What is Rapé? by Alan Seo MS Brazil
What is Rapé? When this question is asked online, the answers tend to focus on the French origin of the word and its physical constituents: the fact that it is based on tobacco powder and so on. All of this is true, but it does not place Rapé in its broader indigenous context. A more pertinent question would be: 'What is the real Rapé?' or 'What is original Rapé in the indigenous context?' And these are very complex questions to answer because they raise other questions: 'Rapé is only real when it is made by someone with tribal heritage? Is some snuff made by an Indian authentic just because the person who made it is indigenous? And the ingredients: are they all produced, planted and harvested by the manufacturer? ' There are many questions that most Rapé users who live far from the source cannot easily answer, which can generate doubts.
A good snuff during a long night of medicine is only for trained professionals.
Let's start from the beginning: where does Rapé come from? Different tribes have their own stories about the origin of sacred plants, although many have elements in common.
The Yawanawá tell the story of their patriarch, King Ruwa, who lived at a time when death had not yet found humanity. The story goes that he was the first person to die and they buried him in the middle of their Shuhu-his Maloca, or Longhouse. After some time, some plants started to grow in the place where he was buried. A vine sprouted and they called it Uni, or Ayahuasca. The bell pepper also appeared: a plant formerly used for left-handed magic. Other plants sprouted, some now forgotten. And there was a plant with large leaves, the people didn't know what to do with it, but their healer, who was wise, told them to dry it and beat it to a fine powder. He told them to take a reed or bamboo tube and blow through their nose, telling them it would make a person fly and take them far. In their tradition, you can do good or bad to certain plants, depending on your intention. But with Tobacco you can only do good. That doesn't mean taking too much isn't bad for your health - it just means it can only be used for healing and positive magic.
Mainly the Pano tribes of the state of Acre use the Rapé we know. Tribes such as Yawanawá, Huni Kuin or Kaxinawa, Nukini, Kuntanawa, Katukina, Shanenawa and Shawãdawa. In addition to the Pano tribes, we also have the Aruak tribes in the same region, such as the Apurinã. They all made contact during the rubber boom of the late 19th century and early 20th century, which is pretty recent when you think about it. Since that time they have been massacred, enslaved, addicted to alcohol and – perhaps worst of all – had their cultural heritage destroyed, mainly by being converted by missionaries. These missionaries deprived many tribes of their language, their spiritual beliefs and their medicines, which have always been an important part of their cultural heritage and spiritual identity.
Snuff, the return
Most tribes lost almost all of their knowledge of plants and only a few members of the older generation retained knowledge of which herbs to use to make snuff, which trees to burn to ash, and so on. We know that some of the Huni Kuin kept the Rapé tradition alive and have used it continuously, although even for this group it was used only by a minority.
The Katukina, who were the first to bring the Kambo medicine to the outside world, also brought Rapé with them from a very early age. Of the Yawanawá, we know that when the first white man arrived, the chief served him Rapé to see what it was made of. Since then, they have had a long and sad history of working effectively as slaves with all the difficulties that entailed, and losing almost all of their culture, until a new generation began to restructure their community in the 80s and 90s, expelling the missionaries. and bring back your medicines. When they brought back the last two shamans alive, who lived more or less as outcasts during the rubber days, they began to recover their identity, their knowledge and their medicines, including Rapé. And so each tribe has a story of recovering its identity and recovering its secrets.
Magic skies over the untouched forest of the upper Juruá region.
Some tribes managed to keep their knowledge of medicine more intact, including the Apurinã, who are from a different linguistic root (they are Aruak). His snuff is the same as always: dry and powdered Awiry leaves gathered wild on the banks of the river.
The question of “What is real?” also applies to ingredients. We are talking here about snuff, snuff that we know and that comes mainly from the state of Acre, in Brazil. There are, of course, many other traditional snuff from other indigenous groups, such as the Yopo of southeastern Brazil, from the Amazon to Colombia.
The favorite place for Rapé in the Yawanawa village of Nova Esperança.
There is the Virola snuff, of which we know very little; and in Peru we have Nunu, which is comparable to Apurinã snuff, to name just a few. Probably many more have been lost since then.
Today, most tribes obtain their tobacco from roadside shops and non-Indigenous farmers. The ash that burns from the trees in the forest and the herbs they add are collected in the wild or sometimes grown in gardens. There is the local Mapacho variety, the so-called Tobacco de Moi, which is grown in the region, and then there are the stronger types of tobacco such as Corda, Arapiraca, Sabiá and other types that come from other regions where they are more extensive. All varieties are Nicotina Rustica, as opposed to the commonly known Nicotinia Tabacum.
In the past, the ash used to make snuff was made exclusively from tree bark, which is used as a base for many types of medicines because it contains most of a tree's medicinal properties. Today, however, there is such a worldwide demand for snuff that the wood is also frequently used to increase the yield of each tree. In indigenous communities, snuff made exclusively from bark is considered superior and is preferred for personal use.
While most of the herbs used to make snuff are harvested from the surrounding area, some non-native herbs are used, such as eucalyptus. Some of the best snuff makers like to add a few leaves to their remedies to create a fresh scent to mask the smell of tobacco. Like everyone else, indigenous people evolve their customs over time and make use of new ingredients that become available. In terms of the consistency of the ingredients, the most authentic Rapé is produced by the Awiry of the Apurinã and the Nunu of the Matsé.
Harvesting Tsunu bark sustainably, just the bark!
When going to Yawanawá, the older and more traditional men say that the only real Rapé (their Rumã or Rumé) is made with Tsunu ash, but there are others who sometimes like to use Mulateiro because it is a tree that gives good ash and grows abundantly in its territory.
In addition, there are many young indigenous people who are from various tribes, but they burn all the wood they find to make their snuff. Some simply want to make Rapé to get money to buy alcohol, while others go on long diets, study their traditions, perform ceremonies and dedicate themselves totally to spirituality. We all bleed red, whether we are white, black or yellow: Indians or any other ethnic group are just ordinary people and some like to do the right thing and some don't.
There are also doubts about who or what can truly be considered indigenous. Can indigenous people progress through time to live like moderns or should they be stuck in the Stone Age? Most of the indigenous people I know and work with like a good pair of jeans or sneakers, like a good cell phone and have a Facebook account. Does that make them less indigenous? I don't think so: living in the 21st century doesn't mean you can't keep your traditions. All my friends and contacts are young and very dedicated to spirituality. Although they are modern, they also live their traditions. They eat what they hunt and fish, grow their food, eat long diets deep in the forest, and so on. I'm from Holland, I don't wear wooden shoes and that doesn't make me any less Dutch.
Then we have the non-indigenous snuff makers. Some are true masters: among the best and most dedicated. One of my dear friends is a famous rapézeiro, he makes a remedy superior to most indigenous manufacturers and can recognize most types of ash by looking at them and feeling their texture between his fingers. Would I say that his Rapé is not real because he is not from any tribe? In the Amazon, the question of belonging is often relative, because most people have a high percentage of indigenous blood running through their veins. But even outside the Amazon there are no good snuff manufacturers. I myself am a gringo and I make a pretty decent remedy that some of my indigenous friends gladly consecrate when I present it to them.
So, let's summarize:
What is Rape really?
And which Rapé is 'real' and which is not?
Let us consider here only the indigenous types:
Yawarani, the last of the ancient Yawanawá healers, here aged 102 pulling a boat with his family.
What makes Rapé real in the first instance is how you use it. if you apply