THE MATSIGENKA TRADITION OF SERI
Samuel carries the tradition of ‘Seri’ or tobacco-snuff; an ancestral tradition for the Matsigenka that honors tobacco as a plant medicine. It is commonly used for healing and strengthening purposes, to dispel fatigue, treat colds, build bonds of friendship, to share shamanic powers, and to protect the hunter from snakes and other predators of the forest.
Samuel is skilled in arrow-making, fishing, and hunting; he is a man of the jungle. His wife Victoria practices the traditional basket weaving and knotted ‘jempo’ bag making that uses cetico palm fibre. Both are longtime residents of this community, along with their pet monkey.
SERI PROCESS & PREPARATION
The preparation of Seri requires that certain materials are in place beforehand in order to ensure a powerful powder. According to Samuel, he must have ready a few pipes or ‘Seritonki’; an L-shaped tube secured with a sticky resin and twists of hand-spun cotton made from the leg bones of a terrestrial bird known as the curassow.
He harvests a particular bark or ‘Seritaki’ which he burns and sifts to create an ash. The fresh tobacco leaves from his chakra are then picked and dried over a smoldering fire where they are then pulverized in a pot with a wooden pestle as he sings over it.
Samuel was taught the harvesting and preparation methods from his father who emphasized the importance of the song while one pulverizes the plant into powder form in order to amplify its power and effectiveness.
The finished powder mixed with the ash is then placed and stored in a giant snail shell or ‘Pompori’ in Matsigenka. The sharing of tobacco is mainly done amongst men where the blowing into both nostrils several times is the common procedure, provoking a sense of intoxication or energetic intensity.
”… Matsigenka men do not take the sharing of tobacco lightly. A man’s tobacco is a concrete manifestation of his spiritual powers, and sharing tobacco implies the sharing or transfer of these powers. Indeed, the word for shaman in the Matsigenka language is seripigari, literally, “the one intoxicated by tobacco.” Glen H. Shepard Jr. Ph.D 
We hope that you continue to follow our progress with this long-standing project of art and storytelling, focused on connecting the youth with the oral traditions of their elders and living culture through creative workshops and relationship building.
This project is made possible through our partnership with SePerú; a non-profit organization dedicated to equal benefits and co-management of Peruvian Indigenous communities and their natural ecosystem.
Support this project so that we may continue to share and learn about the ancestral knowledge of the Matsigenka people.
*cover photo: Mike Van Kruchten