The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Pituri

 

Other Names

 

Bedgery, pedgery, pitchery, pitchuri, pitjuri, pituribissen, pituripriem, pituri quid

 

Pituri, in the broadest sense, is a word given to all plants and all products obtained from these plants (with additives) that the Australian Aborigines chewed or chew for hedonistic and magical purposes. The more recent literature uses pituri only to refer to the nightshade Duboisia hopwoodii (Horton 1994).

Usually pituri leaves are mixed with alkaline plant ashes and chewed as a quid. In this practice, the chewing of various wild tobacco species (Nicotiana ingulbaN. gosseiN. stimulansN. benthamianaN. velutinaN. megalosiphon [cf. Nicotiana spp.], and Goodenia lunata) has more of a hedonistic character, whereas the chewing of Duboisia hopwoodii and Datura species452 is more magical and religious in nature. The smoking of pituri may have developed as a result of exposure to the smoking habits of Europeans (Emboden 1979, 146*).

Pituri takes away hunger and thirst, has inebriating effects, and induces ardent dreams. This is presumably the reason why the Aborigines use(d) pituri as a magical agent. In Aboriginal magic, entering into what is known as the Dreaming, the transcendent and primordial state of being, is of primary significance. The Dreaming is an altered or different state of consciousness:

 

Everything in nature is a symbolic footprint of the metaphysical world, through whose actions our world was created. As with a seed, the inherent power of a place is also coupled with the memory of its origin. The Aborigines call this power the Dreaming, the dream of the place, and this dream is the foundation for the sacredness of the earth. Only in extraordinary levels of consciousness can one perceive the inner dream of the earth or attune oneself to it. (Lawlor 1993, 1)

 

It is in the Dreaming that all magical actions that affect the normal state (which is understood to be unreal) are determined and carried out. It appears that there were different types of pituri for different purposes and that the different types were associated with different songs, totems, and the corresponding dream paths or songlines. Several songlines were sung as “pituri paths.” There were even pituri clans (Watson et al. 1983, 308). Pituri was considered to be charged with the place of the land; it carries the dream of the place in which it grows and passes this on to humans.

The ritual and hedonistic use of pituri may be the longest continuous cultural use of a psycho-active substance in the history of all humankind. The culture of the Aborigines is the longest continuous culture in the world. It is possible that the Dreaming ancestors of the Aborigines were chewing pituri some forty thousand to sixty thousand years ago (Lawlor 1993).

 

Fermented pituri leaves (Duboisia hopwoodii) are the basis of pituri quids.

 

 

This painting by the Aboriginal artist Walangari Karntawarra Jakamarra (Collin McCormick) depicts the pituri plants as round, gray dots. (Detail, oil painting, ca. 1993)

 

“The natives also stick the chewed [pituri] in their ear, which causes their eyes to take on an unusual shine and their pupils to become very dilated.”

 

CARL HARTWICH

 

DIE MENSCHLICHEN GENUßMITTEL [THE HUMAN AGENTS OF PLEASURE]

 

(1911, 834 f.*)

 

The Gathering and Preparation of Pituri

 

Although Duboisia hopwoodii and Nicotiana spp. are both widespread in Australia, there are nevertheless certain areas that are preferred for gathering the plants. In the ethnographic and ethnobotanical literature, the authors repeatedly express their surprise that the Aborigines of the northern desert regions, where Duboisia bushes grow in abundance, nevertheless prefer leaves imported from the distant east. Unfortunately, no sources have been preserved that provide information as to why the Aborigines prefer the leaves from the eastern regions. There were presumably magical reasons, as the gathering of pituri always takes place according to certain songlines. The leaves are charged with the energy of the place or the land on which they grew. (It may be that the Aborigines were psychoactive gourmets who, like other gourmets, preferred cognac over all other brandies.) Before the Aborigines had contact with Europeans, there was an extensive network of trade in the central desert, and the so-called pituri roads on which the prized pituri was traded were a part of this (Emboden 1979, 145*).

