Archive for the ‘pituri’ Category

The above example is a prototype which has many permutations. One variant has in-coming Europeans seizing control of an indigenous drug, which until this point has been restricted to a small elite class of the prehistoric or near-prehistoric community. Europeans then proceed to make the drug secular and available to the whole population. Over centuries, elite consumers have been indoctrinated with traditional drug control mechanisms. But the bulk of the population have not.  Many become drawn to the drug and its new availability, and the Europeans–the drug traders–gain wealth, power and control. 


The Incas, the Conquistadors and the Erythroxylum coca bush form a gruesome example of the above: one which put tribute into the pockets of Catholic prelates; transformed 10 000 Spaniards into coca plantation owners or administrators less than two decades after conquest, and left thousands of indigenous people condemned into slavery. The cruel and lethal Potosi silver mines are said to be to the 16th century what Auschwitz was to the 20th century.

 Erythroxylum coca  grows on the eastern slopes of  the Andes, and it is the plant source of the stimulant, cocaine. Nobody knows how long people have used coca. But consumption must have begun prior to 4000 BP, because by this time, people were trading the drug  between local regions of the Andes (MacNeish 1977). A story lies here too, but one unknown to me  at present.


Europeans knew nothing of coca prior to the Conquistadors’ Invasion in 1532, and probably only the Inca upper classes chewed coca at that time. All classes of Inca, however, were consuming the drug soon after the invasion.

 The  coca trade was a lucrative one, and some settler coca plantations made 80,000 pesos yearly. However, it was not the cash return which was significant  about coca. Just as alcohol was useful in recruiting labor in ancient Europe, and Afrikaners used alcohol to procure labor and wealth from African miners, the Spaniards used control over coca to manipulate  Peruvians into working in silver mines like Potosi. The silver extracted was the principal source of Spain’s wealth in the New World (Hemming 1983:368; Gutierrez Noriega 1951:146). One of the earliest Spanish commentators, Father Blas Valera had this to say about coca in 1609:

 The great usefulness and effect of coca for laborers is shown by the fact that the Indians who eat it are stronger and fitter for their work; they are often so satisfied by it that they can work all day without eating…It has another great value, which is…the income of the bishops, canons and other priest of the Cathedral Church of Cuzco [the Inca capital city] is derived from  the tithe on the coca leaf [10%] , and many Spaniards have grown rich, and still do on the traffic in this herb.


 A similar situation could well have occurred when the British invaded Australia. The new arrivals occasionally observed hundreds, perhaps  thousands, of  Aboriginal people waiting at desert waterholes for supplies of a drug ‘pituri’ to  become available. The first known white to try this still mysterious substance wrote that it effects on him were like two stiff brandies. In fact, pituri was a nicotine-rich psychoactive substance  which Aboriginal people produced from a desert bush  Duboisia Hopwoodii. Like coca, only the elite individuals could use pituri; in this case revered senior men.

Europeans occupying Aboriginal land along pituri trade routes began to seize supplies of pituri to manipulate blacks. Missionaries swapped pituri for tribal weapons and paraphernalia. Kidman ‘the Cattle King’  (and Nicoles’ ancestor)  used it to ‘ginger up his black workers’  (Farwell 1975:50). Many other references exist of other pastoralists using the drug this way and some Europeans used it themselves (Bancroft 1877:10),  at least one western Queensland hotel served whiskey stiffened with pituri as a ‘knockout drop’ (Coghlon: pers comm).

Perhaps the most bizarre use of pituri occurred during the 1890s. There was considerable public pressure by white Australians against the Chinese and the importing of opium (McCoy 1980:73).  The Chinese cook at Glenormiston Station in the Mulligan-Georgina area (that is in the pituri producing region) seized the opportunity and shipped supplies of pituri to Melbourne  as a substitute (Coghlon: pers com). Despite all this interest, pituri did not ‘take off’ as coca did in Peru and  British settlers missed a commercial opportunity.


MacNeish 1977
Hemming 1983
Gutierrez Noriega 1951
Farwell 1975
Bancroft 1877
Coghlon: pers comm
McCoy 1980

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Margaret Mead and Tobacco Producers has relevance today. First is the question of what part, if any, does time play in a society’s ability to control and integrate drug production and consumption? Integration should be at a level sufficient for the society to continue its life and  vital activities without becoming hostage to drug demand. An opportunity to discuss this point arises because I have two series of posts on nicotine-containing plants: nicotine-in-tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) among the Mundugumor and nicotine-in-pituri (Duboisia hopwoodii) among Australian Aborigines.

In Mead’s account of the Mundugumor, its people have allowed tobacco to become central to the universal tasks the Mundugumor, like all societies,  must accomplish to stay viable. The only route to leadership for the Mundugumor  is by extensive tobacco cultivation. This presents problems in labour and time. The Mundugumor solve the former by capturing foreign (non-Mundugumor) women to work the tobacco fields; the later solution also involves foreign labour: manufactured items like fishing nets, mats, and baskets once woven by the Mundugumor themselves are now outsourced to the grass villages. The time saved allows Mundugumor leaders’ wives more time in the tobacco fields, and men more opportunity to create theatrical spectacles. In turn the latter brings prestige to the leader which brings him more followers, more success in warfare, more wives etc. etc.

Similarly Mundugumor people have allowed tobacco wealth to trigger the timing of initiation rites. Once these were once-in-a-life time events; the whole community participating as young adolescents adopted the role and responsibilities of manhood. Now Mead claims initiations are ‘faddish’,  held  when one or other of the grass villages offers a spectacular cult figure to a Mundugumor leader. The latter then stages initiations into the new rites from which many individuals can be excluded.

Rage jealously and violence  fill Mead’s account of the Mundugumor.  You can understand why. I was left wondering how long it would be before the Mundugumor group imploded. (Note the question of drug legality or illegality as a cause of dysfunction does not arise here.)

My posts about nicotine-in-pituri (Duboisia hopwoodii) among Australian Aborigines run from 3/9/2011 to 13/11/2011. In the hundreds of references to pituri production, exchange/trade, and use which I consulted, there is no suggestion of anger or any of the ill-will that bedevils tobacco production exchange and consumption among the Mundugumor.  It is true that material on pituri suggested Aboriginal people had developed methods of exchanging pituri that differed from customary exchanges among hunter/gatherers; and similarly the scale of pituri involved in distribution also suggested some sort of planned plant manipulation not usually part of this life-style. But these changes do not appear as a source of angst.

