Friday, October 15, 2021

More on the Matsés Medicines Sapo and Nü-nü

 Someone asked two questions of FB messenger: The first was whether the Matses snuff nu-nu was the same as rapé, the word used for snuffs by gringos, and the second was whether the Matses or others killed the frogs when they collected the frog sweat from their skin that we call sapo or kambo. He's what I answered:

Nü-nü is a form of rapé, but it is the only snuff the matses traditionally made. All the camps had identical medicine: The inner bark of the cacao tree mixed with a larger weight of nicotiana rustica. Both reduced to ash. The tobacco on a split bamboo grill, low to the ground over a very controlled flame, and the cacao heated to ash with hot coals in a clay pot. Two hunters make it so that it has their essences in it.Only hunters serve each other because you want that power: The physical medicine is only half of its strength: The remainder comes from the server adding his, or on rare occasions her, spirit. As for the kambo, a word the Matsés learned from gringos in the last 5-8 years, I have never seen a frog hurt while in their care/possession. The frogs live mostly 20-30 feet high in thin trees that lean over small rivers. You have to climb the tree and cut the branch that the frog is sitting on from the tree, then climb down to the canoe with it. The frog will not go anywhere. You will be cruel to it in tying it up, but it should only take 10 minutes from when it's tied into a green trampoline until it is set free on a tree it likes and permitted to return to its home on the river. Since the frog sweat is the animal's protection, those people who collect it by taking it by hand will lose most of its best medicine before they ever extract. It must not be frightened. And once collected and extracted, it will have little rope burns around its ankles and wrists. That particular frog will not be caught again until those burn marks have completely healed. Collecting before that will produce a second rate product and leave the frog too vulnerable to tree snakes, who are almost all constrictors. I have never seen a Matses hurt a frog and I have not ever hurt a frog. Are they frightened? I'll bet they are. But if they could have an opinion I believe they would rather be frightened for 10 minutes a month than be tossed live into boiling water to make a soup like so many other animals are. There are some assholes out there, of course, who milk and milk the frogs and probably do them permanent damage or even kill them. But not the antigua matses I knew or the Matses who collect for me now.

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