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Huni Kuin at Common Ground (2)

By: By: Edoardo Segato-Figueroa

Food, plant medicine and sustainability

In our last article we followed Tuwe Huni Kuin and his uncle Masha, two indigenous shamans from the Brazil forest, visiting Common Ground to share their documentary and mission about protecting uncontacted tribes in the Amazon.

The meeting, along with the meeting place, was very appropriate. Common Ground is all about fostering locally sourced food and other products, made sustainably in Hawai’i by socially and environmentally responsible companies. This is a modern interpretation of traditions and practices that the Huni Kuin and other indigenous people have had for millennia, to maintain harmony with nature and access the nurturing they need. They rely on the resources around them, taking only what they need through fishing, hunting, foraging and basic agriculture. They live off the rivers and the jungle, no hot water or other technologies, which in turn means no pollution, no excessive energy consumption nor waste. They eat fresh organic food, no packaging, no conservants, they use no fertilizers or pesticides. Everything comes from the forest and goes back to the forest and all is cared for. “Our supermarket, our McDonald's, is the forest” - Tuwe says.

Every Huni Kuin becomes a teacher around fifteen years old and no one can leave the village before they’re eighteen to make sure that this ancient wisdom is passed down to the next generations. The Huni Kuin and the uncontacted tribes of the Amazon preserve a lifestyle that is mostly forgotten elsewhere in the world, effectively embodying a level of coexistence with nature that is unimaginable for the majority of people living in modern societies. How can we learn from them? Is it possible to integrate their wisdom with our civilization? The secrets of their wellbeing, their sophisticated plant medicine, their sustainable practices, could be the key to tackle the deep depression and unhealthiness of western societies as well as the global climate crisis. The tribes of the Amazon never had to deal with climate mitigation since their lifestyle is entirely compatible with nature, but they’re now starting to suffer the effects of climate change such as water and air pollution and wildfires, as well as man made deforestation. Obviously their way of life isn’t for everyone, but maybe there are some values at the heart of their philosophy that we can learn from and adopt into our daily life. 

What’s their recipe for living such a bountiful and beneficial life? Well, one thing seems to be their fascinating symbiosis with plants. They use plants for much more than just food. The forest is not only their supermarket, it’s also their pharmacy and their hospital! The relationship they have with plants is also therapeutic and instrumental to their wellbeing, health and social structure. Tuwe and Masha kindly shared their knowledge about some of their most sacred medicinal plants: Rapé and Hampaya, their origins and recipes, their benefits as well as the ceremonies associated with their usage. Rapé is a fine, light-coloured powder, a blend of different parts of several indigenous plants native to the Brazilian Amazon rainforest - their tree bark, leaves and seeds. The main ingredient is mapacho, a type of tobacco called Nicotiana Rustica, different from the cigarettes’ tobacco called Nicotiana Tabacum. The exact list of plants and their quantities is shared only locally, along with the special technique to prepare the final blend. Traditionally, it’s administered via both nostrils through a small pipe, which cleanses the sinus system and the lymph nodes, eliminating toxins from the body, strengthening the immune system and releasing tensions or congestion problems. The ceremony is particularly successful if paired with the set of an intention, given the boost of clarity, awareness and joy that the ritual brings.

Hampaya, on the other hand, comes from a mixture of very spicy Amazon peppers. They typically apply the mixture on the tip of the tongue with the feather or the beak of the Japinî, a type of a bird that imitates other birds and animals, considered sacred for the indigenous tribes of the Amazon. In the kaxinawà native language of the Huni Kuin, the word for the Japinî bird is “Txana”, which is also how they refer to traditional singers, the spiritual warriors who heal their communities with their songs and dedication to their voice. They use Hampaya in this context, to open the vocal cords and the throat region. The Huni Kuin also have a specific prayer that goes with the medicine, which Masha chants for us as they tell us about the plant.

Another notorious sacred medicine is Sananga, extracted from the roots of another plant native to the Amazon rainforest on the Brazilian side. The Huni Kuin have a special process to extract the juice from the root, which they then use as eye drops to help keep the vision keen, especially for hunting in the forest and facilitating eye healing.

Meeting the Huni Kuin, listening to their stories and traditions, watching their documentary ‘Us and Them’, was very inspiring and offered us much food for thought in our quest to find common ground. Tuwe and Masha Huni Kuin will be back on Kauai in May 2022 to tell us more about their secrets and the goals we can achieve together. Make sure you subscribe to our newsletter to get updates on our next event with them!

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