Wetenschap - 16 maart 1995

The Shaman

The Shaman

Dr. Mark J. Plotkin, ethnobotanist and author of Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice: An Ethnobotanist Searches for New Medicines in the Amazon Rain Forest (Penguin Books) gave an intriguing presentation of his work in the Amazon to an audience at Hinkeloord on Thursday March 9th. Using numerous examples, Dr. Plotkin told the story of how western modern medicine and pharmaceutical industries are indebted to the knowledge and wisdom of the shamans and healers in the tropics. Despite this fact, he underscored that the people of the forests have never benefitted from the multi-million dollar industry. He outlined how commercial interests, with an eye on short term timber profits and the advancement of western civilization, are threatening the Amazon's vast treasures of botanical secrets and its inhabitants.

According to Dr.Plotkin, Every time a shaman dies, it is as if a library burned down." Without the wisdom of the local people, the secrets are lost. Dr.Plotkin emphasizes that tropical forestry studies require a more holistic approach which includes an ethno-ecological dimension. The crisis also requires devising alternative economic strategies. He heralds initiatives such as, Shaman Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Healing Forest Conservancy. The latter is a non-profit organization set up to return all profits from new pharmaceutical developments back to the indigenous people.

The book reads like a novel but is full of information and facts on the secrets of the Amazon. Dr. Plotkin, formerly director of the plant programme at the Worldwide Fund for Nature, is now the vice president of Conservation International, an environmental organization based in Washington D.C..

The Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice, M.J. Plotkin, Penguin Books, ISBN 0-670-83137-9

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