 

 

The resins of various species of eucalyptus are added to pituri quids.

 

The very elaborate, complicated, and sophisticated processing methods used in the preparation of botanical raw products, e.g., to detoxify or enhance a plant’s activity, are a typical feature of Australian ethnopharmocology (Beck 1992). Simple methods for preparing food and products play only a subordinate role. The Aborigines appear to have possessed a great skillfulness in the processing of medicinal and culinary products, and they spent a great deal of their time practicing these techniques (Isaacs 1987*).

Various ingredients are added to the dried or fermented pituri leaves to produce a quid. Some of these ingredients are plant ashes, while others are binding agents, such as animal hair (from wallabies, euros or wallaroos [a small kangaroo species], or rabbits), plant fibers (Linum marginale), yellow ocher, eucalyptus resin, and, in recent times, sugar (Peterson 1979, 179). Duboisia leaves can also be chewed by themselves, but the effects are not considered to be particularly powerful. Nicotiana species are always chewed in combination with plant ashes (O’Connell et al. 1983, 108).

All of the plants that are used as sources of ashes contain active constituents. The Aborigines have long used acacia wood, especially that from the mulga acacia, to make boomerangs, spear tips, digging sticks, and shields (Low 1992b, 181*). Acacias (Acacia spp.) have been found to contain alkaloids (tryptamines, e.g., N,N-DMT). Several acacias, such as Acacia georginae, contain the toxic substance fluoroacetate (Dowling and McKenna 1993, 146*). The ashes of both the oceanic acacia (Acacia manguim) and Melaleuca species contain salts and minerals and are rich in sodium (Ohtsuka et al. 1987). Some acacias, e.g., Acacia aneura, also produce a gum that can be added to pituri (O’Connell et al. 1983, 105). Unfortunately, we do not know how the plant ashes were produced. If acacia wood is simply burned, then it can be assumed that the DMT is destroyed by the fire. But if a special process is used to turn the wood into an ashlike substance, such as smoldering the wood at a lower temperature or a similar process, then the DMT may have been preserved, and the concentration may actually have been increased454 (cf. Erythoxylum coca).

The gum-producing genus Ventilago has also been found to contain alkaloids (Collins et al. 1990, 61*).

Rock isotome (Isotoma petraea Muell.; Campanulaceae) was added to pituri to increase its potency (Low 1990, 192*). Members of the genus Isotoma are also used for psychoactive purposes in South America, primarily as additives to ayahuasca and cimora. Some additives were also used as substitutes for Duboisia and tobacco (see the table on page 781).

Actual reports of experiences with pituri are extremely rare. The effects of the various pituri species can differ considerably, and some can be quite powerful, as Gary Thomas has experienced (G. Thomas, pers. comm.). Some appear to have potently and others only weakly stimulating effects; the effects of some are euphoriant and of others visionary. According to the reports of the painter Collin McCormick, the effects of pituri leaves, whether from Duboisia or Nicotiana, are not very good when they are used alone. Only when combined with ashes are the desired effects brought out.455 He said that “the ash functions as an amplifier to the pituri.” Because pituri quids are often only briefly chewed and then are placed behind or even into the ear, it is possible that the DMT may be absorbed into the bloodstream from this location, which is known to be highly permeable to alkaloids (scopolamine patches can be placed behind the ear as a remedy for motion sickness). Perhaps the leaves also contain MAO inhibitors, so the DMT could be orally active (cf. ayahuasca). However, it is also likely that the DMT is able to enter the brain directly via the mucous membranes of the mouth, just as it can through those of the nose. In other words, pituri could be a highly effective psychoactive combination drug whose significance has not yet been fully recognized. Future research into pituri may provide some ethnopharmacological sensations.

 

Literature

 

See also the entries for Duboisia hopwoodiiDuboisia spp., and Nicotiana spp.

 

Aiston, Georg. 1930. Magic stones of the tribes east and north-east of Lake Eyre. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania for the Year 1929: 47–50.

