Rapé is a sacred shamanic medicine that has been used by healers of the Amazon basin for thousands of years and has become an essential part of their tribal culture and history (Stanfill et al. 2015). Rapé is a complex blend of pulverized plants, which usually contain a strong tobacco, Nicotiana rustica and sometimes also Nicotiana tabacum, as one of the main ingredients. Given the potency of the tobacco, Nicotiana rustica, which is 20 times stronger than Nicotiana tabacum, rapé can elicit mind alerting effects (Stanfill et al. 2010).
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 (Wilbert 1987), 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 (Zagorevski and Loughmiller-Newman, 2012).
In addition to tobacco, rapé preparations often contain pulverized and sieved leaves mixed with finely ground plant materials or alkaline ashes, e.g. camphor, cinnamon, tonka bean, clover, banana peel, and mint (Cardoso and Nascimento, 2008; Stanfill et al. 2015). The rapé ashes can, in addition, be made from psychoactive plants, e.g. Macambo (Theobroma bicolor); Txunú (Platycyamus regnellii), Copaíba (McKenna, 1993). There exist special rapé preparations that contain hallucinogens, such as Anadenanthera, Erythroxylum, Virola (Smet 1985; Schultes 1984), or even jurema (mimosa hostilis) and chacruna (psychotria viridis), made for ceremonial and curing purposes. However, some rapé ingredients will always remain a secret of the shamanic tribe that composed it.
Effects and Usage of Rapé
Using rapé has many different purposes for indigenous tribes, whereof female puberty rites, initiation rites, cashiri drinking festivals, social rites, and healing ceremonies (Wilbert 1987). Yet, every tribe has their own rapé routine: some apply rapé every day after breakfast and dinner, other tribes use it three times during the night (Wilbert 1987). Depending on the occasion, rapé can be mixed with other mind altering plants, like coca, jurema, or anadenanthera (Schultes 1967; Wilbert 1987).
A rape ritual typically involves a mutual administration by two persons. The blend 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, rapé helps releasing emotional, physical, and spiritual illnesses and eases negativity and confusion, enabling a thorough grounding of your 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 (Wolk et al. 2005, Cryer 1976), 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. Furthermore, calcification of the pineal gland has been associated with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, and fluoride exposure (Luke 1997; Luke 2001), which further stresses the importance of a healthy pineal gland. Yet, whether Rapé can really help the decalcification of the pineal gland, 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 rapé to cure sundry diseases and to “purge the head”(Gracilaso de la Vega 1723; Wilbert 1987). 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 (GST Report; Elferink 1983). 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 worldwide. 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 (Christen et al., 1982) 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 tobacco, a blend of rapé is composed of plant root bark, seeds, and leaves, and of plant ashes.The tobacco is first cut into small pieces and then dried over a low fire. Then, dried plant materials and tobacco leaves are pulverized with a mortar and pestle from rosewood, which adds a sweet woody scent to the rapé blend (Curtis, 1935). After grinding, the blend is sieved and ground up again until a fine, smooth powder is obtained. The mixture is stored in bottles or plugged tubes, which are often made from bone to keep the produce as fresh as possible (Curtis, 1935).
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 rapé blends (Machiguenga snuff) that are made to counteract influenza and other diseases (Russel & Rahman 2015). Furthermore, the tobacco 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 rapé, that potentially a healthy pineal gland function, thereby counteracting its calcification and heightening its melatonin production, are of great interest.
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 and inhale 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 use the Tepi, as both pipes afford a second blow right after the first one. This can be challenging for an unexperienced user, given that the first blow can be 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.
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 snuff 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 inhaling and exhaling slowly, 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.
