Excerpts from “Rapé e Sananga: Medicina e Mediacões Entre Aldeias e Centros Urbanos” by Aline Ferreira Oliveira and Livro da Cura do Povo Huni Kuin do Rio Jordão
Sananga, or Sanango (Tabernaemontana Sananho) is a plant of the apocynaceae family (also known as Uchu Sanango in Peru, a master plant that is dieted), whose root is scraped, squeezed, and gathered as a “burning juice.” Traditionally, Sananga was used in its pure form, with the juice extracted from the root and applied directly into the eyes. Nowadays, it is commonly diluted with water, making it much weaker in potency. Sananga is a generic name used for a multitude of juices used in the form of eye drops, and has been extended to include plants of different species, the use of different plant parts (roots, leaves, etc.), and even “sanangas” made from the vesicles of animals (such as the harpy eagle).
[Note: I believe the Matses tribe use Tabernaemontana undulata for their “sananga“]
According to Davi Mukanawa (a Yawanawa married to a Katukina, and son of the elder Chief Antonio Luis who taught him), the sananga typically utilized in urban ceremonies is called kanapa vetxeshekete and used for headaches. According to Mukanawa, in addition to this type of “sananga,” there are others, each with a name and a specific purpose: one for heaviness in the head that causes pain; another for pain in the eyes; another to “take the cover off the eyes“; and another for recuperating the eyes and removing dirtiness. There are even more types of sananga, such as one to produce visions, which is rarely found nowadays. Despite all the differences, Mukanawa believes that all of the sanangas demand a dieta.
According to the late Yawanawa elder and pajé (spiritual leader/healer) Tata, the sananga used in the cities, which he also affirms as being kanapa vetxeshekete, is a remedy used when someone has a very strong and persistent headache.
As the apprentice of Tata, Paulo Matsini (pajé of the Yawanawa village of Mutum and brother to Katia Hushahu) explains: “a headache should not be constant, as it is a sign of nisun [general term for a type of spiritual illness]. Therefore, sananga is used for headaches, for the purpose of removing nisun, or to prevent pain from developing and becoming nisun. When Katia Hushahu of the Yawanawa was asked about the use of sananga in urban ayahuasca rituals, she explained: “It is the nawa (foreigners) who became convinced, from their Huni Kuin relatives, that it was good…but when I use it, it is to remove headaches, which comes from the nisun of rapé.”
The juice that “opens the vision” is not sananga (kanapa vetxeshekete) but is called Wani titisi, and is used specifically to improve hunting. It cannot be used in the cities as it requires harvesting the leaf and extracting it for immediate use.
Among the Yawanawa and Katukina, sananga is used to remove panema [general term for a type of incapacitating spiritual illness] only when there is no kapu/kampo (kambo or sapo). To take the frog venom is considered a more efficient way to remove panema. According to Paulo Matsini, anyone who takes enough uni (ayahuasca) develops a substance in the pit of their stomach, similar to panema, that takes the form of a type of sludge. He explains that it is a thick liquid, like the one found at the bottom of a bottle of ayahuasca. In other words, these sediments are created inside the body of someone who drinks ayahuasca frequently. And the kapu (kambo or sapo) works by cleaning it, making one vomit out the substance that has condensed inside the stomach.
Sananga is thus considered good for those who drink a lot of uni (ayahuasca) and take a lot of rapé, regularly and in excess, which can also cause nisun: “If you take a lot (of ayahuasca and rapé), you use sananga. Nisun is like a craziness. If you overuse rapé or ayahuasca, take it very often and you do not do a dieta, you can get sick with a headache.” According to the Yawanawa, a dieta with ayahuasca requires sexual abstinence, avoidance of sweets, and avoidance of certain types of meat; while a dieta with rapé is associated with food restrictions (certain animals such as paca and cotia (types of jungle rodents)), that have nisun (so as to not increase further the nisun). For those who do not undertake dietas on a regular basis, it has been found that the use of sananga in ceremonies can alleviate this type of illness.
Among the Huni Kuin of the Envira River, we find the same use of sananga in nixi pae (ayahuasca) rituals: to decrease nisun of ayahuasca or shuru (cannabis). The use of sananga is conducted by the Huni Kuin and Yawanawa as a way to dissolve the nisun – which may arise from the inappropriate use of medicines in the cities – and the indigenous pajés see as a way to heal and teach the nawa (foreigners).
Eye drops made from the scrapings of the bark of the trunk and root of the Tabernaemontana sananho tree is known as “Shane Dataika” by the Huni Kuin tribe. The “Deku Dau” (remedy for happiness in the hunt) is to bring luck, increase concentration in the hunt and to remove “enrasco” (bad luck).
[As an aside, the Huni Kuin also use Tabernaemontana sananho for the “Buna Dau” (tocandira cure), where the juice is topically applied directly onto the bite of the bullet ant and stingray. For “Sheta Isi Dau” (remedy for tooth pain), the latex of the bark is dripped into a cloth or cotton and placed on the painful tooth being treated.]
Matsini states that nawa (foreigners) like to use sananga during ayahuasca rituals because it “clarifies visions,” making it easier to see with more colors and brilliance. Clear and colorful visions are considered positive and desirable in these experiences, by both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. It is in ayahuasca rituals in the cities that Matsini learned sananga also has this purpose: that the improvement of eyesight also produces a qualitative difference in visions, making them more beautiful and luminous.
Another point of ambiguity is to say that sananga has a multitude of benefits: removing panema, headaches, conjunctivitis, cataracts.
Yes, the qualities of sananga are diverse. However, each has its specific purpose. Under the nickname of “eye drops from the forest,” all the potential benefits these juices have been brought together under the generic name of “sananga,” as if it could provide all of these benefits simultaneously. In fact, the treatment of each of these problems has a distinct juice as the cure. From the Yawanawa point of view, there is no sananga that combines all of these capabilities.”