TALES OF A SHAMAN'S APPRENTICE by Mark J. Plotkin

TALES OF A SHAMAN'S APPRENTICE

An Ethnobotanist Searches for New Medicines in the Amazon Rain Forest

KIRKUS REVIEW

 In a captivating plea for more effective management of the rain forest's botanical, medicinal, and cultural resources, the chief ethnobotanist at Conservation International vividly recalls his apprenticeships to the tribal shamanic healers of the northeast Amazon. ``There exists no shortage of `wonder drugs' waiting to be found in the rain forests,'' says Plotkin, yet ``we know little or nothing about the chemical composition of 98.6% of the Brazilian flora''--and this despite the fact that, even now, the value of medicines derived from tropical plants is more than $6 billion a year. Inspired by a 1974 Harvard night-school lecture by famed ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, Plotkin first traveled to the rain forest in 1979. There, he was shocked to discover that local Indians' priceless botanical knowledge, developed over thousands of years, was threatened with eradication because no younger tribal members would volunteer as apprentice healers. 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. When not following his elderly instructors through the forest, collecting plant samples and scribbling notes on native cures for arthritis, skin funguses, colds, and other ailments, Plotkin benefited personally from a successful shamanic healing; learned a secret formula for curare poison; and otherwise became deeply enmeshed in tribal life. In the States, he contractually assigned a percentage of any future profits from development of his research to the tribes that had disclosed the plants' healing powers, as well as to the countries in which the plants grow. Meanwhile, his book of botanical lore, presented as promised to the tribes, has helped restore a self- respect battered during years of interaction with the West. ``Every time a shaman dies, it is as if a library burned down,'' Plotkin reminds us. No one could convey the potential tragedy of this statement more convincingly than this author, who has done something to remedy it.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-83137-9
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1993




MORE BY MARK J. PLOTKIN

NonfictionTHE KILLERS WITHIN by Michael Shnayerson
by Michael Shnayerson
NonfictionMEDICINE QUEST by Mark J. Plotkin
by Mark J. Plotkin