Shaman administering rapé through a tepi

What is Rapè, the Jungle Snuff?

So what actually is Rapè, the Jungle Snuff?



Rapè (pronounced 'hapeh') refers to Tobacco nasal snuffs traditionally used by various indigenous tribal groups of the Amazon. In fact, the word Rapè is simply the Portuguese word for snuff and reflects the prevalence of Rapè use amongst the various tribes in the Brazilian Amazon from which it has recently emerged into the wider world.


Rapè is a finely powdered substance usually composed of varieties of Mapacho (Nicotiana rustica) and ashes of certain tree barks and other plants or seeds, often sacred, significant & medicinal in nature which confer upon the snuff some of their qualities. Rapè ranges in colour from dark brown through to light grey dependent on the quantity of ashes and other ingredients used in the specific variety or mixture. There exist many different varieties of Rapè, the makers of such often keep the exact ingredients and ratio of their blends secret.


Unlike European snuff use, Rapè is not 'sniffed' but is blown up the nose using a snuff pipe, either a 'Kuripe' for self administering or a 'Tepi' when blown by another person. It has a powerful and shocking initial effect, particularly if new to the experience!


It should be noted that the relationship the people in these tribal groups have with Tobacco is quite different to the prevalent western relationship.  Amongst these indigenous groups Tobacco is considered a master shamanic teacher plant, a medicine and sacred ally. Its use is an integral part of their culture and is not considered inherently unhealthy.


We have a growing collection of Rapè varieties here at Herbal Dimensions.  Don't forget to take a look HERE.


Origins, History & Traditional Use

Snuff use in South America is ancient and dates back at least several thousand years and includes both the Hallucinogenic and Tobacco containing snuffs. Wild Tobacco (N.rustica) commonly used in Rapè is native to Mexico or northern South America and it was very likely being cultivated in pre Columbian times.


Evidence exists for the ritual use of powdered N.rustica in Pre Columbian times (Bondeson, 1972) and it's use was reported during the colonial period with Indians reportedly using 'sayre' (Wild Tobacco) to 'cleanse the head' (Bastien 1987).


For many indigenous tribes, snuff tobacco held a spiritual and medicinal significance. It was often used in religious ceremonies, shamanic rituals, and healing practices. The shamans believed it helped them communicate with the spirit world and gain insights aiding them in the curing of illness or the answer to a question. It is commonly used in Ayahuasca ceremonies.


It has been traditionally used as a cure for what it known as 'panema' - a term for a general depression or malaise.  


It is also used traditionally to deliver various botanical agents useful in treating various ailments or conditions and can be used to help clear the sinuses and mucous membranes.



Cultural Revival

The region Acre in Brazil is home to many of the current Rapè using and producing tribal peoples such as the Nukini, Huni Kuin, Katukina, Kuntanawa, Yawanawa & the Cabaclo people and is the centre of a revival in the use and production of Rapè since since approximately the 90's.


Whilst the use of snuff is ancient, in more recent times the practice had declined in many of the aforementioned tribes. This may be in part due to enslavement and Christian influences and a general decline in the tribes populations as young people moved into towns or cities looking for work and did not continue with traditional and cultural practices. In some cases the practice had been reduced to just a few individuals in a tribe.


Thankfully the practice remains, both the plant knowledge in making Rapè and it's use in shamanic & ritual context continues and has grown stronger and expanded outside the jungle. There is a close association between Rapè use and ayahuasca. Rapè has found its way out of the Jungle in the same way ayahuasca did along with Kambo & Sananga. This revival has given the tribes a market and income both for the Rapè itself as well as their associated crafts, such as Kuripe & Tepi as well as other textiles and botanicals.


Why take Rapè?

Rapè is used for various reasons including:

  • To clear the mind and bring focus & clarity.
  • To help ground & centre oneself.     
  • It puts one in a state conducive to contemplation, meditation and prayer.
  • It can help shift the mind away from a particular emotional or mental state of being by disrupting that state and allowing a new perspective.
  • It can be used to focus attention on intention.
  • It can be used to help cleanse the sinus and mucous membranes.


How to use

For the best results, contemplation prior to the application of Rapè and setting of ones intentions for the experience, whether that be physical healing, knowledge, contemplation on something particular, meditation, prayer etc is of the utmost importance.


Rapè can be administered to oneself using a Kuripe or blown into your nostrils by someone else using a Tepi. Dosage will depend on tolerance and potency of the Rapè being used however a good starting point is approximately a pea sized amount blown into each nostril. Dosage is then a matter of personal preference or the requirements of the ritual.


The receiver can take a breath prior to the application of the snuff but should not inhale during the application.


When blowing you can experiment with using the breath in different ways when blowing, from shorter sharper blows to longer and softer ones. As with receiving, it is important that the blower also enters the ritual with pure intention and focus.


