Traditional Rapé Snuff manufacturing
Rapé: How is it made?
From an indigenous point of view, snuff has enormous significance. It is a sacred shamanic medicine, with profound healing powers.
Making sacred snuff is a laborious process, and its production is done in a ceremonial context, from the collection of sacred plants, to the cooking and processing of medicine. The person who makes the snuff mixture is a shaman or experienced person, with a deep knowledge of the medicinal plants that he uses and the medicine of snuff.
The different varieties of snuff are made with specific proportions of mapacho and sacred ashes, and with different medicinal plants that give each variety its specific properties.
The Tobacco used by the Amazonian tribes to make Rapé is grown by themselves, free of additives, pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
To make the snuff, the tobacco is transformed by crushing and sifting successively, until obtaining a very fine powder. The person doing this must concentrate in absolute silence, since it is considered that much of the “force” present in the Rapé comes from the intention of the person who crushes the Tobacco.
Next, the tobacco dust is mixed with the ash, for example from pau pereira, tsunu, or others.
Finally, they add the last ingredients to obtain the final mixture; certain specific medicinal plants for each mixture, which have previously been dried in the sun or roasted, and ground and sieved several times.
This sacred preparation of snuff with deep medicinal significance is a process that can take weeks. Usually the shaman of the tribe, the Pajé, works under a strict diet and in a trance state when he hits and mixes the snuff herbs incessantly. The other members of the tribe are responsible for collecting plants to prepare snuff.
Since there are innumerable medicinal plants that are added to the different varieties of snuff, there are many recipes specific to each tribe, and their detailed composition is often a very well protected secret. Some of their snuff mixes contain psychoactive plants like jurema or yopo.
The Katukina, Yawanawa, Kaxinawa, Nukini, Kuntanawa, Apurina, Ashaninka, and Matses tribes all produce their own specific types of snuff mix and have different ways of preparing it, from specific techniques to songs that are sung during rituals when making snuff.
You even need to know precisely which part of each plant can be used and when it is to be harvested. For example, the bark of the root of a plant may have a different purpose and effect than the leaves or seeds of the same plant.
The members of the Amazonian tribes know the energy of plants and its meaning, since they are in permanent contact with nature, often fasting, drinking only water and some master plants.
To this self-knowledge and special connection with nature, is added the transmission of wisdom about master and medicinal plants that has passed from generation to generation for thousands of years. When buying Rapé, it is good to make sure that it is a snuff made in an ancient way by one of these tribes, and that it retains its ancient significance.
In earlier times, the Pajé mixed the ingredients in an individual ceremony. Today, the entire tribe usually participates in this ceremonial and magical event. Only recently have the tribes shared their sacred medicine with foreign friends, passing on the knowledge for generations to come. Still, many compositions remain a secret of each tribe.
Ashes and Rapé Snuff
One of the two indispensable ingredients in Rapé is ash, and probably the most mysterious and unknown. The ash serves as a chemical activator that gives strength to the medicine. It is the fire element added to the earth, it is what gives strength and lifts you up. All the shamanic Rapés that we know and love use it. Only the green Awiry of the Apurinã, the Nunu of the Matses and the tobacco powder do not use ashes.
How to burn the bark to get a good result requires knowledge and experience. The fire that burns the bark should not burn too strong, but not too soft either.
When Rapé is produced, the intention and the mood are essential, everything that the person thinks, feels and wishes when making the medicine, is transferred and stored in that medium. For this reason, it is important that the people who produce medicine do so with clean intentions, a positive attitude, are kind, and have a certain level of spiritual evolution.
In general, people think that ash is ash and there is nothing else, but nothing could be further from the truth; First of all, getting a nice white ash and not a gray mess is already an art.
When wood is burned, the cellulose burns into the white ash we see, but most of the salts, alkaloids and other particles survive the fire and remain present in the ash in different proportions. From an alchemical point of view, the ashes represent the body of the crust in concentrated form, containing intact mineral salts of the crust.
On a more subtle and energetic level, the ashes, after their transformation and purification process, bring the fire element to medicine. Tobacco represents the earth element. Smoking tobacco has a grounding effect, much like traditional ashless snuff.
Shamanic Rapé is more stimulating and takes to another level of perception, thanks to the chemical and energetic reactions that occur when the ash is added.
Ash types used for Rapé Snuff
The texture of the wood gives the consistency to the ash, which is why most of the varieties of wood used for Rapé ashes have a tight grain, and are very hard and dense. Trees with softer types of wood do not produce adequate ash; they do not give strength to the medicine, and the Rapé spoils more easily. There are some exceptions, like certain types of vines; it is a general rule.
The most common ash used for Rapé is that of Tsunu, the classic ash of the Yawanawá. Other ashes in common use are Murici, Pau Pereira, Parica, Cacao, Cumaru, Mulateiro and Canela de Velho. Some of the rarer ones are those of Sapota, Balsamo and Emburana, among others.
Information circulates on the internet that Tsunu is Pau Pereira, this is not correct and to say which tree is Pau Pereira is complex since in different areas of Brazil different species are called Pau Pereira. Most of the names used to identify these species are local popular names.
Traditionally, Rapé makers burned only the rind of most varieties. Nowadays, with the expansion of the consumption of Rapé, some manufacturers generally burn the bark along with the wood, to increase the yield. Apparently the bark contains most of the properties, and we can see that many medicinal trees are made from teas and other preparations exclusively from the bark, almost never from wood, just like ash.
Unfortunately, not everyone burns the correct wood, there are always unethical people or people without the proper knowledge, so it is always good to know the source of your medicine.
Ashes around the world
Many of the indigenous sacred medicines and stimulants used around the world make use of ash as a chemical activator: The inhabitants of the Andes mountains who chew coca leaves, the Indians (of India) who chew Bread, betel nut and its leaf, the tribes that use the Yopo; They all use the same technique of using their favorite plants in combination with a foundation activator. It can be in the form of lime taken from crushed shells, baking soda, ash, or other sources.
The ashes used with coca leaves in Bolivia are made from quinoa, bananas, and other plants.
In West Africa they make their traditional soap from ashes. Again, they burn a certain mixture of plant materials and mix these ashes with oils to create a reaction that turns the oil into soap. This soap is known to be very good for the skin, and is also used in their religious practices for energy cleansing.
In fact, the transformation of materials through fire is the essence of the ancient art of alchemical transformation; Fire transforms, and has the power to purify everything it touches.
In Ayurvedic medicine there is an extensive science, a form of alchemy related to the manufacture and application of medicinal ashes, the so-called Bhasmas. They produce ashes of a great variety of substances, plants, minerals, and even certain metals. Each substance burned and transformed by fire has its own properties and its own utility. The Bhasmas have a special place in Rasayana, the science of rejuvenation. This practice, even in Ayurveda, has almost been lost today.
Just to mention it, Ayurveda also has the practice of Nasya, which is the use of medicinal tobacco that is gently blown into the nasal passages for a variety of ailments.