Shipibo shaman with pipe

Indigenous Amazonian peoples ingest tobacco in every conceivable way — smoked, as a snuff, chewed, licked, as a syrup applied to the gums, and in the form of an enema. Mestizo shamans consume tobacco as a cold-water infusion, in cigarettes, or in specially carved pipes; tobacco may also be added to the ayahuasca drink.

There are two ways shamans smoke tobacco — as cigarettes, hand-rolled in white paper, called mapacho in distinction from finos, commercial cigarettes; or else in pipes, called shimitapon or cachimbo. The word cachimbo is Portuguese — hence the alternative pronunciation and spelling cashimbo — which in turn was probably derived from a West African language.

Hand-carved mestizo-style pipe

Among mestizos, the pipe bowl is often made from the dense reddish or purplish brown heartwood of the cachimbo tree, Cariniana spp., often carved with figures of snakes, birds, jaguars, or mermaids. Additional woods used for pipe bowls include palisangre, Brosimum rubescens, and quinilla, Manilkara bidentata, which the Yagua often incise with symbols of the pipe spirit.

Among mestizos, the pipe stem is preferably made from the thin hollow leg bone of the tanrrilla, sunbittern, Eurypyga helias, a wading bird with significant magical properties and, reportedly, a spectacular erection. I also own a pipe in the indigenous style whose stem is made from a monkey bone; the Yagua make their pipe stems from the bone of a panguana, tinamou bird, Crypturellus undulatus.

Among mestizo shamans, such pipes are used to smoke not only tobacco, but toé leaves and the bark of the ayahuasca vine as well. Some indigenous groups, such as the Yagua and the Ka’apor, also use pipes; there is reason to believe that, in some cases, such pipes have only recently come to replace rolled tobacco.

I am really interested in the variety of shaman pipes in the Amazon. If you have picked up a shamanic cachimbo during your travels, I would be grateful if you would share a photograph.

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4 Responses to “Amazonian Pipes”

  1. teleomorph.com says:

    I was searching for an online vendor of cachimbos or other indigenous pipes and came across this post. Do you of any places online to purchase them?
    -Evan
    teleomorph.com

  2. Steve Beyer says:

    Amazonian pipes are hard to come by. Don Agustin Rivas used to sell some handmade pipes, carved by his students, here, but the page seems to be abandoned. Shamans Market carries a few pipes here and here. Sometimes Amazonian pipes turn up on eBay.

    I wish I could more help. Next time I am in Peru, I will look around. If you find a good source, let me know.

  3. gordonjai says:

    Try going to this website, http://heavenly-products.com/cart/advanced_search_result.php?keywords=pipe&osCsid=4d3ae94d23a93f496503ba0504691bd6. They have some handmade Shipibo pipes availble for purchase.

  4. Steve Beyer says:

    Thank you for the comment and link. I am sure that people will find it helpful.


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