Many  differences existed between the two situations of course: pituri was a perennial; tobacco an annual. Mundugumor were horticulturalists, Aboriginal people hunter/gatherers.  The Aboriginal people appear to have had far greater knowledge of the effects of nicotine on human physiology than did the Mundugumor; the former exploited nicotine’s bi-phasic  and trans-dermal qualities but the Mundugumor did not. But I think the salient difference may have been time. Use of nicotine-in-pituri has existed for about 5 millennia (Yen  1993). The Mundugumor experience of nicotine-in-tobacco may be no more than two generations old. That is a  coloe difference, time enough to bring drug demand under control  if the society so desired. .

This argument that the Mudugumor only had tobacco crops for a short while, is a bit circuitous. Mead herself observed  the Mundugumor lacked skill at managing their canoes, and their wives continuously worried about children drowning. This led Mead to believe the Mundugumor had only been resident in their  present river-side site for one or two generations . Villagers confirmed this,  saying they had moved from their  ‘arse ples’ to better their lives.  Taking a generation span as  15 –25 years, the Mundugumor may have arrived at the site which Mead found them some time between 1880s-1900s. So was the tobacco plant already on site, just waiting to be loved?

Possibly. However tobacco was not native toNew Guinea. After its enthusiastic ‘discovery’ by Christopher Columbus in 1492  the plant spread rapidly outwards from South America.  Because tobacco is addictive, sailors and travellers carried tobacco seeds with them. At every port of call they distributed seeds freely, ensuring they themselves were always able to replenish supplies. South American tobacco reached New Guineain the 1500s, along with Europe and almost everywhere else ships could drop anchor. But the plant did not  really get established as a crop inNew Guinea because of the hostile terrain and climate.

I think a likely scenario is that tobacco and the incoming, soon-to-be,  Mundugumor population arrived  together on the Yuat River,  At that time, the later half of the 1800s ,New Guinea  was wide open to outsiders.  Europeans arrived to administer, missionaries came searching for souls; adventurers looking for adventure; groups slogged through the terrain prospecting for gold and minerals, plantation enthusiasts searched for potential commercial crops.  In the time frame in question, 1880-1900,  Germans  and British/Australian  groups were both on  Yuat River and grass villages, presumably with indigenous porters, guides etc. I think one or other of these expeditions brought tobacco seeds with them, sowing them  together with copra (coconuts) where ever they visited. Only on the one patch of  high well drained soil in the region, the Mundugumor site, did tobacco grasp hold and flourish.  For some reason, the Europeans left the isolated and malaria-riven site. Their indigenous companions may have remained on what must have seemed to them a godsend: empty, fertile, well-drained land in an otherwise inauspicious region.

The newly arrived Mundugumor were drug naïve. They had no reason to think of tobacco as any different from taro, yams and sugarcane they already possessed: just another plant they could grow, eat and exchange/trade with one another and with the grass villages. In fact tobacco was addictive and initial use promoted further use. Demand must have increased exponentially in the 30 to 50 years which passed in Mundugumor before Mead arrived.  The decisive question is, could tobacco use have become so entrenched and the society so socially and economically disrupted, in only 30 to 50 years?

I can only speculate here.  Since tobacco took only about 50 years to spread from outwards from South America round much of the globe, it seems possible for tobacco to have the impact it did in Mead’ s   Mundugumor over the 30-50 years before Mead arrived.


My analysis of the role of tobacco in Mead’s account of the Mundugumor is the second issue which I believe resonates today. Mead was a pioneer in human rights and feminism. She always argued that patterns of racism, sexism, warfare, and environmental exploitation were learned behaviour and could be changed by discussion. Her capacity to educate the American public in these areas was exceptional. Therefore her description of the Mundugumor in Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies came as a shock.  Why was she so harsh and judgemental? She was even more outspoken with friends, referring to the Mundugumor as disorganized and dysfunctional, with an  increase in complexity of life that made their society unworkable (Young 1993).

A few individuals commented that Mead had lost her fine ethnographers’ eye;  others mentioned the stress marriage breakdowns cause when both partners are doing field work together. But I do not think the fault lay with Mead. I think this is another example of society’s values  determining knowledge,  a theme in my blog.

Mead was possibly as naïve about drugs as the Mundugmor.  It was 1932 when she did her research: drug consciousness among English-speaking and European peoples did not really begin until 30 years later with the adoption of a large range of psychoactive substances among US students.  Tobacco itself was not considered addictive until the later decades of the 20th century.  I think Mead’s descriptions of the anger and breakdown of Mudugumor life were probably correct.  Her error lay in believing the three societies was comparable. Actually there were only two comparable societies, both  producing vegetables, carbohydrates and fruit; and one society focusing on producing and

consuming a highly addictive drug.   Mainly because of the time period, Mead lacked the background to recognize an ‘Acapulco on the Sepik’.



McDowell, Nancy 1991   The Mundugumor: From the Field Notes of Margaret Mead and Reo Fortune. Smithsonian Institute Press.

 Mead, Margaret. 1963  [1935]   Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies.  New York; William Morrow.


 Michael Young 1993   A Review:  The Mundugumor: From the Field Notes of Margaret Mead and Reo Fortune. Pacific Studie, Vol16 No.4

in Pacific Studies Vol 16 No 4

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No anthropologist thinks of Margaret Mead, the famous US anthropologist, as providing information on tobacco as a transformative agent in the economic and social life of a ‘primitive society’. The idea sounds out of character for Margaret Mead; at odds with her training as a cultural anthropologist. Nevertheless, this happened, perhaps unconsciously.  In her book Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies the back story that Mead provides for one of these societies, the Mundugumor, reveals drug production and exchange/trade associated with disruptive social and economic changes.

Mead courageously chose New Guineaas as her research setting. New Guineas is a Pacific Ocean  island about twice the size of California. It lies geographically to the east of the Malay Archipelago and to the north-east of Australia. Anthropologically, New Guinea i s  considered part of Melanesia, not Polynesia. Europeans first ‘discovered’ the island about the 16th century,  and since then New Guinea has had a mixed colonial history. As of 2012, the western half of the island comprises two Indonesian provinces: Papua and  West Papua. The eastern half has been a German colony, a League of Nations Protectorate, and an Australian colony. Now it is independent and known as Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Seen from above, PNG seems a  sea island paradise: sparkling seas,  coral atolls, mangrove-margined rivers, sandy palm-lined beaches.  But it has less idyllic aspects.  Much of the land is mountainous. Mists and clouds wrap their crests, and the mountains’ steep angles of ascent transform into equally precipitous descent into deep, narrow valleys. These hold isolated and culturally-diverse societies who cultivate small food gardens  Warfare is common there, as is sorcery.

