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 intended

for ritual use (Towle 1952,232 f.).
Literature

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 Museum

Leaflets 15 (9): 223-46.

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