Like most tobacco used in shamanic ceremonies, the purpose of rapé snuff is to ground, center, and invigorate you. As it’s understood in Amazonian shamanic cultures, the unique properties of tobacco clear away panema—the indigenous word for negative energies and emotions—which manifests as numerous health problems.
But within this niche of plant medicine, there are many varieties. Rapé is traditionally dried tobacco mixed with the ashes of other medicinal plants into a snuff and snorted via a pipe. The blends are prepared in small batches by a variety of tribes throughout the Amazon, and you’ll find many tribe-specific traditions and secret ingredients that set blends apart from another.
Because rapé is still a relatively unknown medicine by modern standards, researching the many blends can be a piecemeal effort of sorting through anthropological accounts, botanical reports, and vendor product descriptions. This article attempts to simplify that by looking at some of the ways to categorize or classify blends. Armed with the knowledge of the basic variations in rapé blends, you’ll be prepared to decide which blend is best for your own ceremony.
Rapé is sourced from a number of indigenous tribes in the Amazonian regions of Brazil and Peru, including the Apurina, Huitoto (or Witoto), Kanamari, Katukina, Kaxinawa, Kuntanawa, Matses, Nukini, Shanenawa, and the Yawanawa. Often, a blend’s name will include the name of the tribe and sometimes the name of the shaman who made it. It’s helpful to familiarize yourself with these names, as they are known by some basic distinctions.
The Kaxinawa—also known as the name Huni Kuin, or “true people”—are one of the largest tribes that produce rapé, and they make strong blends. The Nukini of the Ampicayu River in Brazil are known for their long-standing tradition of female shamans, which lends a strong feminine aspect to their blends, whereas the Apurina use their rape blends for vision rituals called xingané. The Huito of the Brazil/Peru border use less ash in their blends and so have a stronger tobacco presence. Some tribes freely share the recipes of their sacred rapé blends, whereas others, like the Yawanawa, keep their ingredients secret.
You can also find non-traditional blends mixed by non-indigenous shamans. These are still usually made with rapé tobacco sourced from the Amazon but mixed in new ways or with other ingredients like menthol or cinnamon—you can usually identify these by their English names.
Tobacco vs. No Tobacco
The word “rapé” technically just means a snuff made of dried plants—some blends don’t include tobacco at all. Choosing a tobacco-free blend has several advantages. It provides a gentler experience, and you’re less likely to purge or vomit than when you use a tobacco blend, making it a good choice for a beginner or as a supplement to a tobacco blend. Some people also choose tobacco-free blends because they struggle with a nicotine addiction or are allergic to tobacco leaf—which is rare but possible.
Many traditionalists prefer tobacco blends, which provide the intense jolt to the sinuses that rapé is famous for, followed by deep relaxation and grounding. The majority of rapé blends that contain tobacco are sourced from the species Nicotiana rustica, which is nine times stronger than the Nicotiana tobacum you’d find in cigarettes. But the native people of the Americas have many names for tobacco and these are reflected in the names of rapé blends:
- Mapacho is a common name for the tobacco used in shamanic ceremonies to keep away bad spirits and clear energies.
- Moi, or moy, is similar to mapacho tobacco and cured from Nicotiana rustica, but moi is stronger and darker.
- Awiri is green tobacco, which provides gentler effects more akin to non-tobacco blends.
A final note on addiction: if you struggle with a nicotine addiction but are ready to redefine your relationship with tobacco, a rapé ceremony—undertaken with proper intention, set, and setting—offers an opportunity to create a healthier bond with this sacred plant. Tobacco is known in shamanic medicine as one of the seven master plants teachers (the others are ayahuasca, San Pedro, psilocybin, coca, yopo, and peyote), so by ingesting it, you can call on the spirit of the sacred plant to impart its wisdom. Used responsibly, rapé can provide a deeper understanding of the root of your addiction and how to break it.
Other Herbs and Sacred Plants
In the traditional preparation of rapé, tobacco is cut and dried over a low fire, then other ingredients—like bark, seeds, leaves, and ashes—are added. A breakdown of the herbs commonly found in rapé sheds some light on how particular blends can be used:
Some of these plants—like the ashes of the murici tree, mulateiro tree, and paricá—have been scientifically shown to have strong antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Others—like the herbs lourinho and kapaxanba—have hardly been studied except in anthropological accounts and never examined in a laboratory. Still, the shamanic benefits of herbs can’t always be understood in a conventional medical context; instead, their strength comes from the intention you imbue them with.
Because it can be hard to know exactly what’s in a given blend, experimenting with rapé warrants some caution. While rapé is not inherently psychedelic, some blends—often called “visionary” blends—include psychoactive ingredients such as San Pedro cactus or chakruna. Some blends also include plants that are poisonous at high doses, such as the Brugmansia tree. Allergic reactions, though not common, are also possible. It’s a good idea to begin with a basic blend that clearly lists its active ingredients, and try a small test amount of a new blend before proceeding to larger doses.
While it’s easy to order rapé off the internet and experiment at home, it’s best to undergo a ceremony under the guidance of an experienced practitioner who can help you decide which blend is best for you and guide you through the experience.
Rapé is a good choice for people who are interested in shamanic healing but don’t want the psychoactive effects or legal risks of more classic psychedelics. It can be used as a supplement to ongoing psychedelic therapy, usually as a precursor ritual to prepare for a psychedelic experience. With responsible usage, this powerful Amazon plant medicine can clear away long-held negative emotions and help pave the way to greater mental, emotional, and physical health.