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Boletus manicus (Nonda gegwants Nyimbil)

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION: Revue de Mycologie 28(3-4):280-281, 1963.

Boletus manicus Heim was first collected and described by the French mycologist Roger Heim [1900-1979] from the Wahgi Valley in the Western Highlands District of the Territory of New Guinea (now the Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea) (Heim 1963a; 1965). In August to September 1963, Heim visited the Wahgi Valley for three weeks with American ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson (Heim 1963a; 1963b; 1965; 1966; 1972; 1973; 1978; Heim & Wasson 1964; 1965). Heim and Wasson visited the Wahgi Valley to investigate reports by Australian anthropologist Marie Reay that the Kuma people of the Nangamp cultural group used apparently hallucinogenic fungi (Reay 1959; 1960).

TAXONOMY: Family: Boletaceae; Order: Agaricales; Class: Basidiomycetes.

SYNONYM: Tubiporus manicus (Heim 1972:171; Rätsch 1998).

VERNACULAR NAMES: [Kuma] nonda gegwants ngimbigl (Heim 1972:171; Heim & Wasson 1964; 1965) or nonda gegwants nyimbil (Reay 1977).

CHOROLOGY: Wahgi Valley, Western Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea.

HABITAT: Originally found growing around the village of Kondambi in the Wahgi Valley.

MYCOLOGICAL DESCRIPTION: PILEUS 13-16 cm in diameter, hemispheric, expanded, typically thick, usually creamy white but ranges through biscuit colour to walnut with brownish-red spots, downy-velvet skin with mainly involuted borders and the flesh beneath the cuticle is firm with a leafy green appearance tinged with lemon and cream, colouration somewhat more intense inside the cap being a pale bluish lemon but is a deeper yellow in young mushrooms, shallow hymenium (+ 5 mm) which is not decurrent, brick-red at first and later streaked with moss-green.
STIPE cylindrical, pestle-shaped, thick but not stubby, thinner towards the top and becoming thicker near the base which has a markedly root like appearance, lacking any red tinge but has green markings at the base, faintly pink at the top, upper section has polygonal reddish-pink network.
FLESH has a quite strong smell and bitter taste.
SPORES 9-10.8 X 4-4.6 µ (Heim 1972:172).
Heim (1972) has compared B. manicus to the European species Boletus satanas Lenz [Boletaceae]. Like B. satanas, B. manicus has a whitish, felt-covered cap, a red hymenium, a marked red network on the stipe and a strong smell. However, B. satanas is larger in size, has a thick stipe shorter than the cap, lacks a marked root-like base and heavy red markings. The flesh of B. satanas is almost white, soft and almost sweet rather than bitter. B. satanas has deep tubes which are sometimes blackish stained and has larger spores (11-16 X 5-7µ). B. manicus then is smaller and more slender that B. satanas and its flesh is firmer, bitter and more highly coloured. The stipe of B. manicus has a root-like base and lacks any red except in the network on the upper stipe. B. manicus also has narrow tubes and smaller spores (Heim 1972:173).

HISTORY: The use of nonda mushrooms was first reported from the Mount Hagen area of the Western Highlands by Father William A. Ross (1936:351). Ross, an American Catholic priest of the Divine Word (S. V. D.) who had been living in the Wahgi Valley since 1933, noted that "...ginger [Zingiber spp. (Zingiberaceae)] called kobena and a kind of wild mushroom called nonda" were the only "...quasi-narcotics [sic] or stimulants" used in the Mount Hagen area (1936:351). According to Ross (1936:351) "...The wild mushroom called nonda makes the user temporarily insane. He flies into a fit of frenzy. Death is even known to have resulted from its use. It is used before going out to kill another native, or in times of great excitement, anger or sorrow". American anthropologist Abraham L. Gitlow also referred to the use of "...a type of wild mushroom" called nonda from the Mount Hagen area (1947:18). Gitlow's description of nonda (1947:18) is similar to the description by Ross (1936:351). According to Gitlow, "...The wild mushroom incites fits of frenzy, and has even been known to result in death. It is taken before going out to kill an enemy, or in times of anger, sorrow, or excitement" (1947:18). Ross's original description of nonda mushrooms (1936:351) has also been reported in several publications (Vicedom & Tischner 1943-1948; Wasson & Wasson 1957; Dobkin de Rios 1984). The pioneering ethnomycologists Valentina Pavlovna Wasson and R. Gordon Wasson learned of Father Ross' account of nonda mushrooms in the Wahgi Valley and described the effects of nonda mushrooms in their epic work Mushrooms Russia and History (1957).

