Thursday, March 10, 2016

Nü-nü--Amazon Snuff

I was asked to write a very short description of the Matses snuff, nu-nu. So I did. Here it is. In this length it's difficult to go into detail, but I hope I got some of it, anyway.


Nü-nü is the indigenous Matsés, Mayoruna, and Matis version of what other indigenous cultures call Rapé. It is a very powerful snuff made by combining the inner bark of the Theobroma cacao tree with Nicotiana rustica, the powerful tobacco ubiquitous to Northwestern Amazonia. It is generally made by two hunters, insuring that the spirit of both will be infused in the snuff.
    The inner bark of the cacao is taken from the tree and put into a ceramic bowl filled with hot charcoal. Over a period of a couple of hours it is reduced to ash and removed from the bowl.
    The tobacco leaves are stripped of their central spine then placed on a bamboo palate over a low fire until they crumble easily. The leaves are generally kept on a very low flame so that they retain their green color.
    The tobacco leaves and cacao ash are then placed in a length of hollowed out bamboo and finely ground with a stout stick into the sealed base of the bamboo.
    When the material is fully ground it is run through a fine mesh—that might be a doubled up piece of mosquito netting, an old tee-shirt, or even a piece of a woman’s stocking—to eliminate any material that is not very finely ground.
    And that’s all there is to it.
    The Matses and other groups use the nü-nü as a hunting aid—it temporarily improves eyesight, delineates color value, adding a bit of depth to vision, and steadies the hunter’s hand. Used in large amounts, as much as 20 or more half-gram blasts through a two-foot long tube made of a hollowed out reed, hunters claim it allows them to see game in the forest a day in advance, allowing them to go to where they saw the game the following day and wait for it to arrive.
    Nü-nü instills a sense of well-being in the user along with a feeling of exhileration. It is often used in conjunction with sapo, the frog-sweat medicine.

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