What is Rapé
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 Tabaco (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 Tabaco 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.