow that is increasing in strength towards the end of the breath. With this increase at the end of the breath, Rapé gets pushed further up and achieves the best cleansing. The giver needs to inhale deeply, enabling a deep powerful blow from the stomach that is carried outwards with good intentions.
Generally, it is recommended to start off with a dosage not bigger than a pea per portion. As it is very important to blow the Rapé into both nostrils, you would need two pea-sized portions as a good start-off. Yet, everyone has a different tolerance and might therefore favour a smaller or larger dose. Ideally, you start with a pea-sized portion, but then you need to experiment for yourself, in order to find the most suitable dose.
Self-administration is simple, the physicality of it only involves placing a small (half a pea sized) amount into the top of the applicator (nasal end). Then you connect your mouth to the other end and you start blowing. You can experiment between shorter sharper blows to longer more gentle attempts. Of course it needs to be applied to both nostrils.
It is worth centering yourself prior to using Rapé and make sure you are in a calm environment. You can use the Rapé as a tool to transform intentions and it also cuts through whatever mental or emotional field you are in. The initial experience and the strong sensation lasts for a few minutes, while the newly gained state remains for a very long time.
Set and Setting: how to take Rapé
Every medicinal plant is considered by indigenous tribes as a sacrament and as a prayer or intention. We recommend to use this sacred medicine, Rapé, in an environment that is honoring the plant for its teaching and healing abilities. Incense, crystals, chumpi stones, tribal music, and nature, create a perfect space for a meditational and reflective rapé use. Also, it is very essential to aim your mind and prepare an intention before embracing Rapé; sit in silence and aim your mind before you get started. This intention can be focused on insights, physical healing, energetic healing, or anything that necessitates healing or clarity in your life. Once you found an intention, ask the universe or the spirit world to help you through that process. Thereafter, the receiver deeply inhales the medicine, first through the left nostril, which symbolizes death. Afterwards, Rapé is applied to the right side, which represents rebirth. After the experience, it is best to remain with the eyes closed, while both inhaling and exhaling slowly through the mouth, enabling a thorough grounding and maintenance of focus. Try not to put your experience into words while grounding, rather try to concentrate on your thoughts and energy that is released by the medicine. Try not to fall into suffering or drama, but discover how easy it is to channel the experience into your heart, and notice the warrior power and grounding that provides, and how it rebalances you.
The Moment After
Snot and mucus will be finding its way out: first through the nose, later as phleghm through the throat. It is very important to allow the outward flow, as the mucous and fluids will carry your physical and etheric waste with it, so one gets rid of it. Do not force it up, and do not swallow it. Simply just breathe only through the mouth after first application. Then when things have calmed down, softly breathe out through the nose. You will see powder coming out. You dont want to inhale this powder in the lungs. After a while of breathing, it will start dripping and the nose can be cleaned. Ideally, this is done by holding one nostril closed with a finger, and emptying the other nostril forcefully, with a strong blow of air exhaled through the nose. When this is done with both nostrils, often several times, one can immediately feel a new and open access to fresh air, and breathing through the nose is greatly enhanced. After a while, the remains may drop back into the throat. It is important to bring this phlghm up into the mouth again and spit it out. This may need some coughing, but it is very necessary and rewarding. To be able to freely experience the cleaning process, it is best to be outside, where the phlegm can be spit onto the ground. This last process of spitting the phlegm, is a great final affirmation of the expelled negativity that physically and visually leaves the body and is given back to mother earth. If you continue to feel dizzy and unwell after using Rapé and eventually purging, it is recommended to drink some water, non-caffeine tea, or fruit juice and stay with your eyes closed, either lying or sitting. The water will hydrate your body and help remove all toxins that are still being excreted, and the natural sugars will support grounding.
The Rapè, Tabaco powders and ashes that we offer are sacred healing tools stemming directly from Amazonian tribes. This powerful medicine is rare and produced laboriously with sacred plants collected by the members of the tribes during a ceremonial process. The composer of the blend, needs to be an experienced shaman with thorough knowledge about the diverse plant kingdom of the jungle. The jungle holds not only the biggest variety in plants, one also needs to know which part of each plant can be used, considering that the ashes, root or bark can have a different purpose and effect than leaves or seeds of a given plant. Only 1 to 2 kilograms may be produced at a time. This sacred preparation is a process that may take up to weeks. Usually, the chief of the tribe – the Pajero – works under a strict diet and in a trance-state when endlessly pounding and mixing the Rapé ingredients together. The other members of the tribe are responsible for the collection of the ingredients. The plants will either be sun dried or roasted and are various times filtered through a fine cloth and then mixed with other ingredients to obtain the final batch. In earlier times, the ‘Pajero’ used the final batch in a ceremony on his own. Nowadays, the whole tribe is taking part in this magical ceremonial event. Only since recently, the tribes share their sacred medicine with foreign friends, passing on the knowledge and application for the next generations. Still, many of the blend compositions remain a secret of the tribe.
The money that the tribes earn through our collaboration is used to provide education and a safe home for the local children. Our intention is to continue this succesful and sustainable connection with these tribes, enabling both, the tribe and our customers, to benefit from this exchange.
Here you can watch a video on the chief of the Yawanawa talking about sustainability:
BIRA, chief of the Yawanawa speaking on the role of spirituality in true sustainability
Rapé is a sacred medicine and ought to be used with respect and good intentions. We strongly discourage the combined use with alcohol. Remember to not swallow the blend, but blow your nose carefully and spit out the remains. Due to the tobacco content of most Rapé’s, a compulsive use can lead to dependence and can cause heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, and other vascular diseases. Therefore, you should never use Rapé during pregnancies.
Shaman Songs of the Amazon Rainforest: Xanu Yara
Rapé workshop in the Kaxinawa tribe:
Hapé Medicine workshop and Sacred Ceremony with 2 Amazonian Master Shamans from the Kaxinawa
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