Unfortunately, countless indigenous traditions, cultures, and knowledge are disappearing around the world. Since entire languages and histories have faded over time, even some native tribes are already “in danger of extinction.”
This is why the native Amazonian Matsé tribe, who live in the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon, came together in 2015 with a single purpose: to write a medical encyclopedia with more than 500 pages full of ancestral knowledge. This knowledge was gathered by the 5 most important “shamans” (healers) of the tribe in conjunction with a group dedicated to conservation called Acaté.
This great book reports in detail the different plants used for each human health condition. “The Matsés Traditional Medicine Encyclopedia marks the first time that the shamans of an Amazonian tribe have created a complete transcript of their medicinal knowledge written in their own language and words,” said Christopher Herndon, president and co-founder of Acaté in an interview with the environmental daily Mongabay.
In order that pharmaceutical companies and scientific researchers would not ‘copy’ or ‘take away’ their ancestral knowledge of traditional medicine and use it only for profit, this tribe decided to write the great encyclopedia in their own language. This encyclopedia aims to help train the new young Matsés shamans who will be in charge of the health part of the tribe.
“One of Matsés’s most famous elder healers lost his life before his knowledge could be passed on, so it was time to take action. Acaté (the organization) and the Matsés leadership decided to prioritize the Encyclopedia before more of the elders were lost and took with them their ancestral knowledge,” said the President of the Acaté organization.
Passing on the knowledge
The Acaté organization has also carried out programs in which they connect the old wise Matsés with young students so that the shamans become their teachers and tutors. The elders hope that with this encyclopedia they will be able to preserve their ancient knowledge as they have done throughout history.
“With knowledge of medicinal plants rapidly disappearing among most indigenous groups and without anyone writing it down, the real losers, in the end, are indigenous communities themselves,” Herndon said. “The methodology developed by the Matsés and Acaté can be a template for other indigenous cultures to protect their ancestral knowledge.”
Small steps start big changes
Sometimes a change on the ground starts with something as simple and powerful as an idea. The idea that your culture, traditions, and way of life are not inferior or something to be ashamed of, as others might have told you.
The idea that the tropical forests you call home are worth infinitely more than the oil reserves or the mahogany from which furniture is made. The idea that your mastery of the forest environment does not make you primitive or backward, but rather positions you at the forefront of the global conservation movement.
The Encyclopedia is a tangible first step toward filling that great generational gap before it’s too late. The Encyclopedia initiative renews respect for the wisdom of the elderly and makes the forest a storehouse of healing and a place to learn,” Herndon finished.