Bute also known as Snuff is ground tobacco which is used for various purposes in Zimbabwe.


The types of bute or snuff are:


This type of bute or snuff does not come from modern tobacco. It is farmed mostly on river beds, on silt deposits when water levels decrease. It does not require any chemical fertilisers to grow, thus it is purely organic.

Jambwa’s preparations include boiling in clay pots, mixing it with oils from the acacia tree. [1]

Tobacco Snuff/Mudhombo

This is made from modern crops like Virginia and barley tobacco.

Virginia is flu-cured in bans, while barley is air-cured (hanged to dry).

From Virginia, stalks are used to make bute while the leafy parts are used for barley.

For barley, bute makers favour the leaves at the bottom which are said to possess a high nicotine concentration.[1][2]



Bute is used for a process known in Shona culture as Kusumira.

Kusumira is the method the living use to communicate with their ancestors when informing them about something important or requesting their assistance.

For one to carry out the process they need some snuff or bute rematare. The procedure can be done before sunrise or after sunset. The person carrying out the procedure should kneel down facing the east. Below is the procedure in detail:

  • Take the first pinch of snuff and put it on the ground and dedicate it to your paternal grandfather (or great grandfather if the grandfather is alive) and the rest of the paternal ancestors while clapping your hands and addressing them by their totem.
  • Take the second pinch of snuff and dedicate it to all the grandmothers. The grandmothers are many and have different totems therefore you do not mention any totem here.
  • The last pinch you dedicate it to the maternal ancestors and mention their name and totem. At this point you have three pinches of snuff in front of you.
  • You then start by telling your ancestors your name, your father’s name, your grandfather’s name, your great-grandfather’s name up to the name that you know. Now you are ready to say what you want to say.
  • When you have finished kusumira, you leave the snuff there overnight and then sweep it off.
  • If the circumstances are such that you cannot follow the above procedures, and have kusumira in a hurry, you can quickly put your snuff on the ground and call upon your paternal grandfather (or great-grandfather) because, in the spiritual world, he is the one responsible for you.
  • Other people use mealie meal or even coins in kusumira. Others do not put the snuff on the ground but in a wooden plate. Find out the procedures used by your people.[3]

Medicinal Uses

Bute, Snuff or Mudhombo can be used for medicinal purposes. Though not scientifically proven, according to traditional healers snuff or bute has medicinal properties.

According to traditional healers interviewed by ZBC bute or snuff can be used to treat:

  • stomachaches
  • Headaches

One of the healers, Sekuru Banda warned individuals that bute or snuff should be taken with caution saying taking bute in large doses can cause heart diseases and cancer. He said:

"Bute has got nicotine and should be taken in small doses because it might cause heart diseases or cancer. We don’t encourage people to sniff bute all the time. Even when our ancestors used bute for various ailments they administered it in small doses...But please note, bute is addictive because of the nicotine components, people should not take it all the time or else we will have people even small kids moving around with snuff boxes."



There was a high demand for bute or snuff because people believed that if one sniffs it they are able to sneeze and clear their nostrils and chest hence some people were using it to treat Covid-19 symptoms.

Speaking on the use of traditional medicines to cure Covid-19, the Ministry of Health and Child Care said there was need for scientific research to ascertain the effectiveness of traditional medicines, especially when it comes to the novel coronavirus.

A Traditional Medicines Department was established to spearhead research in that area.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kundai Marunya, Snuff takes over the young, The Herald, Published: February 15, 2020, Retrieved: January 26, 2021
  2. Professor Sheunesu Mpepereki, Reclaiming our African spiritual independence: Part Three, The Patriot, Published: October 16, 2014, Retrieved: January 26, 2021
  3. Paying homage to ancestors, Financial Gazette, Published: May 1, 2014, Retrieved: January 26, 2021
  4. 4.0 4.1 Justin Mahlahla, Traditionalists explain the use of snuff as a pain stop, ZBC, Published: January 2021, Retrieved: January 26, 2021