The Medicine Manís Apprentice
By Kosa Ely
The Indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest have struggled for 500 years to keep their land and their culture. From the year 1500 AD, when the first Spaniards Ďdiscoveredí the Amazon, until the present time, these people and their lands have been exploited for resources.
They would make fine servants . . . with fifty men we could subjugate
them all and make them do whatever we want.
Not every foreigner came to exploit, however. In the 1800ís a wave of naturalists came to study the Amazon region and its incredible variety of species. It was here that the European Naturalists observed the enormous variety of plant and animal species and postulated their theory of evolution by natural selection.
Iíd be an Indian here,
and live content
To fish and hunt,
and paddle my canoe,
And see my children grow,
like wild young fawns,
In health of body and
peace of mind,
Rich without wealth, and
happy without gold!
Naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace
In the 1940ís another explorer came to the Amazon region with an entirely different purpose. Nicole Maxwell, an ethno-botanist from New York, believed the native people, especially the witch doctors, had knowledge of plants that could help suffering people throughout the world. And she had a great hope. If the rainforest came to be valued as a treasure house of medicinal plants, surely its destruction would be halted. If the Indigenous people gained honor and respect for their knowledge of medicinal plants, they, too, would be protected.
I go to the Indians to learn their wisdom. How can I feel superior to
people who know so much more than I? The Indians sense this essential
difference between the native whites and myself. Iím sure they do.
The first obstacle was to find the medicine men. Many of the tribes intentionally stayed out of the reach of Ďcivilizedí men; their guns and their diseases. Other tribes, who lived on the tributaries of the great Amazon River, and were quite accessible, rarely disclosed who their medicine men were. At this time in history, the practice of shamanism was illegal and punishable. The medicine men concealed their identity from outsiders so they would not be falsely accused of curses or deaths.
Through months of living amongst the Indians, helping with her own medicines, and sharing prized gifts with them, Nicole became family to them. Even still, the knowledge she sought was not readily given. The medicine men, for reasons we may never know, do not openly share their knowledge. For some tribes it is believed to bring misfortune and even death.
Shamanism or anything to do with the supernatural was forbidden by law,
until recently. The good ones (shamans) are dedicated and highly
men. To perfect their studies they had gone through years of rigidly
disciplined deprivation; success requires, they believe, a long period
of drastic trial by ordeal.
Her genuine concern and kindness for the Indians did eventually gain her their trust. Over many years she became known to them, and many of their plant secrets were revealed to her. Among them was a tree sap called sangre de drago, which, when applied to wounds, immediately relieved pain and promoted rapid healing without leaving any traces of a scar.
Another salve called capinuri sap dramatically reduces swelling and inflammation.
Her greatest triumph, she believed, was to learn of their contraceptive plants. These, she learned from the women.
This trip had made it possible for me to be the first to break through
the centuries-old secrecy surrounding the tribal magic of transmitting
and withholding life. Iíd gotten the plants so often sought in vain
since Franz Boas, the father of American anthropology, first revealed
that these tribes knew botanicals which could control the fertility of
women. I could hardly believe my good luck.
The most frustrating part of her efforts came when trying to convince pharmaceutical houses and drug companies of the importance of her findings. The first pharmaceutical company she worked for gained some great publicity upon her return, but shortly thereafter disregarded the plants and the field notes she spent eight months collecting and preserving.
This kind of treatment and eventual disinterest on the part of her supposed sponsors happened several times over. Each time Nicole got wiser, but she never gave up. She moved her base to Iquitos, in the heart of the Peruvian rainforest. Here she continued to learn and record the know-ledge of the Amazonís medicine men, and build her collections of voucher specimens and data of hundreds of rainforest plants.
A rising global awareness of ecological crises and the toxification of
the environment cannot fail to promote awareness of plants and natural
products as traditional curative agents. One of the unsung pioneers in
this effort has been Nicole Maxwell. Nicoleís long career has been
driven by a wish to participate in the preservation of the plant
medicines that have been painstakingly garnered over many millennia.
Nicoleís 40 years of field work and global vision did not disappear with her demise. In her eighties, while living in New York, she heard through a friend the name of a young explorer by the name of John Easterling, who was bringing medicinal plants from the Amazon to the United States.
I had the good fortune to meet the famous author and explorer, Nicole Maxwell, who spent 40 years in the Amazon researching medicinal plants. At the age of 83, she accompanied me back to the Peruvian jungle. Nicole inspired me with her mission and vision, and entrusted me with her lifeís work. All of her field notes, all the information she gathered from the shamans and Indigenous people, from the botanists and scientists, she entrusted to me. The Amazon Herb Company was born.
We have spent years building relationships with the Rainforest people
based on trust and mutual respect. We have formed partnerships with the
Indigenous communities working hands-on at the village level. Now they
have the resources to make choices about their own future, and we have
the benefit of their life-giving botanicals. This is what Nicole
When the big trees are gone, the birds have no home and our children
will not know the joy of their songs. Now, with you, we have rice and
manioc and machetes and things for our people. And for you, these
so your people can know the power of the forest. Now when the sun
the big trees will be there to greet the morning. I have traveled for
many days and this is what I know.
Fhilipe, Chief of Porveneer
Spoken to John Easterling
For more information on Rainforest preservation, assisting Indigenous tribes, or how you can benefit from these ancient herbal formulas, call (800) 362-3975, or www.AmazonProsperity.com
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