Huito is a medicinal teacher plant: its fruit, when ripe, is particularly efficacious as a cure for asthma and other bronchial problems, colds and also sexual impotence. When green, or unripe, the juice of the fruit is almost black and is used as a dye by the Shipibos for painting traditional designs on cloth and wooden sculptures – and also on the face or body. It is also effective as a hair dye.
Shamans use huito juice to create tattoos for those taking part in the ceremonies which are depictions of the arcana or spiritual protector that has been conferred on each individual generally during his or her first or second ayahuasca ceremony – although the arcana, which is channelled, but not chosen, by the shaman, may also present itself during ceremonies of San Pedro or tobacco. The tattoos symbolise and reinforce the transmission of the arcana’s energy to the recipient; when finished, the shaman ‘icaro’s’ a mapacho cigarette and blows smoke over the area of the body where the tattoo has been painted. To icaro is to bless, in shamanic terms, invoking the spirits – of mapacho, in this case – with very specific intention regarding both the individual concerned and the particular objective of the ritual.
The tattoo may be painted wherever on the body the guest chooses: the huito dye is not permanent but fades to a most attractive sepia-like brown and generally disappears after a week or so.