Shamans Of The Amazon Compile Encyclopaedia
The invaluable knowledge of the Amazonian shamans is no longer at risk of being lost to time; they have come together to put their work in writing.
The Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse locations on this planet; for the people that live there, it holds a wealth of knowledge and understanding not known to anyone else. This is why it is a travesty when the customs, traditional remedies, and knowledge of the local plant life is snuffed out by globalisation. It is something seen happen time after time. However, seeing the danger of such a situation, shamans of the Matsés Amazonian tribe have come together to create a 500-page encyclopaedia documenting their traditional medicines - ensuring their knowledge is preserved through time.
It is a great idea, and marks the first time any Amazonian tribe has put their complete knowledge into words. The encyclopaedia, compiled by five shamans, details every plant used in Matsés medicine. It is not simple folk medicine either. The plants of the Amazon have all sorts of unusual properties, and Western science has only been able to analyse so many of them. While they may not know the exact science, the knowledge held by the shamans far outweighs our own and has the potential to grow our understanding exponentially.
As you can probably imagine, this makes the compiled knowledge very attractive for the pharmaceutical industry, who would harness their knowledge for their profit. Sadly, it has resulted in the encyclopaedia being compiled in the shamans’ language, with no plans for a translation – to prevent the knowledge cannot be stolen. Instead, it is intended to act as a guide for future generations of shamans, guiding them in learning the teachings of their elders.
The encyclopaedia was written with the support of Acaté, a conservationist group who hopes this new reference will act as a template for other tribes to preserve their ancestral and medical knowledge.
Chris Henderson, co-founder of Acaté, was personally involved in the project. "With the medicinal plant knowledge disappearing fast among most indigenous groups and no one to write it down, the true losers in the end are tragically the indigenous stakeholders themselves.”
In an attempt to further the shamans’ cause Acaté have also started a programme helping connect the remaining shamans with potential protégés, helping pass the knowledge on to future generations of the Matsés people.
The shamans of the Amazon know the plants of the rainforest like no one else, and it is amazing to hear that such valuable knowledge is finally being preserved. However, it is a great shame that it remains so secretive. Yes, the knowledge has the potential to be abused, but it could also hold the potential to improve the lives of millions. The larger medical community could stand to learn a lot from the shamans’ insights, and it could help cut down the amount of explorative research required. Either way, this is still nothing but a good thing, and ensures that future generations can practice and pass on the knowledge of their forefathers.