Between rapé enthusiasts the Nukini people are known for the manufacturing of high-quality rapé which belongs to the favorites of many. Their blends typically have a fresh floral aroma, providing deep grounding and clarity. Although their widespread recognition, their name refers to a small population close to 600 people.
The majority is located inside the Terra Indigena (TI) Nukini, an area of 27,263 hectares in the Western Amazone, Acre. In 1991 the terrain was officially recognized and assigned as the native grounds of the Nukini. This TI is one of the 21 indigenous lands that form the national park of Serra do Divisor. The biodiversity in this area is among the most diverse in the Brazilian Amazon. Native inhabitants like the Nukini conserved these lands for centuries. Their native lands serve a large part of the flora and fauna of this region.
Threats and repression
The Nukini and the area park have been under constant threat due to other stakeholders active in the park. In the mid-19th century estate bosses claimed their land and started exploiting it’s natural resources for industrial purposes. This often went together with violence and repression. Like other indigenous people in the area, they worked as latex tappers for the rubber industry. Likewise they worked as professional oarsmen, trailblazers and hunters at the service of the estate bosses, often living under conditions close to slavery.
The Nukini survived the fever epidemics which emerged as a consequence of their contact with the rubber tappers. After the shut down of the rubber industry the area remained under threat by loggers, hunters and drug traffickers. The Nukini people protest this current situation. They also demand an expansion of their official territory as their native grounds. It’s hard to say if their protesting will be answered. Bolsonaro’s election as president is a true disaster for the indigenous tribes of Brazil, since he pledged to take away their territory. His victory will embolden the brutal mining and logging gangs which are also active on the lands of the Nukini. (Guardian, 31 oct 2018)
Way of life
The Nukini tribe includes five smaller clans according to their fatherly descent. By tradition they are hunters and gatherers, but they also commit to agricultural activities. Men are mainly responsible for hunting, gathering and agricultural activities. Women are instead responsible for household activities within the domestic sphere. They also gather forest products, make handicrafts and help with agricultural activities.
When we met the Nukini
During the weeks with the Nukini we met Francisca Nuquni. Fransisca is an elder of the tribe, but unsure of her precise age. She gathers and prepares sacred plants as long as she is able to remember. Her voice is soft and soothing when she speaks about her beloved rapé. The secret of rapé? She told us that the power is in the songs she sings to the plants. Every plant contains a unique spiritual energy which asks for respect and devotion when harvested. The best rapé is a blend of mapacho, ashes and lots of love. According to Francisca, there are three types of Rapé: aromatic, medicinal and energizers. The exact blend is however a secret. This makes the blending preparation of rapé is an art on it self, that is solely entrusted to the women of the village.