The Amazonian Natural Medicine of Rapé

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It now seems a commonplace occurrence for people to use the medicine of rapé on a whim. I have seen people take rapé while sitting in a moving car. I have seen rapé being taken in parties then everyday chatting ensue within minutes of application. I have seen people serving rapé to other people with minimal knowledge of the indigenous traditions from where it comes (never mind having completed the Muka dieta, which is a fundamental requirement for all serious students of the Huni Kuin and Yawanawa tribes).

Thus, below I weave together different sources that have informed my use of rapé as a sacred practice of healing and prayer. Whenever possible, I present various viewpoints, particularly those of pajés (spiritual leaders & healers) of the Brazilian tribes who have deep knowledge of this medicine (for example, the Huni Kuin, Yawanawa, and Katukina). However, I must admit that the most important teachings for me have come from Spirit, particularly when rapé prayers were incorporated as a complementary practice during strict plant dietas.

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Yakuna students passing Rapé at Caño Guacaya, Rio Miritiparana, Amazonas.   (Source:  Photo taken between 1941-1961 and from the book "Vine of the Soul" by Richard Evans Schultes and Robert Raffauf.)

Excerpts from Rapé e Sananga: Medicina e Mediacões Entre Aldeias e Centros Urbanos” by Aline Ferreira Oliveira” #

Within the science of the forest [pajelança, or curanderismo], you have to be very careful from whom you receive rapé. Not only the type of rapé (since the intention of whoever prepares the rapé confers a certain kind of force to the tobacco), but above all, in the energy passed through the blow.

When you serve rapé to another person, you receive the energy of the person who you serve to (although less than the person receiving from the person serving). This is because energy – considered good and light, or negative and heavy, can be transmitted from one person to another.

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According to the Huni Kuin pajé and leader of Aldeia Novo Futuro Ninawa Pai-da-Mata, rapé can firm up the body, keep away “bad things,” take away bad luck and the “evil eye.”

In line with this use, Nani Kate Yuve (Pajé and leader of Aldeia Yawarani of the Yawanawa tribe), states that rapé is to make requests, to make a special request on behalf of one’s family. “If I invite someone to receive rapé, I want to tell them something, to teach them…so rapé has this approach, this alliance.” [Note: This coincides with my personal experience of receiving rapé from someone I consider a true master of this medicine, Maestro Abraham, when spiritual/energetic transmissions seemed to take place that were both profound and mysterious]

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Rapé can thus be used to open and reach another person, with a strongly intentioned blow. However, there are energies that can be exchanged involuntarily. For this reason, Nani, before inviting someone for a prayer with rapé [to give and receive rapé from another person], asks himself: “Is this a good person? Is he always connected to Spirit? Is he animated? Is he joyful? Of course I will ask these things. If I exchange rapé with any random person, negative things can be passed onto me.”

In the Yawanawa village of Mutum, siblings and tribal leaders Paulo Matsini and Katia Hushahu, apprentices of pajelança (curanderismo) of the late elder Tata, told me they are concerned with the urban use of rapé, because when it is badly blown, it can bring serious harm to those who receive it. One such harmful effect is that the person can become closed so that they always feel tired, with a locked mind, and their actions always going wrong. If the rapé was given abruptly, or with bad thoughts, it can obstruct one’s thoughts instead of opening them.

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Within the confines of dieta (samakei), aside from being mentioned as a companion, rapé is viewed as a study of disease (which is a sharp contrast to the way the use of rapé has spread, as something trivial and commonplace). In order to heal with the use of rapé, one must master the strength of the rapé in its highest degree [during dieta], as that is the way one learns what disease is.

Tepis (the pipes used to serve rapé to others) is also an essential part of the science of the forest in the flow of energy between humans, plants (tobacco and ash), and animals (bones, skin, hair, teeth). It is believed that the “intelligence” of animals, which can also be described as their energy, can be sucked or taken, through their bone, and that their “moral qualities” can be transmitted.

For this reason, only animals considered intelligent by the shenipavo (stories of elders) can be used in the making of the tepi, such as the isu (a type of black monkey), the mutum (a bird that predators find difficult to capture), the hawk (which has “beyond vision”), or the deer.

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Thus, the energy that passes through rapé depends on the flow of different forces: the rapé, which includes the pae (force) of your tobacco [as well as the plants added to it, such as the ash of the Tsunu or Cumaru trees]; the yuxin (spirit) and xina (the thought) that is placed in the act of preparing the rapé; the pipe itself (from the yuxin of the animal from which the pipe was made and the xina of the person who made the pipe); the xina of the owner of the pipe which has condensed into the instrument due to prolonged use; and the xina of the person who is serving the rapé. The interaction of all of these forces can be summarized into the category of “energy.

