“We really like to put some things up our nose and get high, right? But we’re going to change consciousness without having to destroy ourselves.” Adriano de Camargo, 43, opens a snuff circle with 20 people, trying to leave the place where fate (or folly) took them: Cracolândia, in the center of São Paulo.
After going through prison, the street and addiction, Adriano found his salvation in the so-called “forest medicine”, on the recommendation of a friend. Now guide others with stories similar to yours. In the harm reduction strategy for drug addicts, cocaine powder is exchanged for snuff. The sidewalk gives way to the mat. Add the dealer and a shaman appears.
In the 19th century, snuffing was a refined habit among ladies and gentlemen, who kept this mixture of tobacco, ash, bark and leaves in gallant cases decorated with ivory and inlaid stones.
Soon the sniffles fell into disuse. They only continued in their original place (villages of Acre and Amazonas) and in the countryside, where the elderly preserve the habit of decongesting the airways and treating sinusitis and migraines.
In recent times, with the expansion of shamanic beliefs e alternative therapies, this powder returned to the olfactory systems of large cities, starting with hipsters, artists and activists of the indigenous cause.
“In the last ten years, sales have more than doubled. The public is looking for a spiritual path, whether by fashion or necessity. And the pandemic has also increased, because people stayed at home, had more time and used it to calm down and disconnect from the danger that was around”, says Sarita Moura, owner of the Mukani Shop store, which sells snuff in São Paulo.
You know a mata, get in on your motorbike
Working with dependents for two decades, Adriano founded the Nhanderu Institute in 2018 along with his wife, Tuca Fontes. The headquarters is in a little building in the middle of the “mouth of motorcycles“, a traditional quadrilateral that brings together dozens of motorcycle shops and workshops, next to Cracolândia.
Those assisted, most coming from shelters for homeless people, cross the motorized rows on the curb, call through the intercom and climb the stairs to reach the third floor and other atmospheres. Through the window a car can still be heard passing with a funk pornographic with volume on the stalk. But soon, the song of prayer will take that space.
“If you arrive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you don’t participate in our ritual”, advises Adriano. Before entering the main hall, they are incensed for a “spiritual cleansing”. Some walk crestfallen, between concentrated and embarrassed. Others, more expansive, greet and play with Adriano, who introduces himself as a social educator and psychoanalyst specialized in psychedelic therapies and chemical dependency. “A shaman never says what he is: others call him that,” says Tuca.
Each holds a bottle of water, a wad of paper towels, and a pot with a plastic bag. The bodily reactions after inhaling snuff explain so many gadgets: a chorus of sneezes, coughs and vomits mingle with birds, crickets and streams coming from the speaker. “They are the purges. We need to get rid of them, as well as the fears, guilt and shadows”, explains Adriano.
The lighting turns red, and the music takes on a strong, repetitive, hypnotic rhythm. The environment is loaded. Some lie in a fetal position and squirm. Whoever loses the effect receives the blow of a second dose. “Father Rape is doing the cure,” shouts the shaman. And amendment: “Long live the strength of Father Rapé”. Those present repeat the phrase, revering the spirit of the forest.
Then the assistants pass by spraying scented water to lift spirits. The purple lights are turned on, and the track becomes slower, more joyful and melodic. It’s what they call the “transmutation of energy” time. Some cry, others are in a contemplative position. “What they bring out of life is a lot of tragedy. It comes out in the ritual.”
the nasal danger
On the walls and altars there are images of Jesus, Buddha, Ganesha, Iemanjá, Pachamama, Mestre Irineu do Santo Daime and various deities. “For you to rise, either one will do. Or none. The connection that makes sense is the one with yourself,” he says to a follower.
The project in Cracolândia started with four boys, in April 2018, and has already helped more than 30 dependents, but it had to stop in March 2020 with the arrival in Brazil of the virus that entered through the nose.
During this period, they distributed kuripis, “v” straws for self-application, and monthly gave one bottle of snuff per person. “It’s not the same thing. There were people who used the monthly quota in three days, then went back to crack and got depressed. Even with the risk, we had to go back. The biggest harm for them is not having this assistance,” he says Hadrian. Snuff, as it contains nicotine, can cause dependence and, in excess, cause the same problems as other tobacco products.
At the end of 2020, the sessions with snuff, ayahuasca and psychotherapy resumed. He says the shaman’s breath makes a difference. “It’s even metaphysical. It has a lot of the energy of the person who blows, the person who receives it and the place.” Now they’re all vaccinated — homeless population and health professionals were given priority.
For Adriano, crack addicts represent the extreme version of an anxious society, depressed and disconnected from nature and itself. “It was bad for you and for me too. We abused it, fell, but now you can get up”, says Adriano at the end of the ritual.
Their work and their name (Nhanderu is the god of the Guarani) caught the attention of village leaders in the Parelheiros neighborhood, in the south of São Paulo, which faces the same problems with narcotics among its youth.
The Guarani (Adriano is the grandson of indigenous peoples of this ethnic group) do not traditionally use snuff, but have recently adopted the Amazonian custom, where each tribe has its own mix. The most expensive type, the Apurinãs, costs R$1,500 a kilo, takes eight days on trails and rivers to reach Rio Branco (AC) and has a secret recipe to avoid biopiracy. In cities, snuff ended up gourmetized: today it is possible to buy jars of ginger and basil.
Snuff in Cracolândia
Until a few years ago, snuff was one of those words in which one stumbled across books by Machado de Assis, Eça de Queiroz or Charles Dickens and had to resort to the dictionary for its meaning.
Out of America, the powder crossed the Atlantic and gained notoriety with Jean Nicot, French ambassador to Portugal in the 16th century. migraine that its name dubbed the active ingredient: nicotine. It had four centuries of fame. The elite ended up adopting the cigar as a status symbol, in the 20th century.
In current shamanic rituals, snuff is combined with another Amazonian technology, ayahuasca. While the liquid releases the mind through the air in cosmic projections, the powder is used to land, change the perception of reality and facilitate concentration.
Adriano is a pioneer in the use of snuff to reduce addiction to cocaine or crack — ayahuasca has been used for more than 20 years by centers for drug addicts in Brazil and Peru. According to Luis Fernando Tófoli, professor at the Faculty of Medical Sciences at Unicamp (State University of Campinas) and coordinator of the Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Studies on Psychoactives, there is still no academic research on snuff in this role — unlike ayahuasca, which seems to have “anti-additive properties” ” (substance that combats addiction to narcotics), but about which more studies are also lacking.
After the effect of indigenous snuff, the perception of reality is also felt in the belly. So much so that the Nhanderu ritual, an institution that supports itself with the store’s sales and donations from some patrons, is followed by a snack. “After snuff, there’s nothing better than a pate”, jokes the hungry fan.