Wednesday, July 27, 2011

17-June-2011: Botanic Medicine

Today was a change of pace from our typical multi-hour rides into the jungle.  Instead of spending the day serving rural clinics, we remained in Puyo and spent it as students of the local ethnobotanical park, "Omaere".

The park was founded some 18 years ago as a means to preserve and cultivate medically and culturally important plant life as well as educate the public about the history and importance of the peoples who use it.  The park still produces traditional medicines today and makes them available to both medical and non-medical personnel alike, typically within a few hours of Puyo.  While this approach to healing is certainly not embraced by everyone in Ecuador, those who welcome it see the practice as a much-needed blending of Old and New World knowledge.

Over the course of the next several hours Teresa Shiki, the founder and a local Shuar woman, guided us through the park identifying various plants and their numerous uses.  Some, such as "Sangre de Drago", had names in Spanish and English as well, while others were identifiable only by their local Shuar or Waorani labels.  Shiki was adamant that with proper methods and understanding, one could make remedies for any number of ailments - including, but certainly not limited to: infertility, ulcers, blood disorders, cancers, snake bites, gastritis, and diabetes.

Like any young scientist, I've been trained to face any claim with a certain degree of skepticism, so I can't say that I was entirely sold on the curative power of these home-made remedies.  However, I am also skeptical that our grasp of science can, or will ever, hold all the answers to the world around us.  Who's to say that the Shuar, in their centuries of intimacy with the rainforest, haven't stumbled upon something we Westerners have only just met?

She also spoke passionately about Shuar culture, and her concern that the knowledge of her people would be lost to acculturation and modernization if they failed to nurture its growth in the next generation.  I'll be backpacking into "La Selva" on Monday to live with a nearby Shuar family, so I'll have a first-hand look at how they navigate their lives in an increasingly modern world soon enough.

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