American mycologist Rolf Singer (1958) then identified nonda as a single new species, Russula nondorbingi Singer [Russulaceae]. Singer had examined specimens of nonda that had been sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, by Dorothy Shaw from the Papua New Guinea Department of Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries (Shaw 1972). Nonda, according to Singer (1958) produced "cerebral mycetisms". Singer, however, never visited the Wahgi Valley to collect nonda mushrooms.

In early October 1954, Australian anthropologist Marie Reay had observed that some of the Kuma who lived near Minj in the Central Wahgi Valley (Western Highlands District, New Guinea) suddenly began to run "amuck" (1959:188). The Kuma attributed this behaviour to eating a "mushroom-like fungus, nonda" (Reay 1959:188). Nonda was eaten by the Kuma all year, but at certain times of the year it produced "...temporary insanity in some" (Reay 1959:188). Reay first reported the use of nonda mushrooms by the Kuma in her monograph The Kuma: Freedom and Conformity in the New Guinea Highlands (1959:188-190). A brief ethnographic report by Reay ("'Mushroom madness' in the New Guinea Highlands") appeared in the journal Oceania in 1960 and discussed the use of the apparently hallucinogenic fungus nonda among the Kuma (1960). Reay originally informally identified four varieties of nonda associated with the outbreak of "mushroom madness" among the Kuma: tuaadwa (white with yellow stem); kermaikip (red with white stem); ngam-kindjkants (orange) and ngam-ngam (orange with purple middle stem) (1960: 137; vide Heim 1963b:197-198). Heim identified all four types of nonda described by Reay (1960:137) as species of Boletus: B. nigroviolaceus Heim [Boletaceae] (tuaadwa); B. nigerrimus Heim [Boletaceae] (kermaikip); B. kumaeus Heim [Boletaceae] (ngamp-kindjkants); and B. reayi Heim [Boletaceae] (ngam-ngam) (1963a; 1963b; Emboden 1972:26). Heim and R. Gordon Wasson decided to "...explore Minj and the Mt. Hagen area with a view to making further observations and collecting the species involved" (Heim 1972:171). Heim and Wasson spent three weeks in the Wahgi Valley in August and September 1963 with Reay and collected and identified nonda mushrooms associated with Kuma "mushroom madness" (Heim & Wasson 1964; 1965). As a result, Heim and Wasson collected and identified eleven species of nonda associated with Kuma "mushroom madness": Boletus flammeus Heim [Boletaceae] (nonda ulné Kobi); B. kumaeus Heim [Boletaceae] (nonda ngamp kindjkants); B. manicus Heim [Boletaceae] (nonda gegwants ngimbigl); B. nigerrimus Heim [Boletaceae] (nonda kermaipip); B. nigroviolaceus Heim [Boletaceae] (nonda tua-rua); B. reayi Heim [Boletaceae] (nonda ngam-ngam); Heimiella anguiformis Heim [Boletaceae] (nonda mbolbe); Russula agglutinata Heim [Russulaceae] (nonda mos); R. kirinea Heim [Russulaceae] (kirin); R. maenadum Heim [Russulaceae] (nonda mos); and R. psuedomaenadum Heim [Russulaceae] (nonda wam) (Heim 1972:171-172). Heim & Wasson (1965:20) concluded that "...The mushrooms - or at least most of them - do not seem to cause physiological effects leading to madness", thus establishing that these species of nonda had no hallucinogenic properties (cf. Heim 1972).

ETHNOBOTANICAL DATA: B. manicus has been mentioned in several popular books on psychoactive plants (Emboden 1972; 1979; Schultes & Hofmann 1979; 1992; Ott 1993; 1996; Rätsch 1998). The Kuma name for this mushroom, nonda gegwants ngimbigl or nonda gegwants nyimbil, means literally "left-handed penis" because of the shape of the stem which to the Kuma evidently is reminiscent of a man's penis (Reay 1977:67-68) The Kuma also believed that this mushroom must be picked with the left hand (Reay 1977:68).