Once both nostrils have received the Rapè it is best to be seated and be receptive to the experience, having some tissue to deal with resulting mucous and phlegm is handy!




An ornate tepi




The initial effect of Rapè is a sharp powerful sensation in the top of the nostrils that can penetrate throughout the head. To both novice and experienced user this can be quite a shock and a certain level of fortitude is required. The impact of the Rapè will clear the mind of anything else in an instant and bring all focus on the sensation of the application. Following this a sensation of grounding, calm & space from mental dialogue will become apparent. Meditate in this space according to your previously set intentions.


It is not uncommon for some users to experience some nausea, this is due to the powerful Tobacco content. This will pass. It is likely that users will experience a swift increase in production of mucous and phlegm which is to be expelled accordingly. The initial effects of Rapè may last only a several minutes and will ebb away over approximately half an hour.


A Q&A With Our Supplier

I took the opportunity to ask a few questions to our supplier in Acre, Brazil about the indigenous relationship with Rapè...


Me: So I understand you have quite a close connection over the years with many of the rapè using tribes in Acre, Brazil. I wanted to get your take on what the tribes people say themselves about the reason for taking Rapè?


F: Sure, yes I’ve developed a close relationship and spent a lot of time with different people from various tribes here. You know, much of what you can read, often reference to chakras and new age terms etc is not a traditional interpretation but just a western culture interpretation that has been put on it. In one sense they use Rapè just because they do, there is not always a specific reason like we might want to think.


Me: So I guess thats akin to why we might have a beer, we just do. We like the effect. Humans like to change their consciousness and the things each culture uses guides the belief system and experience of the world.

But we do read & hear about ceremonial, shamanic and medicinal use of Rapè. Is there a more serious and spiritual use & purpose going on?


F: There is. Rapè has very much been traditionally used in healing practices. I once asked the Yawanawa Paje Yawa about why Rapè is taken, he said ”when you take rapè you are opening a spiritual work”. He said ”You open an energy field to do what you want, ask a question or direct energy”.


Me: So that leads me to ask when and on what occasions is Rapè taken traditionally?


F: It varies, sometimes it is used when one wants some energy for physical work and sometimes when one wants to relax. It is also used if there is to be a meeting, for example to close a deal or come to an arrangement people will take Rapè.


Me: So do you find differing practices amongst different tribes, who takes it and how?


F: I find more difference between individuals that tribes, most of the pano tribes are similar in that regard, perhaps some small differences. It is the same as people everywhere. Some may use more seriously, for spiritual practices and others use it more nervously. Same with indigenous and non indigenous people really.


Me: So who takes it? Has this changed and how?


F: So mainly men, but this has changed and now women also use it. I think in the past it would be used less often and on a special occasion, and with maximum strength. Today there is more daily use.


Me: Thank you for your insights!


A collection of pipes with a bowl of snuff on a wooden log


How is Rapè made?

Traditionally Rapè is made by mixing the dried, cured & pulverized leaves of N.rustica with the ashes of certain trees and other aromatic botanicals in varying ratios according the recipe of the maker. It is not uncommon for the full recipe of a blend to be the secret of the maker(s).


The ashes used are produced from the bark of different tree's considered either medicinal, sacred and significant in some manner and traditionally speaking must be available in the locality. In fact the blend is often named after the tree that produced the ash, for example the blend 'Yawanawa Tsunu'. The ashes can be derived from pharmacologically active plants (Macambo, Theobroma bicolor; Tsunu, Platycyamus regnellii; Copaíba, Copaiba sp.) (McKenna, 1993).

Some of the qualities of the trees used are imbued into the ash and ultimately into the blend itself. A good ash maker will be able to tell if the ash is good (ie, clean and free from other particles) and will be able to tell one trees ash apart from another through colour and texture and other characteristics.


The tobacco is also varied with several varieties of N.rustica available such as 'De Moi' and 'Araparica'. With all the potential for variation in both tobacco, ashes and the inclusion of other jungle plants and aromatics there is an immense range of Rapè available now, some traditional, many based on traditional plants and some completely new & novel.



Rapè is a nasal snuff containing N.rustica. It often has a high nicotine content and can induce nausea and vomiting in some. It can be habit forming and is addictive.



  • Bondeson, W.E. 1972 “Tobacco from a Tiahuanacoid Culture Period.” Etnologiska Studier, no. 32 (172AD): 177–184.
  • Ratsch, C. 2005. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants, Vermont. Park Street Press.
  • McKenna, T. Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge - A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution. Bantam Books; New York: 1993. p. 336
  • Zagorevski DV, Loughmiller-Newman JA. The detection of nicotine in a Late Mayan period flask by gas chromatography and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry methods. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. 2012; 26(4):403–411. 2014. [PubMed: 22279016]


Pots of Herbal Dimensions rapé snuff with a kuripe





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