Beyond the jungle-covered mountains lie wide stretches of crocodile- infested swamps and almost-uninhabitable grasslands. Strong and swift rivers, rich in fish, cut  through this terrain. One of the largest rivers is the Sepik. Occasional villages dot its bank and also those of tributary rivers.  But no roads reach these places. Transport is by raft or long, shallow, dugout canoes. Tracks do exist through the swamps, but their whereabouts is tightly held for fear that cannibals or head-hunters could use them for raiding.

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But that raises yet another area of uncertainty. D. hopwoodii plants grew widely but sparsely on the tops of sandhills in the  desert interior. It seems impossible that the plant’s natural pattern of growth could supply enough raw material to support the trade. Unless of course there existed some form of human intervention with the plant. 

This is possible. While it is true that  Aboriginal people were hunter/gatherers many of these groups, world-wide, could and occasionally did,  manipulate certain favored plants to increase their presence in the group’s vicinity. In Australia, some Aboriginal groups ‘farmed with a fire-stick’, burning the landscape to encourage new growth which attracted grazing kangaroos. Alternatively Aboriginal people might manipulate root stock in some way; and very occasionally, a community  sowed seeds. One report claims people burned the older branches of D. hopwoodii bushes. The observer interpreted this as increasing the yield of young green leaves and growing tips which contained the  highest percentage of nicotine. But would this have been enough to supply raw material for the whole trade, or did the observer notice and record only part of a larger process?  Certainly some plant manipulation must have happened to ensure the circulation of a such large amounts of pituri  in the pituri trade.

 Just as big a question, I think, is why  Mulligan-Georgina  pituri  was so sought after in the first place. As I noted above, D. howoodii grew in many places in the desert. though ‘only sparsely’. Some communities recognized their local hopwoodii as the plant basis of pituri, and others such as the Arunta in central Australia   produced a drug from  their local plants. But by far the most valued, the most sought for, and possibly  the mostly costly in terms of human effort, was the pituri made from D .hopwoodii plants growing in the Mulligan-Georgina region.

 Why was this so?  Spiritual values certainly played a significant part, perhaps an overwhelming one. Mulligan-Georgina. D. hopwoodii  plants grew at a site along the path traveled led by one or more of the community’s totemic heroes during the Creation Period (the Dreamtime). So religion and ritual endorsed these plants rather than other plants. But then, why did this not this happen elsewhere where D. hopwoodii plants grew?

 Here, I can offer only speculation. This particular tribal group may have produced a drug with a standardized  level of toxicity. Considerable variation in the range of nicotine and nor-nicotine could be present within members of the same plant species. And there was variation too in the percentages of each alkaloid in  relationship to the other in individual plants. Add to that the facts that nicotine is extremely toxic; that nicotine acts with the speed of cyanide; and that the gap between its maximum dose and its lethal dose is narrow. Clearly it was horrifyingly easy to miscalculate the correct quantity of pituri unless the drug was standardized. An amount of pituri sufficient to sustain  a user on a long desert might,  if improperly calculated, might render the user unconscious or dead. And given the small numbers of Aboriginal people that made up social groups, an occasional death could have larger social consequence for them in terms of food procurement, group viability and inter-tribal relationships, than the death by over-dose of one member might have for other members  in a large industrialised society.

 Standardizing a drug required two procedures, each necessary but insufficient without the other. The first is producing the drug from identical plants.  The second necessary and essential procedure is identical curing methods.  Different curing techniques, even when used on identical material, can produce drugs of different strengths. Web (1950) , a scientist with CSIRO   states that curing alkaloid-containing plants must be a compromise‘where in shade or sun drying, artificial drying at high temperatures, or a protracted period at low temperatures … are all potent factors’  The problem lies with the plant enzymes. Even after harvesting,  the enzymes continue metabolizing (breaking down) the alkaloids (in this case nicotine and nor-nicotine) in the leaves. Therefore the longer the drying time the weaker will be the drug, as the active ingredient continues to decompose until the material is thoroughly dry. Quicker drying with artificial heat would arrest enzyme action, but might also totally destroy the nicotine and nor-nicotine.

The solutions adopted by the pituri clans on the Mulligan-Georgina was the use of plants with already known alkaloid strengths, then careful drying by artificial heat . The last surviving member of the pituri clan of the Wongkongaru described the Mulligan-Georgina curing of pituri to George Aiston, the store-keeper in 1924. The informant was 80-90 years old at the time, and had been on expeditions the Wongongaru sent north to get pituri.  His  account of pituri processing techniques refers well  back to a period before traditional practices fell into decline.

 According to Aiston’s informant, the processing of pituri was accomplished by hereditary pituri clans in a ceremonial context. It was treated as a component of the secret knowledge monopolised by revered old men, and labour was compartmentalised by age and by space: 

The secret of preparation was jealously guarded by the old men; the younger men were only allowed to accompany the party to the water nearest to the small clump of trees that were deemed to he the only true pituri. Here the younger men and the women stayed and prepared the bags to hold the prepared pituri and gathered food for the old men who did the harvesting. The old men went on to the trees, made a camp and built big fires. When these were burning down sufficiently they picked branch tips of the pituri bush, each about twelve inches at most in length. These were placed in a hole formed by taking out the fires down to the hot sand, were left to cook for at least two hours. When the steamed pituri was considered to be sufficiently cooked the sand was raked off and it was placed on a pirra to cool and dry. When thoroughly dry, it was beaten with the edge of a boomerang to break it up; all big twigs were picked out and the clean twigs bagged …

 The great secret lay in the length of time that was needed for the steaming and this was not taught …(to)…the men until their beards were grey. When they were a ‘little bit Pinnaru’, that is, when the grey first showed in their hair and beard they might be allowed to accompany the old men to the picking ground, and would be allowed to fill the bags with the prepared pituri, but the actual cooking was done out of their sight. Sometimes, if the ground was hard, a hole was dug and the fire built in that, sometimes the fire was made close to a sand hill, and the sand was raked down from above. The method varied but the result was the same; too much steaming made the resulting ‘cook’ brittle and tasteless, too little made it musty (Aiston 1937:373 373). 

