|In Northern Mexico, the Tarahumara use a species
from the genus Scirpus as a hallucinogen. They call
the plant bakanoa, bakanawa, bakanowa, or
bakana. The ethnobotanist Robert Bye has stated
that this grass is the most important hallucinogen
of the central and western Tarahumara (=
Ranimuri), being even more important than
peyote (Lophophora williamsii) (Bye 1979b, 35*).
Little is known about the ritual use:
Bakinowa is another medicinal plant used in
rituals. A ceremony known as simse is associated
with and named after the plant simse,
bot. Scirpus sp. It is regarded as a source of
vigor and is ritually venerated, especially by
older women and men, who nourish it with
offerings. Bakanowa is a kind of counterpart
to hikuri [= peyote]. The plant is sought for in
the western Sierra Tarahumara. The ceremonial
circle with the offering altar also faces
to the west, while the ritual semantics depict
the hikuri to the east. The bakanowa root is
clearly a potent drug that is not ingested in
most cases but [is] merely ritually venerated.
Here, some healers use a notched piece of
wood, as in the hikuri rites. (DeimelI996, 12)
Nourishing the plant with offerings is considered
important for health. One Tarahumaran
healer said, «If god onoruame, the goddess maria
mechaka, or the dead or the sacred plants hikuri and bakanowa go hungry, humans will become
ill" (DeimelI996, 12).
The root is used in folk medicine as an analgesic
and to treat the insane. The plant is regarded
as a protective amulet and as a remedy for all
mental illnesses. This is why it is periodically
brought offerings. Anyone who treats the plant
poorly will be punished with disease. Eating the
root tuber is said to induce a deep sleep accompanied
by visions and allows one to travel to other
dimensions. Unfortunately, the species the Tarahumara
use has not yet been identified.
Alkaloids have been found in one species of the
genus Scirpus (Bye 1979b, 36*). These may be ergot
alkaloids (cf. Cyperus spp.) that are deposited as
metabolites of a parasitic fungus.
In South America, Scirpus species have been
used since pre-Columbian times to produce mats
and other woven goods, including some intendedfor ritual use (Towle 1952,232 f.).
Deimel, Claus. 1996. Hikuri ba-Peyoteriten der
Tarahumara. Ansichten der Ethnologie 1.
Hannover: Niedersachsisches Landessmuseum.
Towle, Margaret Ashley. 1952. Plant remains from a
Peruvian mummy bundle. Botanical MuseumLeaflets 15 (9): 223-46.