The Ancient Art of Rapé
Also known as Hape, Rapeh and Hapeh.
- Rapé has enjoyed a strong tradition amongst the native people of the Amazon and is considered an essential and powerful remedy.
On one of my many trips to the Amazon, I shared a long conversation with Wawacuru Curushiña (Enchanted Macaw), an elder of the Shawandawa tribe. One of only fifteen remaining ethnic groups in the Jurua Valley, the Shawandawa, has lived in Brazil's west for generations.
The ancient knowledge in these areas is still transmitted orally, especially by the elderly, so I feel most fortunate to have spent time speaking with Wawacuru. After initially greeting each other, we started discussing many aspects of tribal life. Still, she was interested primarily in teaching me about the art of making Rapé and its medicinal uses.
Rapé is a traditional snuff medicine of the Amazon, usually made with tobacco and ash derived from a tree species, ie. Tsunu or Samaúma. Rapé of two ingredients is rapé in its simplest form; a medicinal Rapé contains specific herbs determined by a medicine maker.
While the younger men of the tribe made the earth, the older, wiser men (Pajes) experimented with the different plant and tree ashes for the production of Rapé. Over time the Pajes (medicine men) discovered the various medicinal properties of each tree and plant and used them to create medicinal Rapés.
Each Rapé is unique, from tribe to tribe, Paje to Paje. The ash and herbs are selected to shape the character towards its intended purpose. The main categories of Rapés are general (fortifying), medicinal (healing), and opening (spiritual).
As I said goodbye to Wawacuru, I could not help feeling a little saddened by the constant advance of so-called civilization. Many tribal homelands are now under threat from corporations hungry to carry out oil exploration or raise cattle. The activists who stand up are often threatened or found dead under mysterious circumstances.
- Wawacuru Curushiña (Enchanted Macaw), an elder of the Shawandawa tribe
I believe it is vital that we learn to balance the old and new. Discarding the old ways in favor of the new ultimately can lead to blindness; valuable answers remain in the jungle, answers we may collectively need in the future.
An article by Milton Narvaez and Simon Scott