From a technical point of view,  there is no substitute for information that we might have gained by a chemical analysis of pituri immediately after processing. In lieu of this, the following comments are pertinent. According to Aisto    n the plants were not picked until the fire was at a suitable level. This means that enzyme action probably ceased moments after picking, thus reducing nicotine loss to a minimum. The Aborigines believed, however, that the critical factor lay in the length of time allowed in the steaming process. This accords with western ideas on curing alkaloid-bearing plants.  W. Griffin  the expert on pharmacognosy  I consulted previously, judged :

 ‘that what they have hit upon [that is the pituri clans in the Mulligan Georgina area] is a controlled drying process which from experience was sufficient to retard metabolism and yet insufficient to produce degradation or loss of active  components (pers. comm.).

 If  this is so, pituri made by theMulligan- River- clans would be markedly more ‘user friendly’ in that its level of toxicity—whatever that may have been —would have been consistent. It is also possible that heat-drying broke down unwanted constituents in the leaves, changed odour, or flavours of  components

How long have Aboriginal people used pituri?  Perhaps as long as 5, 000 years, in the opinion of   Professor Douglas Yen, a paleo-ethnobotanist and  Professor of Prehistory at ANU  (AustralianNationalUniversity) . In reviewing my material after its publication in 1983, Yen  suggested that the development of pituri and its trade might slot into the period of social and economic changes in Aboriginal life which began about 5 000 years ago, perhaps coinciding  with stability in sea levels. These changes included adoption of new stone technologies, the development of exchange  (trade) networks  along Dreaming Tracks, changes in the way people organized the land and related to other groups, and more intensified land use.

Inter-regional of pituri certainly belongs with these alterations in life style.  But purely local use of pituri around the Mulligan /GeorginaRiversmay  have been very much older than 5, 000 years.  Indeed the availability of a highly valued and addictive drug plus alterations in methods of exchange recorded Sahlins  may have been the causal factor  for the economic and social changes Yen believes developed around this time.


Complete Pituri Bibliography

Aiston, G. 1937 The Aboriginal narcotic pitcheri.Oceania7:372.

Bailey, F. 1883 A synopsis ofQueenslandflora.Brisbane: Government Printer.

Bancroft, J. 1872 The pituri poison. Paper read before the Queensland Philosophical Society.Brisbane: Government Printer.

1877Pituri. Paper read before the Queensland Philosophical Society.Brisbane: Government Printer.

1878 Further remarks on the pituri group of plants. Paper read before the Queensland Philosophical Society.Brisbane: Government Printer.

1879 Pituri and tobacco. Paper read before the Queensland Philosophical Society.Brisbane: Government Printer.

Barnard, C. 1952 The Duboisias ofAustralia. Economic Botany 6:3. 

Basedow, H. 1925 The Australian Aboriginal.Adelaide: Preece.

Bedford, C.T. 1887 Reminiscences of a surveying trip from Boulia to the South Australian border. Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society ofAustralia,QueenslandBranch 2:99.

Berndt, R.M. and C.H. 1977 The world of the first Australians.Sydney: Ure Smith.

Berndt, R.M. 1980Letter to P. Watson. June 1980.

Bottomley, W. & D.E. White 1951The Chemistry of Western Australian plants: Duboisia hopwoodii. Australian Journal of Scientific Research 4:107.

Buckland, A.W. 1879 Stimulants in use among savages. Journal of the Royal AnthropologicalInstituteofGreat BritainandIreland8:239.

Cleland, J.B. 1935 The native ofCentral Australiaand his surroundings. Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society ofAustralasia, South Australian Branch 35:66.

1936 Ethno-botany in relation to the central Australian aboriginal. Mankind 2:6.

1940 The ecology of the Aboriginal inhabitants ofTasmaniaandSouth Australia. Australian Journal of Science 2:97.

Coghlon, N. 1980 Interview by P. Watson, May 20, 1980. Tape in possession of author.

Craig, B.F. 1970 North-west-centralQueensland, an annotated bibliography.Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

Curl, S.M. 1878 On pituri, a new vegetable produce that deserves further investigation. Proceedings of theNew ZealandInstitute 2:411.

Curr, E.M. 1886/7 The Australian race. 4 vols.Melbourne: Government Printer.

Duncan-Kemp, A.M. 1964 Where strange paths go down.Brisbane: W.R. Smith & Paterson.

1968 Where strange gods call.Brisbane: W.R. Smith & Paterson.

Durack, M. 1976 Kings in grass castles.Sydney: New Century Press.

Elkin, A.P. 1931 The social organization of South Australian tribes.Oceania2:44.

1934/35 Cult-totemism and mythology in northernSouth Australia.Oceania5:171.

El-Zughley 1970 Studies of the effect of reserpine therapy on the functional capacity of the tryptophanniacin pathway in smoker and non smokermales. Biochemical Pharmacology 19:1661.

Evans, R., K. Saunders, K. Cronin 1975 Exclusion, exploitation and extermination.Sydney:Australiaand New Zealand Book Company.

Everist, S.L. 1974 Poisonous plants ofAustralia.Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

Fagan, B.M. 1974 Men of the Earth.Boston: Little Brown & Co.

Farwell, G. 1975 Land of mirage.Adelaide: Rigby Limited.

 Fraser, A. 1901 How the Aborigines about Kalliduararry make rain. Science of Man 3:116.

 Friel, J. (ed.) 1974Dorland’s illustrated medical dictionary. Twenty-fifth edition.Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders.

 Furst, P.T. (ed.) 1972 Flesh of the gods: the ritual use of hallucinogens.London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.

 1976 Hallucinogens and culture.San Francisco:Chandlerand Sharp.

Garber, S.T. 1942. Stedman’s Practical medical dictionary. Fifteenth edition. Baltimore: The William and Wilkins Company.

Gason, S. 1882 Letter to A.W. Howitt, Howitt Papers Box 1052/l(c) MS 9356. La Trobe Library, Melbourne.

Goodman, L.S. & A. Gilman (eds.) 1965 The pharmacological basis of therapeutics.New York: The MacMillan Company.

