The ambil (in uitoto : yera ) is a black paste used by several peoples of the northwestern Amazon that is obtained from the cooking of tobacco leaves ( Nicotiana rustica ) by mixing them with alkaline vegetable salts.

It is similar in its preparation to the chimó of western Venezuela and north of the plains of Colombia.

Geographical distribution

Consumption of ambil is common among Chibcha linguistic groups of northern Colombia , traditional peoples and the north-western Amazon as the Kogui , Andoque and Ijka , as well as in the reservation Predio Putumayo (between the regions of Caquetá and Putumayo ). It is also found among the Uitoto , Bora , Yukuna of the Miriti-Parana River and groups of the Apaporis River.

Cultural importance

The ambil, like snuff snuff , pipe smoking , purging , enema and liquid nasal , has come and continues to be used by traditional cultures of South America in a medicinal , ritual and sacred. Tobacco in ambil and coca in mambe are used in the mambeaderoby men to exchange the word and make decisions of vital importance to the community, is not so much a model for decision making but an ethics for decision making.

In uitoto culture , offering ambil is a sign of friendship, rejecting it as a sign of hostility. It is considered a sacred substance that gives life, protection, socializes and provides moral discernment. According to Londoño, who studied the Muinane ethnic group :

… it is assumed that the ambil inside the container provides the consumer with appropriate thoughts / emotions, “assents” and fixes in his basket of knowledge the instrumental words he hears, and enables him to express them. Moreover, the ambil is supposed to “awaken” the person, bringing them to a state of full and vigilant awareness, and sensitizes their body in such a way that they recognize the presence of the menacing evil by means of tingling sensations in the back and the skin, or through the toes, that feel the earth in the same way that the roots of tobacco feel.

Muinane: a moral in perpetuity project (2004)

For the Muinane , the spirit of tobacco is breath (in uitoto : jag i and i ) and that a person prepares, possesses and uses ambil demonstrates that his word has value for the community. The word uitoto for ambil is yera , where ye- means ‘behavior’ and the suffix -ra ‘substance’, then for them ambil means “substance of behavior”. The concept of yetárafue ( ye- ‘behavior’; -ta- ‘make’; -rafue ‘word’) It means “Word to make one behave” (or “Word of discipline”) and is the basis for taking care of the family. And given the rigor and discipline required for the preparation of ambil, owning and using ambil is also a sign of adulthood:

Mambeadores often cite certain proverbial situations that illustrate the importance of having tobacco. In one of these situations, an irritable elder demands from a young man that he speaks in advance of the mambeadero to show him that his words come from a true substance. The old man says it like this, “Where is his strength? Where is what makes him speak?” When the proverbial young man admits that he has neither amble nor coca to show, the old man embarrasses him, claiming that his words are lies that will not bring good results, and that he should remain silent. The man who owns a container with ambil, shows that he has successfully produced tobacco. This in turn is evidence of the willingness to work hard … A young man who has not shown this disposition or who does not make his knowledge manifest through material production does not have to speak in the mambeadero. His talk is still soft and weak, his morality still unverified, and his power over the world, minimal.

Muinane: a moral project in perpetuity (2004)

Preparation of the ambil

The ambil of snuff is prepared as follows:

    1. Washing : the fresh leaves of tobacco are washed in cold water to remove the resins and dust that cover them.
    1. Boiled : the leaves are boiled for a period of 12 to 20 hours.
    1. Filtering : the bagasse is separated from the tobacco juice obtained with a cloth filter, taking care not to waste any of the liquid.
    1. Cooking : the juice is cooked over low heat until it reaches a thick consistency and an intense purple color.
    1. Mixed : thick juice is mixed with vegetable salts.
    1. Evaporation : cook again at low heat until all the water evaporates and only a black and elastic paste remains.
  1. Storage : the paste is usually placed in a small gourd (in uitoto : yerak i ) or similar container. It can last from 4 to 5 months, if it is not finished before it is discarded.

All this process of elaboration is ritual, so it is accompanied by songs and prayers to the tobacco. To use the ambil, a small amount of the container is extracted with the finger, a stick or a spatula and then lick or suck it into the mouth. It differs from the chimó in that the mixing is done not with plant salts but with ash water and some additives.

Preparation of plant salts

Plant salts are prepared as follows:

    1. Burned : It burns plant material from a selection of plants such as Rapatea sp. (in uitoto : eragua i ), Astrocaryum gynacanthum (in uitoto : tidori ), among others.
    1. Extraction of the salts : the salt of the ashes is leached with water using a cloth filter.
  1. Drying : the brine is boiled until obtaining the dry salts.


  1. ↑ Gately , Iain (2002). «Tobacco: The Story of How Tobacco Seduced the World» . Washington Post . Retrieved on March 24, 2017 .
  2. ↑ Kamen-Kaye 1971: 2, 12.
  3. ↑ Echeverri 2015: 108.
  4. ↑ Oyuela-Caycedo , Augusto ; Kawa , Nicholas C. (2015). «A Deep History of Tobacco in Lowland South America» . In Russell , Andrew ; Rahman , Elizabeth . The Master Plant: Tobacco in Lowland South America (in English : Bloomsbury Academic Publishing). ISBN  978-1350007390 . Retrieved on March 24, 2017.
  5. ^ Pérez Villareal , Ana María (2009). «Traditional medical system with Sanpedro and teaching to healers of the master Marco Mosquera Huatay». Culture and Drug Magazine (Manizales: Universidad de Caldas ) 14(16): 96-97. ISSN  0122-8455 .
  6. ↑ Polia Meconi , Mario (1996), “Wake up, remedy, count …”: diviners and doctors from Ande , Lima: Editorial Fund of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru , pp. 331-332, ISBN  9972-42-050-7
  7. ↑ Puig Domenech 2008: 40.
  8. ↑ Pereira 2011: 89.
  9. ↑ Echeverri 2008: 129.
  10. ↑ Jump to:b Londoño 2004: 42.
  11. ↑ Echeverri 2008: 47.
  12. ↑ Echeverri 2008: 28.
  13. ↑ Echeverri 2008: 97.
  14. ↑ Londoño 2004: 53.
  15. ↑ Echeverri 2015: 113-116.
  16. ↑ Londoño 2004: 44-45.
  17. ↑ Kamen-Kaye 1971: 36.
  18. ↑ Bríñez Pérez , Ana Hilda (2002), Casabe: cohesive symbol of the Uitoto culture , Bogotá: Ministry of Culture, p. 159, ISBN  9789588159188
  19. ↑ Suarez , Carlos . «Mambe, From the maloca to the university» . . Retrieved on March 25, 2017 .
  20. ↑ Kamen-Kaye 1971: 45-46.
  21. ↑ Echeverri 2015: 113, 115.
  22. ↑ Marmolejo , Diana ; Montes , María Emilia ; Bernal , Rodrigo (2008). «Amerindian names of the palms (Palmae) of Colombia» . Peruvian Journal of Biology (Lima: Faculty of Biological Sciences, UNMSM ) 15(sup.1 Palm trees in South America): 151-190 . ISSN  1727-9933 .
  23. ↑ Galeano, G. 1992. The palms of the Araracuara region. Studies in the Colombian Amazon. Faculty of Natural Sciences, National University of Colombia. Second edition. Bogota Colombia. 179 p.
  24. ↑ Echeverri 2008: 280-281.