The Moment After
Snot and mucus will be finding its way out: first through the nose, later 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 wants to get rid of it. Do not force it up, and do not swallow it. First the nose should 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 up into the mouth again and spit it out. This may need some coughing and phlegm, 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 nice 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 snuffs 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 root 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 herbs. The other members of the tribe are responsible for the collection of rapé plants. 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 a 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
Neo Shamanic Blends and Our Own Creations
Aside from the traditional blends made by the tribes, we offer some rapé mixtures that are produced by people in Brazil, who have learned the original practice from befriended tribe members. In addition, we have ourselves learned the skill of making rapé. By using real traditional rapé as a base, we add our personally selected ashes and tobaccos, and infuse the mixture with the finest aromatic ingredients such as essential oils, resins and crystals. Moreover, we infuse fresh aromatic plants and plant essences that transfer their aroma to the tobacco very delicately, leaving a fine, flowery note.
We buy our rapé from tribes in the Amazon basin, like the Katukina, Yawanawa, Kaxinawa, Nukini, Kuntanawa, and Matses. They all produce their own specific kind of rapé blend, of which each serves a different purpose. Like our tribes, a huge set of tribes live in Western Amazonia (including parts of Peru, Brazil and Bolivia). A lot of their knowledge about plants, like ayahuasca and the sacred rapé, is shared and passed on to foreign visitors. Many elders talk about the necessity to rejoin forces with other tribes and also other nations, in order to face the difficult climate situation, protect the rainforest, and create a more sustainable living. Via the following links we provide descriptions of some of the tribes that we have developed a mutual relationship with, based on fair and sustainable trades.
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 mixtures, 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
de Aguiar MS (2012). Nukiní: the Language and the Self-Esteem of a People. Proceedings published: kellogg.nd.edu/STLILLA
Antolín I, Mayo JC, Sainz RM, del Brío Mde L, Herrera F, Martín V, Rodríguez C (2002) .
Protective effect of melatonin in a chronic experimental model of Parkinson's disease. Brain Res.;943(2):163-73
Cardoso, C.M., Nascimento, S., 2008. Etnobotany and Umbanda Temples. College of
Theology Umbanda, Sao Paulo, Brazil, p. 133.
Curtis, M.M. (1935) The Book of Snuff and Snuff Boxes, New York, Bramhall House
Domino EF, Minoshima S, Guthrie S, Ohl L, Ni L, Koeppe RA, Zubieta JK (2000).
Nicotine effects on regional cerebral blood flow in awake, resting tobacco smokers. Synapse.;38(3):313-21.
Elferink JG. (1983). The narcotic and hallucinogenic use of tobacco in Pre-Columbian Central America. J Ethnopharmacol.;7(1):111-22.
Fotiou E (2012). Working with ‘La Medicina’: Elements of Healing in Contemporary Ayahuasca Rituals. Anthropology of Consciousness;23: 6–27.
Cohen M, Lippman M, Chabner B (1978). Role of pineal gland in aetiology and treatment of breast cancer. Lancet.;2(8094):814-6.
FAOSTAT. Exports—countries by commodity: top exports—tobacco, unmanufactured, 2010 Available from: http://faostat.fao.org/desktopdefault.aspx?pageid=342&lang=en&country=21
Farzin D, Mansouri N (July 2006). "Antidepressant-like effect of harmane and other beta-carbolines in the mouse forced swim test". Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 16 (5): 324–8.
GST Report: Smokeless Tobacco and Public Health: A Global Perspective.
Herraiz T, Chaparro C (2005). Human monoamine oxidase is inhibited by tobacco smoke: beta-carboline alkaloids act as potent and reversible inhibitors. Biochem Biophys Res Commun.;326(2):378-86.
Janiger O, Dobkin de Rios M (1973). Suggestive Hallucinogenic Properties of Tobacco Medical Anthropology Newsletter;4(4): 6-11
Jauregui X, Clavo ZM, Jovel EM, Pardo-de-Santayana M (2011). Plantas con madre: plants that teach and guide in the shamanic initiation process in the East-Central Peruvian Amazon. J Ethnopharmacol.;134(3):739-52.
Kunz D, Schmitz S, Mahlberg R, Mohr A, Stöter C, Wolf KJ, Herrmann WM (1999).
A new concept for melatonin deficit: on pineal calcification and melatonin excretion. Neuropsychopharmacology.;21(6):765-72.