Greenway, J. 1963 Bibliographies of the Australian Aborigines and the native peoples ofTorres Straitto 1959.Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

Gregory, J.W. 1931 The story of the road.London: Alexander Maclehose and Co.

Hardesty, D.L. 1977 Ecological Anthropology.New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Harner, M.J. 1973 Hallucinogens and shamanism.New York:OxfordUniversityPress.

Harney, W.E. 1950 Roads and Trade. Walkabout 16:42.

Hicks, C.S. & H. Le Messurier 1935 Preliminary observations on the chemistry and pharmacology of the alkaloids of Duboisia hopwoodii. The Australian Journal of Experimental Biology and Medical Science 13:175.

Hicks, C.S. 1963 Climatic adaptation and drug habituation of the central Australian Aborigine. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 7:39.

Higgin, J.A. 1903 An analysis of the ash of the Acacia salicina. Transactions of the Royal Society ofSouth Australia17:202.

Hodgkinson, W.O. 1877 North-west explorations. Parliamentary Paper.Brisbane.

Horne, G. & G. Aiston 1924 Savage life in centralAustralia.London: Macmillan.

Howitt, A.W. 1878 Notes on the Aborigines of Cooper’s Creek. In R.B. Smyth The Aborigines of Victoria App. D. Melbourne: Government Printer.

1904 The native tribes of south-eastAustralia.London: Macmillan and Co. Limited 

Idriess,I.1941 The great boomerang.Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

 Janiger, O. & M. Dobkin de Rios 1973 Suggestive hallucinogenic properties of tobacco. Medical Anthropology Newsletter 4:6.

Johnston, T.H. 1939 “Pituri”. Mankind 2:224. 

Johnston, T.H. & J.B. Cleland 1933/4 The history of the Aboriginal narcotic, pituri.Oceania4:201.

Jones, R. 1969 Fire-stick farming. Australian Natural History. 16:224.

Kennedy, J.F., P.J. Skerman, F.W. Whitehouse, C. Ogilvie 1949

The Channel Country of south-westQueensland. Report to the Minister for Lands.Brisbane: Bureau of Investigation. Department of Public Lands. Government Printer.

 La Barre, W. 1970 Old and new world narcotics: a statistical question and an ethnological reply. Economic Botany V24:368.

1972 Hallucinogens and the shamanic origins of religion. In P.T. Furst (ed.) Flesh of the gods: the ritual use of hallucinogens. 261. London: George Allen and Unwin.

Latz, P.K. and G.F. Griffin 1976 Changes in Aboriginal land management in relation to fire and to food plants in centralAustralia. In B.S. Hetzel and H.J.

Frith(eds.) The Nutrition of Aborigines in relation to the ecosystem of centralAustralia: 77Melbourne: CSIRO.

Lee, R. 1968 What hunters do for a living or, how to make out on scarce resources. In R. Lee and I. DeVore (eds.) Man the hunter.Chicago: Aldine.

Lewin, L. 1931 Phantastica, narcotic and stimulative drugs, their use and abuse.London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner.

Liversidge, A. 1880 The alkaloid from piturie. Proceedings of the Royal Society ofNew South Wales14:123.

MacGillvray, J. 1852 Narrative of the voyage of HMS Rattlesnake . . . during the years 1846-50.London: Boone.

 Macknight, C. 1972 Macassans and Aborigines.Oceania42:283.

Madigan, C.T. 1938 The Simpson Desert and its borders. Proceedings of the 59 Royal Society ofNew South Wales71:503.

Maiden, J.H. 1893 The useful native plants ofAustralia.London: Trubner & Co.

Matthews, R.H. 1905Ethnological notes on the Aboriginal tribes ofQueensland.QueenslandGeographical Journal 20:51.

Mattingly, A.H. 1939Pitcheri. Wildlife 1:26.

McCarthy, F.D. 1939″Trade” in Aboriginal Australia and trade relationships withTorres Strait,New GuineaandMalaya.Oceania9:405, 10:80.

McCoy, A.W. 1980 Drug traffic: narcotics and organized crime inAustralia.Sydney: Harper and Row.

Micha, F.J. 1970 Trade and change in Australian Aboriginal cultures. In A.R. Pilling and R.A. Waterman (eds.) Diprotodon in DetribalizationEast Lansing:MichiganStateUniversityPress.

Moore, K.W. 1980 Letters to P. Watson. June 1980.

Moorehead, A. 1963Cooper’s Creek.New York: Harper and Row.

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Aiston focuses  on the centers  where pituri traded, and the  informality of the exchange (see map).

 The great trade routes that met and crossed at Kopparra murra, the Kopperamanna of the white people, was one of the big distributing centres, although the pituri had probably changed hands several times before it got there. Crowds would be waiting at Annandale, on the Herbert, [that is the GeorginaMulliganRiversystem] for the collectors [of pituri] to come in, and getting as much as they could, would make off to Birdsville. Bedourie, Urandangie, and down the Herbert; here  other people would be waiting to take it down the Diamantina to Goyder’s Lagoon, where others in turn would be waiting, gathered in from east and west, some from as far as the Darling, and in good seasons from the lower Finke. I have seen over 500 Aborigines waiting at Goyder’s Lagoon.

 Bartering started at the first camp that was met after leaving the pituri grounds; after everybody had rested and fed, one of the party would throw down a bag in front of the assembled camp: anyone who wishes to buy would throw down, perhaps a couple of boomerangs, perhaps a grinding mill, or whatever he could spare; the pituri seller would leave his bag until something that he wanted was offered: this he would accept by picking it up and the buyer would then pick up the bag of pituri. Perhaps another member of the pituri party would see something in the goods offered and would throw down another bag; if the buyers were not satisfied they would pick up their offerings, and if the seller was not satisfied he would pick up his bag of pituri. The camps near the pituri grounds never became big markets because the pituri was more valuable the farther away it was traded. The near camps were only used to get enough utensils and weapons for use when traveling in the more profitable markets.

