An indigenous person of Peru taking traditional medicine.

Ancient Medicinal Knowledge of Amazon Tribes to Be Recorded in Writing for First Time in History

(Read the article on one page)

“That plant will save you from a poisonous snake bite,” my Kichwa guide, Pidru, pointed out as I tried to remove my boot from a foot of mud in the depths of the Amazon jungle in Ecuador. “And this flower over here allows a mother whose milk has dried up to relactate.”

As we crawled, climbed, stumbled and traipsed our way through thick vegetation, Pidru was like a library of knowledge, pointing out more than 100 different species of fauna and flora and explaining in detail how they were used by the indigenous tribes of the Amazon, from crushing fire ants to serve as an insect repellent, to plant leaves consumed as tea by laboring women, and a ‘penis tree’, which not only looks like it is sprouting male organs, but is also used to treat the organ in cases of gonorrhoea and urinary tract infections.

The “Penis tree”, Amazon rainforest

The “Penis tree”, Amazon rainforest ( CC by SA 4.0 )

“In the Amazon, our women never have trouble giving birth,” Pidru explained. “They drink the tea made from this plant, and it allows their muscles and skin to stretch easily, like the jaw of a snake, allowing the baby to easily pass through the birth canal. They have no pain.” Being 9 weeks pregnant at the time, I made a mental note to find out how I could acquire this plant back home!

“How was this knowledge acquired?” I asked the guide, amazed at how there was a plant for every ailment imaginable. “It came from the shamans. My father was a chosen one, and he passed the knowledge to me,” he explained. “Is there a written record?” I asked. Pidru tapped on his temple. “No. It’s all up here.”

The flower of this plant is used to help mothers produce more milk for their babies. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos

The flower of this plant is used to help mothers produce more milk for their babies. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos

Ancient Knowledge of the Amazon to Be Put in Writing

But this may all be about to change. The Kichwa are just one of many indigenous tribes that inhabit the Amazon jungle, and who carry vast amounts of knowledge about the medicinal uses of plants. But in Peru, another tribe, the Matsés, are taking steps to safeguard this knowledge for the future.

As The Guardian reports, a group of Matsés men have started planting medicinal agroforestry plots containing as many as 3,000 plants from over 100 species, all used for medicinal purposes, as well as compiling their knowledge of healing plants into a two-volume, 1044-page encyclopedia of the medicinal plants of the Amazon. It is the first encylopedia of indigenous knowledge written by shamans of the Amazon ever produced.

“Entries are categorised by disease name followed by an explanation of symptoms, cause and the plants to cure it,” The Guardian reports. “A photo of each plant - numbering roughly 800 in total - accompanies each entry, but no scientific names are included, nor photos of flowers or other readily identifiable features.”

On the back of the encylopedia are two sentences in Matsés, which roughly translate as “This isn’t a book for non-Matsés to see. Don’t let non-indigenous people see it.”  Perhaps they are afraid that pharmaceutical companies will start paying attention to their highly-effective remedies and attempt to cash-in on what has always been a freely available resource to the people of the Amazon jungle.

Indigenous guide, Pidru, explains the uses of some of the plants in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador. Credit: April Holloway

Indigenous guide, Pidru, explains the uses of some of the plants in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador. Credit: April Holloway

Medicinal Forests Help Preserve Knowledge

The Matsés people have been very busy of late. To date, they have planted seven “healing forests” in their territory, each containing thousands of trees and plants from hundreds of different species that can be used for medicinal purposes. The intention is to make the administration of cures and remedies easier by bringing as many of the healing plants as possible into one concentrated and accessible area.

April Holloway in the Amazon jungle. It is so dense that finding specific plants can be difficult. Planting medicinal forests will make the remedies much more accessible. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos

April Holloway in the Amazon jungle. It is so dense that finding specific plants can be difficult. Planting medicinal forests will make the remedies much more accessible. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos

So what has prompted the Matsés into action? As the outer world encroaches more and more into the territory of the Amazon tribes, the younger generation is beginning to venture out and become influenced by life outside the jungle. The shamanic knowledge has always passed from the ‘maestros’ to the younger generation but now a change is occurring, and many of the young Matsés no longer wish to adopt the life of a shamanic healer.  If the older Matsés pass away without training a successor, their knowledge could be lost forever.

Comments

I'm not Native American, but I really want to read that book.

chris6a2's picture

Hello, yes the image was missing thank you for spotting that mistake. We have added the image. 

Are we missing a picture? (Indigenous guide, Pidru, explains the uses of some of the plants in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador. Credit: April Holloway)

This is amazing yet so sad. I hope they are able to preserve their way of life. I am sure there are people in the world somewhere who would love the opportunity to study with a shaman! Perhaps they could recruit from the outside :)
This makes me think of all the vast knowledge that has been lost already due to men killing off, conquering, or influencing whole cultures.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Sealings from the archive of Doliche.
Classical scholars from the Cluster of Excellence "Religion and Politics" of the University of Münster discovered a large number of sealings in south-east Turkey. "This unique group of artifacts comprising more than 1,000 pieces from the municipal archive of the ancient city of Doliche gives many insights into the local Graeco-Roman pantheon -- from Zeus to Hera to Iuppiter Dolichenus

Myths & Legends

Deriv; Revelers dressed as Krampusin Austria
In ancient times, a dark, hairy, horned beast was said to show up at the door to beat children, and carry them off in his sharp claws. The Krampus could be heard in the night by the sound of his...

Human Origins

Sumerian creation myth
Sumer , or the ‘land of civilized kings’, flourished in Mesopotamia, now modern-day Iraq, around 4500 BC. Sumerians created an advanced civilization with its own system of elaborate language and...

Ancient Places

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article