Kitkhuandee A, Sawanyawisuth K, Johns NP, Kanpittaya J, Johns J (2014). Pineal calcification is associated with symptomatic cerebral infarction. J Stroke Cerebrovasc Dis.;23(2):249-53.
Kitkhuandee A, Sawanyawisuth K, Johns J, Kanpittaya J, Tuntapakul S, Johns NP (2014). Pineal calcification is a novel risk factor for symptomatic intracerebral hemorrhage. Clin Neurol Neurosurg.;121:51-4.
Lagrou, E., 1996. Shamanism and representation among the Kaxinawa. In: Langdon,
E.J. (Ed.), Shamanism in Brazil: New Perspectives. Federal University of Santa
Catarina Publishing House, Florianopolis, pp. 197–231.
Lima, E.C., 1994. Katukina: History and organization of a Pano group from the high Jurua. 193 pp. Dissertation – Graduate Program in Social Anthropology, University of Sao Paulo
Luke J (1997). The Effect of Fluoride on the Physiology of the Pineal Gland. Doctoral thesis, University of Surrey.
Luke J (2001). Fluoride deposition in the aged human pineal gland. Caries Res.;35(2):125-8.
McKenna, T., 1993. Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge – a Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution. Bantam Books, New York., p. 336.
Pavia CS, Pierre A, Nowakowski J.(2000). Antimicrobial activity of nicotine against a spectrum of bacterial and fungal pathogens. J Med Microbiol.;49(7):675-6.
Philip E. Cryer, Morey W. Haymond, Julio V. Santiago, and Suresh D. Shah (1976). Norepinephrine and Epinephrine Release and Adrenergic Mediation of Smoking-Associated Hemodynamic and Metabolic Events. N Engl J Med; 295:573-577
Polimeni G, Esposito E, Bevelacqua V, Guarneri C, Cuzzocrea S (2014). Role of melatonin supplementation in neurodegenerative disorders. Front Biosci (Landmark Ed).;19:429-46.
Russell A, Rahman E (2015). The Master Plant: Tobacco in Lowland South America. Bloomsbury Academic; 1 edition.
deSmet PA (1985). A multidisciplinary overview of intoxicating snuff rituals in the western hemisphere. J Ethnopharmacol.;13(1):3-49.
Schultes RE (1984). Fifteen years of study of psychoactive snuffs of South America: 1967-1982--a review. J Ethnopharmacol.;11(1):17-32.
Skwarlo-Sonta K, Majewski P, Markowska M, Oblap R, Olszanska B (2003)
Bidirectional communication between the pineal gland and the immune system. Can J Physiol Pharmacol.;81(4):342-9.
Stanfill SB, Oliveira da Silva AL, Lisko JG, Lawler TS, Kuklenyik P, Tyx RE, Peuchen EH, Richter P, Watson CH (2015). Comprehensive chemical characterization of Rapé tobacco products:Nicotine, un-ionized nicotine, tobacco-specific N'-nitrosamines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and flavor constituents. Food Chem Toxicol.pii: S0278-6915(15)00126-X
Stanfill SB, Connolly GN, Zhang, L, Jia, TL, Henningfield, J, Richter P, et al. (2010). Surveillance of international oral tobacco products: total nicotine, un-ionized nicotine and tobacco-specific nitrosamines. Tob. Control 20, e2.
World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC): Smokeless Tobacco and Some Tobacco-specific N-Nitrosamines, Lyon, France, 2007, ISBN 9789283212898
Wilbert J, 1987. Tobacco and Shamanism in South America. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.
Wolk R, Shamsuzzaman AS, Svatikova A, Huyber CM, Huck C, Narkiewicz K, Somers VK (2005). Hemodynamic and autonomic effects of smokeless tobacco in healthy young men. J Am Coll Cardiol.;45(6):910-4.
Zagorevski DV, Loughmiller-Newman JA (2012). The detection of nicotine in a Late Mayan period flask by gas chromatography and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry methods. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom.; 29;26(4):403-11