For an anthropologist like myself, Aiston’s  description of pituri trading shocks deeply. In my profession, it is axiomatic that ‘primitive’ trade  is organized quite differently from that of the market place. The relationship between the two traders themselves matters deeply; what is exchanged far less so. Marshall Sahlins, then Professor of  Anthropology at Universityof Chicagowrote in his seminal work, Stone Age Economics

 …trade is an exclusive relation with an outside party. …The trade in canalized in parallel and insulated transactions between particular pairs…social relations, not prices, connect up ‘buyers’ and ‘sellers’

Christmas gift giving in western societies cultures provides a useful analogy for primitive trade.  Here there is a scrupulous graduation of social appropriateness in gifts between parents and children, between adult family members, between family and close non-family friends, right down to possible exchanges between an employer and a valued employee. This celebrates ties to meaningful others, and indicates hope and intention that these relationships will continue. In traditional societies all exchange and trade resembles this pattern, and its adaptive value among of myriad of small, separate groups is evident. It encourages peaceful relationships, and it enlarges the number of individuals or groups  who can be approached in times of need or from whom marriage partners might be sought.

 As if to emphasize the universality of this form of  ‘stone age trade’  Sahlins notes only two exceptions to his generalization: and one is the above account by Aiston of pituri  trading  (?: 298-99)  where haggling, non-partnered exchanges, definite markets, individual traders and something approaching auctions exist when pituri changes hands.  

 The third informant, Walter Roth, practiced medicine in a north-west Queensland. Consequently his account of  the circulation of pituri came from a different geographical location: north of the pituri lands, not south of them as were those of Gason and Aiston. He focuses on the great trading cycles held annually in north-west-central Queensland.  Roth believed these ‘walk-abouts’ in which members of tribal groups rigidly followed certain traditional trade routes’ only began when fresh pituri became available for trade. Roth’s data intrigues with its list of  participating tribes and the items they brought to trade and obtained in return (see previous map). For example:

In the Upper Georgina District, the Yaroinga have trade relations on the north with the Workia, whom they met atLakeNash, Austral Downs. and Camooweal, and from whom they get pearl-shell, eagle-hawk feathers, spears, stone-knives, large koolamons, human hair belts, white-men’s knives, blankets, shirts, trousers, as well as pituri,  koolamons, emu-feathers, etc.

 On the south the Yaroinga are in communication with the Undekerebina natives of the Toko Ranges, who come up to them either direct to Gordon’s Creek, or else indirectly, up the Georgina, via Glenormiston: the Toko people come with pituri, opossum-twine, blankets, etc., and take back ochre, boomerangs. stone-knives, human-hair belts, etc.

Note that  while the pituri trade included some raw materials such bird-feathers and shell, most components in Roth’s descriptions consist of value-added products.  Stone axes, pecked grinding stones, koolamons  (for storage), packaged barley seed and fish flour, for example,  possessed an added labour component. These low technology trade items were fore-runners of many goods listed on today’s stock exchange: minerals (ochres and gypsum) a mind-altering drug (pituri)  weapons, (spears and shields) prestige items (eagle feathers and human hair belts) food technology items (koolamons and pecked grinding stones), food and even fast food (barley seeds and fish flour).  The  rights to preform particular songs and corroborees passed along these routes too. The songs and dances etc. were not important ritual ones, but often a type of commentary on singular and secular matters, sometimes amusing ones.

 A high demand for pituri  existed. Roth claimed that the  presence of pituri was a precondition for the commencement of the great trading cycles in northwest-centralQueensland. Aiston hints at the same thing with his remark ‘crowds would be waiting for the collectors [of pituri ]to come in.’ According to Roth, ‘local Blacks will give anything they possess for it from their women downwards’. Others made similar comments:

The pituri is an extensive article of trade among the Blacks, the happy possessors being able to obtain in exchange for it any article dear to the Aboriginal heart from their less fortunate black brethren (Bedford 1887:111).

 It (pituri) was and still is among the remnants of theDiamantinatribes the ‘gold’ standard for exchange or barter purposes. A seventy-pound bag of un-dried pituri leaf spelt untold wealth. The Murranudda and messmate tribes bartered spiritedly for bags of it and used it as currency among less fortunate messmates. The small oval bags made of human hair. containing a couple of pounds of the plant, bought two wives, husbands or many goods (Duncan Kemp 1964:284).

 Given that demand was high, how much pituri was in circulation?  This is hard to know. dGason stated that each expedition member returned home carrying 701bs (32kg) of the drie. packaged drug. A large pituri basket in the QueenslandMuseumis looks compatible with loads of this size The drug observed by Gason was packaged in 3 lb containers.  Gason had only to count the containers and multiply by three to arrive at a figure of 70 1bs per person.

Although I saw no reason to question Gason’s figure of 70 lbs of pituri per person, a feeling of uncertainty arose when trying to calculate the number of quids. The historical record speaks of the quantities used as ‘a good pinch’. ‘a spoonful’, ‘a walnut sized piece’. Experimenting with loose tobacco, I estimated that one dose consisted of about the same volume of material as that existing in two cigarettes. This means that the number of quids in 701bs would be about 32,000 [re-check math]. This seems a large number in view of Gason’s report that supplies became exhausted after some months, even granted that a further distribution to tribes in the south took place.

Perhaps there is some mistake in my calculations. Certainly, there is much missing information here. The  size of the pituri expedition obviously determined how much pituri  went south with the returning Dieri.  But no one thought to record how many men made the trip. Gason states elsewhere that 80 Dieri men went annually on the long  journey south for the special ochre which they then used in exchange for pituri. This means that the tribe was able to mount an expedition of this size, not of course that it did. Assuming then, that expedition members numbered somewhere between ten and eighty, the weights of pituri carried home would range between 320kg and 2560kg. These figures, however, represent dried material. What was the  weight of fresh material needed to produce these dried weights ?. Again, that is unknown, but it must have been very much larger.  

And these figures pertain just to the amount of pituri the Dieri men acquired.  However  history records that  the Wonkonguru  (Aiston 193 7:3 7 2) and Yantruwanta (Howitt 1904:7 11), also undertook pituri expeditions to the Mulligan in the same period of time. Perhaps others tribes did too. Additionally there are the large numbers  getting Mulligan-Georgina pituri in the bartering process at regional centres: ‘up to 500’ Aiston describes at one gathering place. And it is quite likely that the distribution of pituri over Queenslandand parts of the Northern Territory, chronicled by Roth in 1897, was at least partially operating at the time Gason wrote in 1882. One way or another, it seems clear that people acquired a considerable amounts of pituri made from D. hopwoodii plants growing in the Mulligan-Georgina area.

