Tobacco snuff is a sacred shamanic medicine or tool that has been used by tribes of the Amazon basin for thousands of years. It is an essential part of their tribal culture and history. Rapé is the name for one of many of these snuffs, and its foundation lies in numerous indigenous 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 a “Kuripe” (for self-administration) or “Tepi” (for administration by someone else). This blow is quite forceful and not very pleasant. It can be rather shocking.
The appearance of Rapé is a grey / sand coloured, very fine and dry dust. It is traditionally prepared by the ceremonial pounding of tobacco with tree ash, followed by filtering it through a fine mesh, resulting in a very fine dust. The varieties of tobacco used are not the commonly known varieties, but varieties such as “Corda”, “Moi”, and in some cases “Mapacho”. Given the potency of the tobacco, which is stronger and darker than conventional tobacco, it can elicit mind altering and grounding effects.
The ashes that form the second important component in 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 (vision quest, trance, and so on) 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 civilisation for ritual, medicinal, and recreational purposes.
Effects and Usage
Using tobacco snuff or Rapé has many different purposes for indigenous tribes, including female puberty rites, initiation rites, drinking festivals, social rights, and healing ceremonies. Yet every tribe has their own routine: some apply it every day after breakfast and dinner, while others use it three times during the night. A typical Rapé ceremony involves a mutual administration by two people. 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 mind space for your intentions. Furthermore, this helps to release emotional, physical, and spiritual illnesses, and eases negativity and confusion, enabling a thorough grounding of the mind. Likewise, shamans use Rapé to realign with their energy channels and with their higher selves, 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 sinus infections. Moreover, Rapé stimulates the mind with nicotine, supporting an increased focus, presence, and intuition. Interestingly, there are rumours that Rapé could decalcify the pineal gland, 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. Yet whether Rapé can really help the decalcification of the pineal gland is highly debated and still needs to be scientifically proven.
Origin and History
The beginning of Rapé is reflected in the origin of tobacco, which stems from the Americas. The first written mention of tobacco snuff was documented in the Incas, who used it to cure sundry diseases and to “purge the head”. The Inca used only wild tobacco varieties, grinding their roots.
5000 years ago, Native Americans were already cultivating tobacco and were probably the first ones to smoke, chew, and inhale it. America remains famous for producing tobacco. 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.
Brazilian indigenous tribes were the first known users of snuff, which 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 discover snuff and introduce this exquisite sacrament to Spain when he returned. This was the beginning of a long tobacco and snuff era in Europe.
Production of Rapé
In addition to tobacco, a Rapé blend is composed of tree ash, aromatic or medicinal plants, or the ashes thereof. The tobacco was first cut into small pieces and then dried over a low fire. Then, ashes and tobacco are pounded and pulverised a large pot 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 mix restored in bottles or plugged tubes, or ornamental bottles which are often made from bone, to keep the produce as fresh as possible.
For indigenous Americans, tobacco is used medically as a cure for certain diseases, sores, wounds, and as a defence against insects, as well as an analgesic and narcotic that eases fatigue, pain, hunger, and thirst. Rapé enters deep into the nostrils, thereby cleaning out any residual mucus and exerting potent antibacterial effects. If the body is too congested with toxins, vomiting can be a side effect that leads to a thorough cleansing. There are even special tobacco blends that are made to counteract influenza and other diseases. Furthermore, the tobacco that is contained in most Rapé blends can potentiate the healing capacity of other plants, like Ayahuasca. Moreover, in its original form, tobacco can even be a hallucinogen. It contains two components which are closely related to Ayahuasca, leading to anti-depressive and stimulatory effects. As Rapé contains nicotine, its use increases the brain blood flow and affects the release of several stimulatory neurotransmitters, thereby heightening focus, presence, and intuition and opening the body to higher communication and holistic thinking and understanding.
As mentioned above, Rapé has the reputation for decalcifying the pineal gland, which is involved in melatonin secretion, circadian time perception, and the function of the immune system. Even though this has not been confirmed by scientific studies, this is of great interest, given the degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can lead to the calcification of the pineal gland. This calcification can be easily tested by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that show the degree of calcium on the gland. Furthermore, even normal ageing has been associated with pineal gland calcification and decreased melatonin production, whereas children rarely show this. 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 the 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 breast cancer. This risk of stroke is still higher when the patients are also affected by high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol/triglycerides. The most prevalent movement disorder, Parkinson’s disease (PD), is also affected negatively by decreased amounts of melatonin. The main pathological event in PD involves the destruction of dopaminergic neurons, through oxidative damage. Melatonin can prevent this oxidative damage from occurring, 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 is 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, although the subject is highly debated.