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Tepi Rapéh Applicator Pipes: The Origin, History, and Traditional Uses

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

With many influential and mainstream figures experimenting with and popularising ancient medicinal practices, it is no surprise the growing attention has created a booming online industry for indigenous people shipping shamanic souvenirs and paraphernalia to a western market. The Tepi tobacco pipe is no exception, with its highly decorative appearance has no shortage of collectors wanting a new addition to their tribal toolkits.

What is a Tepi?

The Tepi pipe (pronounced Teh-pee) is a traditional shamanic tobacco applicator pipe widely used by respected South American tribal elders to administer sacred doses of ceremonial Rapéh during special events and plant medicine rituals. The Tepi differs from the Kuripe (the closest similar tobacco applicator tool) which is designed for personal use and self-application.

A Tepi pipe is a long, hollow horn-shaped tobacco pipe, typically hand-crafted and ornately decorated with beads, fabric and engravings giving them a unique and highly collectable quality. Tepi's diverse range of materials, designs and personalised carvings are akin to the Brazilian and Peruvian tribal craftsmanship of South America.

Historically, Tepi pipes were manufactured by ancient generations of indigenous Yawanawa, Kuntanawa, Ashaninka, and Matses tribes for rites of passage, such as initiation, puberty, festivals, and healing ceremonies.

It is not uncommon for shamans to administer Rapéh using a Tepi before an Ayahuasca ceremony or a Kambo frog medicine treatment. However, a Rapéh initiation ceremony can also be a stand-alone ritual reserved for cultural celebrations and rites of passage for warriors and hunters alike.

Tepi pipes provide the shaman or ceremonial Rapéh applicator a comfortable distance between themselves and the person receiving the Rapéh, yet preserving the intimacy of the process. These deep-rooted cultural rituals are believed to guide a user on a metaphysical journey with the assistance of the shamanic elder, facilitating deep inner-personal healing and transformation.

What Is Rapéh?

Rapéh, also pronounced Hapé, Rapé, or Rapeh, is sacred shamanic snuff tobacco commonly referred to as 'grandfather tobacco' by native Amazonian tribes. Typically as a part of a ritual or ceremony, the Tepi pipe allows a swift blast of Rapéh to be blown into the nasal cavity, where it is then quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. The tobacco snuff is believed to have an energetic and cleansing effect, not only purifying the user's energy field but also guarding them against malicious entities and dark forces. These rituals are used to incite spiritual journeys for the participants, as well as for tribal rites of passage.

Rapéh is a combination of burned wood ash, powdered tobacco and occasionally dry mixed herbs. The strand of tobacco plant used in Rapéh is named Nicotiana Rustica and is much stronger than its standard cigarette tobacco relative. When used in combination with various herbs under ceremonial settings, Rapéh is believed to possess sacred healing and medicinal properties.

Small doses of Rapéh (approx 0.25g for personal use) is said to produce pleasurable sensations of peace, calm and relaxation with mild mental alertness described by many as a combination between tea and coffee. Larger Rapéh doses (over 2g) can cause mild hallucinations and visual distortion, increased alertness, dissociation, decompression of cranial pressure, physical purging, and even bowel movements. Although an unpleasant experience, shamans commonly use larger doses of Rapéh during Ayahuasca or Kambo ceremonies to help participants purge out unwanted and negative emotional blockages held inside the body. Some participants have been known to avoid eating or drinking for between 12-24 hours before administration of Rapéh, to mitigate discomfort during vomiting or bowel movements.

The Traditional Use of a Tepi

Historically, as within traditional South American tribal cultures, only appointed shamans or respected elders lead Rapéh rituals or healing ceremonies. Their duty to hold space, protect against negative forces and facilitate an atmosphere of safety and trust, preparing participants for the arduous ritual ahead.

The shaman may then lead the participants to meditate and focus on the intention of their spiritual journey. One's intention behind attending a power medicine ceremony is believed to be the compass used to navigate turbulent or disturbing experiences. Setting out and physically writing down clear intentions before a ritual gives one a crucial sense of purpose essential for the often difficult inner (and outer) journey ahead.

Chanting loud tribal icaros (native spiritual songs), beating tribal drums and dancing by firelight, shaman summon ancestral spirit guardians to protect the ceremonial space and prepare participants for the ritual.