 But that raises yet another area of uncertainty. D. hopwoodii plants grew widely but sparsely, on the tops of sandhills in the  desert interior. It seems impossible that the plant’s natural pattern of growth could supply enough raw material to support the trade. Unless of course there exiisted d some form of human intervention with the plant.

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Even though I was a working pharmacist, clearly nicotine chemistry held  secrets I knew nothing of—facts non-Western traditional societies obviously had discovered and exploited for generations.. I checked out nicotine in The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, the international reference book used by  medical schools.

 This held several facts of which I was ignorant; one was nicotine’s  extreme toxicity.

 It  is  highly toxic drug acting with a speed comparable to cyanide. The acutely fatal dose for a man is about 60 mg, and some cigarettes contain 20 to 30 mg. In practice, death seldom follows  because vomiting intervenes.(Goodman & Gilman 1965:578-585).

 Another fact unknown to me was nicotine’s  ability to pass readily through the skin and mucosa . This explained placing the quid behind the ear. And finally I lit upon the explanation for nicotine’s seemingly contradictory effects when used by the indigenous peoples of bothAustraliaand theAmericas: :

 Whereas most drugs are stimulants or depressants, nicotine is both; that is, it is biphasic, offering the user a choice of physiological states. The Western cigarette smoker uses it as a stimulant, and here nicotine can produce an increased fl of adrenaline, a rise in blood pressure, a mild feeling of euphoria, a more economical use of fluid in the body and a decrease in hunger contractions. With a greater dose, the depressive phase begins; adrenaline production ceases, blood pressure drops sharply, stupor ensues, followed by nicotine catalepsy, which is a trance-like state with marked insensibility to pain. Finally, a curare-like paralysis develops and death follows due to respiratory failure (Goodman & Gilman 1965:578 58 

 This technical information filled in the last piece of the puzzle about the nature of pituri. What remained to research was the drug’s distribution and production. These proved as ethnographically interesting and chemically impressive as the quest for the identity of pituri had been.


 Exactly where the pituri plant grew remained a mystery for several decades.

 The natives bring large shells from the NW and tell mysterious legends of a place called Peecheringa, the natives of which carry on an extensive commerce in a narcotic they called pecherie

 reported the explorer Hodgkinson (1877:518), in his search for the elusive drug.  The Aborigines were willing to give him some of the prepared pituri, taking it from a trench in the sand where it was undergoing a drying process, but they were not prepared to show him where he could find it himself.  Eventually, on August 17th, almost by chance, and during a desperate search for water, Hodgkinson located the ‘pituri plant’  (that is, the Duboisia  hopwoodii plant from which Aboriginal  people madethe drug  pituri) . It grew on theMulliganRiverat latitude 22 52’ 51” and longitude38. 

Hodgkinson left a graphic account of people in the vicinity..

  The natives here appear to be divided into families bearing totems with the object of preventing marriage within certain degrees of consanguinity. …The features of many are by no means  unattractive. The nose is not unpleasantly broad. The forehead is high and broader and the mouth not so obtrusive as usual. Their manners are courteous. They ask permission to do or touch anything, and apparently have not seen whites, horses or bullocks before …

 The natives in their social intercourse treat each other with much generosity. Food seems fairly divided, by whomsoever procured, for, though they  no superabundance here, nothing is given to one without division among the others, and very frequently the original recipient retains the smallest share…

 From sundown until late at night the camp is alive with the merriment of children, the shrill cries of the women, and the crooning of corroborees  by the men. Before dawn, at intervals during the day and sometimes until a late hour at night, an incessant pounding of nardoo goes on, resembling nothing so much as the chipping of a stone-cut [pw1]


 By the time the British invadedAustralia,  pituri use had spread, at a minimum, from the above area throughout  500 000 sq km of inlandAustralia. This seems remarkable, consideringAustralia’s geography.Australia has no long, navigable rivers, unlike theUnited States, a country of comparable size. One would expect this to severely hinder the transportation of trade goods.   The lack of land receiving  a reasonable annual rainfall, and the fact that Australia contains five times more arid country than does theUnited Statesmust have further impeded the wide distribution of the drug which took place.     

 Three early settlers left accounts of how aboriginal societies overcame these problems. Each observer differed from the other two in occupation and level of education, which hopefully predisposed them to forming independent opinions.  Gason was a Mounted Police Officer in Lake Eyre ; an area  sometimes referred to as ‘The Dead Heart’ of  Australia because of its bone-dry, oven-hot deserts. Walter Roth was the son of a Jewish Hungarian patriot in exile in London. He was educated in Germanyand Franceand obtained a medical degree in London. In 1894 he accepted an invitation to serve as Surgeon at a number of isolated hospitals in the  north-west of Queensland, Australia. Roth developed a keen interest in ethnography and was to publish three volumes on Aboriginal life as he understood to be. Aiston was a store-keeper on the frontier of white settlement, where  ‘keeping a store’ meant so much more: the ability to outfit expeditions, supply rifles and ammunition, horse and camel saddles, to stock a cattle property with six months of provisions, and reliably advise travelers on the condition of the country ahead in terms of  floods, bush fires or tribal unrest.  Like Roth, he too was an keen ethnologist.

 In 1882  Gason,, stationed in theLake Eyreregion, reported:

 The Dieri tribe sends an expedition of able bodied men annually to the pituri country on the Herbert River in Queensland [i.e. the Georgina-Mulligan River basin] about 250 miles, having to pass through several hostile tribe on the journey—on their arrival at the pituri country, the leaves and the stems of the bush is (sic) picked carefully–small holes are sunk in the sand two foot deep and covered up with hot sand and baked. The pituri is allowed to remain in those holes until it is thought that all the sap has evaporated. It is then taken out, packed very neatly in netted bags and small wallaby skins each man carrying about seventy pounds weight.

  Great preparations are made by the tribe for the return of the pituri expedition. New worleys [shelters]are made, seeds of the season are stored for their fathers, brothers, husbands and friends.When such a party returned, its members were full of strange stories of battles they had fought, of tribes they had seen, men having toes behind their feet as well as in front, and all kinds of wild and extravagant reports.The pituri, although brought from so great a distance and  obtained under such is all gone after a few months, being bartered away to more southern tribes.