 

———. 1937. The Aboriginal narcotic pitcheri. Oceania 7 (3): 372–77.

 

Aplin, T. E. H., and J. R. Cannon. 1971. Distribution of alkaloids in some western Australian plants. Economic Botany 25:366–80.

 

Bancroft, J. 1879. Pituri and tobacco. Brisbane: Gov. Printer.

 

Beck, Wendy. 1992. Aboriginal preparation of cycad seeds in Australia. Economic Botany 46 (2): 133–47.

 

Burnum Burnum. 1988. Burnum Burnum’s Aboriginal Australia. Ed. David Stewart. North Ryde, New South Wales: Angus & Robertson.

 

Chatwin, Bruce. 1988. The songlines. New York: Penguin.

 

Cleland, J. Burton, and T. Harvey Johnston. 1933/34. The history of the Aboriginal narcotic pituri. Oceania 4 (2): 201–23.

 

Dingle, Tony. 1988. Aboriginal economy: Patterns of experience. Ringwood, Victoria: McPhee Gribble/Penguin Book.

 

Glowczewski, Barbara. 1991. Träumer der Wüste: Leben mit den Ureinwohnern Australiens. Vienna: Promedia.

 

Hamlyn-Harris, R., and F. Smith. 1916. On fish poisoning and poisons employed among the Aborigines of Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 5:1–22.

 

Hartwich, Carl. 1910. Über Pituri. Apotheker-Zeitung.

 

Hicks, C. S. 1963. Climatic adaptation and drug habituation of the central Australian Aborigine. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 7:39–57.

 

Higgin, J. A. 1903. An analysis of the ash of Acacia salicinaTransactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 17:202–4.

 

Horton, David, ed. 1994. The encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, society and culture. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

 

Johnston, T. H., and J. B. Clelland. 1933. The history of the Aborigine narcotic, pituri. Oceania 4 (2): 201–23, 268, 289.

 

Lawlor, Robert. 1993. Am Anfang war der Traum: Die Kulturgeschichte der Aborigines. Munich: Droemer Knaur.

 

Löffler, Anneliese, ed. 1994. Australische Märchen: Traumzeitmythen der Aborigines. Reinbek: Rowohlt.

 

Macpherson, J. 1939. The Eucalyptus in the daily life and medical practice of the Australian Aborigines. Mankind 2 (6): 175–80.

 

Mathews, Janet. 1994. Opal that turned into fire. Broome, Wash.: Magabala Books.

 

Meggit, M. J. 1966. Gadjari among Walpiri Aborigines of central Australia. Oceania 37:124–47.

 

O’Connell, James F., Peter K. Latz, and Peggy Barnett. 1983. Traditional and modern plant use among the Alyawara of central Australia. Economic Botany 27 (1): 80–109.

 

Ohtsuka, Ryutaro, Tsuguyoshi Suzuki, and Masatoshi Morita. 1987. Sodium-rich tree ash as a native salt source. Economic Botany 41 (1): 55–59.

 

Peeters, Alice. 1968. Les plantes masticatoires d’Australie. Journal d’Agriculture Tropicale et de Botanique Appliquée 15 (4/5/6): 157–71.

 

Peterson, Nicolas. 1979. Aboriginal uses of Australian Solanaceae. In The biology and taxonomy of the Solanaceae, ed. J. G. Hawkes et al., 171–89. London: Academic Press.

 

Spencer, B., and F. J. Gillen. 1899. Native tribes of central Australia. London: Macmillan.

 

Thomson, D. F. 1939. Notes on the smoking pipes of North Queensland and the Northern Territory of Australia. Man 39:81–91.

 

Watson, Pamela. 1983. This precious foliage: A study of the Aboriginal psychoactive drug pituri. Oceania Monograph 26. Sydney: University of Sydney Press.

 

Watson, P.[amela], L. O. Luanratana, and W. J. Griffin. 1983. The ethnopharmacology of pituri. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 8 (3): 303–11.