B. manicus is one of six mushroom species considered to be responsible for komugl taï and ndaadl among the Kuma (Heim 1972:171). Komugl taï is "...the condition of persons allegedly affected by mushrooms... [and] signifies a 'shivering madness'" (Reay 1977:55). The term also refers to a 1949 cargo cult that the Kuma participated in (Reay 1977:55). In Yu Wi (Yoowi), the language of the Kuma, Komugl means "ear" and also "deafness" (Reay 1977:55; Heim & Wasson 1965:15). In other areas of Papua New Guinea where outbreaks of temporary madness also occur, the local term for the state of madness also often indicates "deafness" (Clarke 1973:199). Among the Kuma, the term komugl covers any kind of inability to comprehend, including permanent and temporary madness (Reay 1977:55; Heim & Wasson 1965:15). Komugl is directly translatable into Tok Pisin (Pidgin) as "longlong" ("mad" or "madness") (Reay 1977:55). Taï is the Kuma formal name for the Raggiana Bird of Paradise (Paradisaea raggiana). However, in the context of the cargo cult and "mushroom madness", taï means "shivering" (Reay 1977:56). This is suggested to be based on the male Raggiana bird shivering to display his plumes (Heim & Wasson 1965:15; Reay 1977:56). Komugl taï then literally means "shivering deafness" in Yu Wi (Yoowi).

Ndaadl (daad) is the term for the condition of Kuma women during komugl taï and is also the name of the dance performed by the women (Reay 1960:139). Kuma women did not usually eat B. manicus (Reay 1977:67). B. manicus, however, could affect both men and women in the same way. In 1965 Reay (1977:67-68) observed a woman who was said to have eaten nonda gegwants nyimbil (B. manicus). This woman became aggressive like men affected by komugl taï and seized a spear and ran around threatening other women (Reay 1977:67-68).

CHEMISTRY AND ACTIVITY: B. manicus has been reported to contain indolic substances (Heim 1965; 1972; 1978; Ott 1993:422; Rätsch 1998:688) [1]. Albert Hofmann detected trace amounts of three indolic substances in B. manicus (Heim 1965; 1978; Ott 1993:298&422; 1999). Heim (1972:173) has suggested that these indolic substances "...could be psychotropic". As a result, Heim conducted three bioassays with B. manicus (Heim 1965; 1972; 1978). Three trials with "weak doses" (less than 60 mg (Ott 1993:298)) of B. manicus were attempted by Heim, who suggested that "...the amounts were insufficient to make any definite deductions" (Heim 1972:173). However, in the second trial, the ingestion of a powder made by crushing the flesh of B. manicus was followed by "...the appearance of several luminous, fleeting visions during the course of a dream" (Heim 1972:173; vide Heim 1965; 1978).

KNOWN EFFECTS: B. manicus has been reported to have "...somewhat toxic properties" (Schultes & Hofmann 1979:36). Evidence for the presence of indolic substances in B. manicus can be found in the description of both the auditory and visual effects of nonda mushrooms (Reay 1977). After ingesting a species of nonda, most likely the variety gegwants nyimbil (B. manicus), Kuma men experienced "Lilliputian hallucinations" [sic] of bush-demons flying about their heads (Reay 1977:59). Such demons would "buzz" about their heads. It was reported by one Kuma man who had eaten nonda that these demons also made a "...strange and terrible noise 'inside his ears' which he interpreted as a bush-demon boxing his ears" (Reay 1977:59). Psilocybine and other tryptamines often produce a similar "buzzing" noise (Beach 1996-1997:13). The Kuma regarded bush-demons as "...tiny, two-dimensional, and often transparent creatures... [and]... always identified cartoon figures... readily and positively as representations of bush-demons". Kuma bush-demons were seen, heard or felt to be any size up to the length of a person's forearm and could either be fat or thin. However, during komugl tai bush demons were supposed to be about the same size and proportions as wild bees (Reay 1977: 59 n.7). Ethnopsychiatrist B. G. Burton-Bradley (1970) has claimed that the Kuma's nonda-induced hallucinations of bush demons are "...more bizarre" than any other descriptions of bush-demons elsewhere in Papua New Guinea. "Lilliputian hallucinations" [sic] have also been experienced with the ludible use of some tryptamines (O'Rorke 1998:32). On the basis of these ethnographic observations, I conjecture that B. manicus may contain psychoactive constituent(s).


[1] An unidentified species of Boletus (section Ixocomus, group Nudi) known as "Namanama" was collected in the Mount Hagen area in 1963 (Gellert et al. 1973:689-670; Rätsch 1998:688). This mushroom was known locally to have "hallucinatory activity" involving "multiple or inverted vision" (Gellert et al. 1973:689). Pharmacological tests to detect LSD, mescaline or psilocybine type activity were negative (Gellert et al. 1973:690). Amino acids (alanine, glycine, valine, leucine, isoleucine, threonine, L-2-amino-4-methylhex-5-enoic acid and methionine) and steroids (ergosterol, steroid A, steroid B) were isolated from this Boletus species (Rudzats et al. 1972; Gellert et al. 1973; Gellert et al. 1978).


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