At least two other tribal groups in the same region dispatched expeditions northwards to obtain the drug.  All participants wore distinguishing ochre body markings; carried weapons, possibly a dozen spears plus a spear-thrower and perhaps a boomerang.  One or two men in each expedition probably carried a tool maintenance kit, including a stone core from which expedition members could manufacture new spear points when needed. Food and water were necessities the men had to find for themselves as they traveled; no sinecure in unfamiliar desert country. And on the mens’ heads rested the vital trade item: that which would gain them the precious pituri.  These were either slabs of sandstone rock  for grinding grass and plant seeds,  or ‘cakes’ of a special red ochre used for body paint, ceremonies, and  ‘magical charms’. Gason’s record states the ochre cakes were 70 to 80 lbs in weight when dry.

All participating tribes had several features in common, including pituri as a clan totem, and a shared mythological ‘track’.  The latter is a path or song-line  made by Creative Heroes in the past (i.e the Dream Time) as they traveled and formed the landscape. A track may cross any number of tribal borders. Persons who belonged to the one track by birth or inheritance belonged to branches of the one cult, and were normally friendly to each other. They had secret mutual claims to hospitality and protection. Consequently, travelers following the path of their totemic hero or heroes were free and safe in territory which was not their own, at least as far as the local groups of their own cult-totem were concerned. Bruce Chatwin made mythological tracks familiar to many in his famed book ‘Song Lines’

 George Aiston, the store-keeper, provides quite a different account of  pituri distribution than Gason does, even though both men covered approximately the same geographical area.  Aiston focuses  on the centers  where pituri traded, and the  informality of the exchange (see map).

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However, many individuals at the time of analyses and since, were unhappy with the finding of nicotine as the active force in the drug. Among other anomalies (such as the tip-toeing mice in Post Five), nicotine did not match with the second effect of pituri on users: that pituri made them drunk, or, to use a more inclusive term, it altered the users’ state of consciousness. This troubled two scientists, Johnston and Cleland In 1933/4 they jointly authored a review on the literature which detailed pituri consumption up to that date. In this, Johnson and Cleland suggested that nicotine and nor- nicotine might not constitute pituri’s active ingredient at all. Instead, they opted for one or more of the tropane family of alkaloids: hyoscine, scopolamine, hyoscyamus, nor-hyoscyamus, anabasine and atropine.

The Beat ‘generation’ of writers, including the Beat Poets and Carlos Castaneda, made plants containing these chemicals famous: deadly night-shade, henbane, the devil’s apple, Jimson weed, mandrake, belladonna, datura. Their names resonate with ideas not only of altered consciousness (which would dovetail with the second effect of pituri) but with witchcraft, divination, hallucinations, shamanism, body/mind separation and soul flight. And at one time or another, social groups almost everywhere—Asia; Europe; Africa; and North, Middle and South America—sought to create these changes in themselves or to access these states, by utilizing tropane-containing plants.

So Johnson and Cleland’s idea was not an off -the- wall proposition. In fact, tropane alkaloids do exist in the roots of D. .hopwoodii plants, but not in the leaves and young shoots which compose the drug pituri. In fact if tropane alkaloids had been present in the drug itself it would have been impossible to use in the Central Australian deserts as described. The effects tropane alkaloids have on the human eye would not permit it.

Atropine, a representative member of the tropane group, is the chemical ophthalmologists and eye surgeons use to enlarge the iris (the lens part of the the eye) for diagnostic purposes. With atropine use, blinding light assaults the naked retina. Even a wet and soggy Melbourne day would have too much light for an ‘atropined’ eye, let alone a long distance march under the merciless desert sun. So for the time being at least I rejected tropane alkaloids as the active ingredient in pituri,.


All this while I pursued other avenues of enquiry about pituri’s mysterious ingredient. Luckily, the Queensland Museum had a pristine, unopened package of pituri, still woven about with natural fibers and human hair. It was old. The museum acquired it in 1901, making the age of its plant material even older again. Dr W. Griffin, a colleague of mine and an expert in pharmacognosy, agreed to analyze this . Next, I turned to the plant from which Aboriginal people produced their drug:that is  Duboisia hopwoodii. Could this be the source of the anomaly, or the means of pinpointing it, I wondered? I reasoned that D.hopwood1i,being a native Australian plant possibilypoisoned ‘Western’ grazing animals, i.e sheep and cattle. So I leafed through plant toxicology records.

After finalizing these tasks, I had little doubt that the prepared pituri did contained nicotine and nor-nicotine, and not tropane alkaloids. Dr W. Griffith’s analysis had revealed only the normal break-down product of nicotine and nor-nicotine. Similarly, Government plant toxicity records  indicated that the D.howoodii plants from which Aboriginal people prepared pituri contained nicotine and nor-nicotine in the plant leaves and stems: no tropanes (and see below).

Resolving the nicotine versus tropane alkaloid controversy pleased me greatly, Nevertheless, there remained those awkward statements: ‘glazed eyes’; ‘the stupid expression of the opium user’, ‘a sort of coma’, ‘comatose’ ‘a dreamy voluptuous sensation’ etc. These did not sound like nicotine effects to me. . Then, the inappropriateness behind my thinking kicked in. I should not be cogitating in terms of how Westerners used nicotine. I should examine nicotine use in its birth-place—the Americas. I resorted, in short, to the use of ethnographic analogy as I discussed in my First Post.

This was the clincher. The indigenous peoples of the Americas deployed nicotine (in the form of tobacco) in some strikingly similar ways to Aboriginal Australians consuming pituri. ‘The natives used tobacco to relieve physical stress and to intoxicate themselves’, wrote a Spanish priest soon after first contact between European and Indigene. Fortunately, early European researchers took care to record how the indigenous inhabitants interpreted their own behaviour in using tobacco. They believed it facilitated achieving an ecstatic or mystical state. In this condition users communicated with gods. and supplicated them for cures, advice and direction.

Native Americans employed tobacco in many forms—often (perhaps always) mixed with alkali ash, as native Australian people had done. They drank tobacco solutions; they licked  tobacco , they sucked tobacco (both of which seems a better description of what happens when either tobacco or pituri are reported to be chewed) they applied tobacco in pastes to the skin through which it readily passed: Again  just as Australian Aboriginal people were doing in pasting the pituri quid behind their ears). Native Americans  snuffed tobacco up their nostrils; they applied to their eyes; they injected tobacco rectally via enemas. Of these many routes of administration, scholars think the earliest may have been tobacco mixed with alkali ash, then chewed or sucked as Aboriginal people did in Australia. This produces a gradual intoxication.

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