Synopses & Reviews
For thousands of years, healers have used plants to cure illness. Aspirin, the world's most widely used drug, is based on compounds originally extracted from the bark of a willow tree, and more than a quarter of medicines found on pharmacy shelves contain plant compounds. Now Western medicine, faced with health crises such as AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer, has begun to look to the healing plants used by indigenous peoples to develop powerful new medicines. Nowhere is the search more promising than in the Amazon, the world's largest tropical forest, home to a quarter of all botanical species on this planet as well as hundreds of Indian tribes whose medicinal plants have never been studied by Western scientists. In Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice
, ethnobotanist Mark J. Plotkin recounts his travels and studies with some of the most powerful Amazonian shamans, who taught him the plant lore their tribes have spent thousands of years gleaning from the rain forest.
For more than a decade, Dr. Plotkin has raced against time to harvest and record new plants before the rain forests' fragile ecosystems succumb to overdevelopment and before the Indians abandon their own culture and learning for the seductive appeal of Western material culture. Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice relates nine of the author's quests, taking the reader along on a wild odyssey as he participates in healing rituals; discovers the secret of curare, the lethal arrow poison that kills in minutes; tries the hallucinogenic snuff epena that enables the Indians to speak with their spirit world; and earns the respect and fellowship of the mysterious shamans as he proves that he shares both their endurance and their reverence for the rain forest. Mark Plotkin combines the Darwinian spirit of the great writer-explorers of the nineteenth century curious, discursive, and rigorously scientific with a very modern concern for the erosion of our environment and the vanishing culture of native peoples.
"Plotkin details the alternative medicines he discovered during an apprenticeship to the shamans of the Amazon rainforests." Publishers Weekly
"Plotkin presented himself as an unlikely student to the Tirio and Wayana shamans, offering in exchange to write down what he was taught, thereby preserving the shamanic lore." Kirkus Reviews
"A skillful blend of travel adventure, botanical and cultural history, and Amazonian research." Library Journal
Western medicine is only just beginning to value the curative powers of plants and herbs found in the Amazon rain forests. The story of ethnobotanist Mark Plotkins's apprenticeship with shaman wise men of the area is truly an anthropological adventure, that also vividly clarifies what destruction of the rain forests may ultimately cost humanity.Photos.
About the Author
Mark J. Plotkin, Ph.D., was born and raised in New Orleans and educated at Harvard, Yale, and Tufts. Trained as an ethnobotanist, he has done extensive research throughout the lowlands of tropical South America. He currently serves as president of the Amazon Conservation Team and research associate at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History. His research has been featured in Life, Newsweek, Smithsonian, Time, and the New York Times as well as PBS's Nova and the Academy Award-winning documentary Amazon.
Table of Contents
Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice Foreword
Chapter 1: Through the Emerald Door
Chapter 2: The Search for the Black Caiman
Chapter 3: Among the Maroons
Chapter 4: Under the Double Rainbow
Chapter 5: A Recipe for Poison
Chapter 6: Across the Savannas of the Sipaliwini
Chapter 7: Witch Doctor of the Wayanas
Chapter 8: The Semen of the Sun
Chapter 9: Return to Kwamala