Currently, rapé is used constantly in the Yawanawa villages and has become a vehicle for socialization among people close to one another at the end of the day: before taking a bath, to relax the body, to relieve fatigue, with some gathering by Gregorio river to take rapé and speak among themselves. Rapé is also used in the making of difficult decisions as it has the property of clarifying and opening one’s thinking. It is considered an essential “food” of the dieta (samakei), as well as a form of study, since the best way for a xinaya (one who prays) to ask about yuvehu (spirits or the world of spirituality) is to approach with rapé, taken with the kuripe (self-applying pipe).

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Excerpts from “O Uso Ritualistico do Rapé” by Vinicius Casagrande Fornasier, a non-indigenous student of this medicine from Brazil. #

1. Rapé is basically a medicine of connection. It alters consciousness in a powerful way. I want to emphasize that rapé, spiritually speaking, has the power to open numerous portals and access different dimensions. For this reason, it is essential to be in a safe and proper environment for such an experience. The songs, as well as rituals with ayahuasca, play a very important role in leading the person to a path of healing and enlightenment.

Rapé is serious stuff! The use of this medicine should always be in line with a spiritual purpose. It is necessary to be in concentration, in prayer, seeking firmness, together with surrender, to receive healing or spiritual instruction.

2. According to indigenous traditions of the Huni Kuin and Yawanawa, when a person blows rapé into another person, there is a strong exchange of energy between the two parties, both for the receiver as well as for the person applying rapé.

You must thus ask yourself: What type of energy are you receiving?

Receiving rapé from someone who has not completed an apprenticeship based on indigenous traditions can lead to an exchange of dense or dark energies that can cause spiritual ailments and physical illnesses. The person who applies rapé to others should first complete a dedicated apprenticeship with a pajé (spiritual leader/healer). Such an apprenticeship involves a special “dieta” (of the Muka plant, in the case of the Yawanawa and Huni Kuin tribes) where (among other restrictions), all sugars (including fruits), red meat, salt, and sex is forbidden, together with strong applications of rapé, until a profound connection with the spirit of the this medicine is reached.

3. Rapé is based on intention. According to indigenous traditions, rapé can both cure and cause disease and spiritual ills, as it all depends on the intent of the person and the application. Applying rapé is thus a big responsibility. We must know and trust fully who will give us rapé, because we are putting our lives in the hands of another person.

Those who give rapé to another person also receives the energy of the recipient, and not having previous study with rapé [namely, during a dieta with the Muka plant, among students of the Yawanawa and Huni Kuin tribes], may be receiving dense energies that can generate countless ailments and even diseases. Therefore, the study (dieta) is fundamental to anchoring and understanding the powerful energy of rapé. Only experienced people (who can steer and anchor) can pass this study onto someone.

4. Rapé, psychologically speaking, mainly deals with fears. A strong healing application can lead one to experience his or her own shadow and access his darkest fears. Numerous experiences have proven it to be effective in dealing with depressions, obsessive fears, insomnia, anxiety, among others ailments.

5. From a spiritual perspective, rapé can greatly expand awareness and mediumship. People with strong mediumship can have intense experiences with rapé, receiving clear information, guidance and cures. For those who work with this medicine, it is excellent for centering oneself, connecting with the Great Mystery, receiving instructions for spiritual work, and protection of our body and spirit.

6. Do not take rapé all the time. For those who study rapé, it is recommended to use it in the morning (before breakfast), late afternoon (after work) and at night, before bedtime. In ceremonial work, one can receive several applications, according to necessity and purpose.

[Note: I believe it may be important to take longer breaks (e.g. a week to several weeks) from rapé from time to time. Some long-time users rapé report sensations of heaviness or being blocked in the forehead that may arise. Pajé Kaku of the Katukina tribe, for example, sees this as symptoms of “nisun,” a type of spiritual illness that may come about from improper use of rapé, or from use of rapé that has not been properly cleaned (from an energetic perspective). I personally believe it may also be the rapé making us viscerally aware of certain blockages that have yet to clear.

The Yawanawa and Huni Kuin believe that nisun can arise from frequent, long-term use of ayahuasca and rapé. Whatever the cause, the first step towards treatment of this condition appears to be taking a break from rapé, combined with daily vapor baths with certain medicinal plants of the Amazon Rainforest (or with simple herbs such as Rosemary or Eucalyptus for those without access to the plants of the Amazon).

Regular physical exercise, grounding oneself in nature, and eating clean and healthy foods are also part of the prescribed regimen. The medicine of Sananga (eye drops typically made by scraping the root of the Tabernaemontana Sananho or Tabernaemontana Undulata plant) is recommended. A dieta with Kambo (the frog secretion medicine common to the Matses, Huni Kuin, Yawanawa, and other tribes) is likewise recommended by some.


Reproduced here for the IAKP with permission of the author (Michael) along with excerpts from “Rapé e Sananga: Medicina e Mediacões Entre Aldeias e Centros Urbanos” by Aline Ferreira Oliveira

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