Disease concepts and treatment by tribal healers of an Amazonian forest culture

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: The extensive medicinal plant knowledge of Amazonian tribal peoples is widely recognized in the scientific literature and celebrated in popular lore. Despite this broad interest, the ethnomedical systems and knowledge of disease which guide indigenous utilization of botanical diversity for healing remain poorly characterized and understood. No study, to our knowledge, has attempted to directly examine patterns of actual disease recognition and treatment by healers of an Amazonian indigenous culture. METHODS: The establishment of traditional medicine clinics, operated and directed by elder tribal shamans in two remote Trio villages of the Suriname rainforest, presented a unique investigational opportunity. Quantitative analysis of clinic records from both villages permitted examination of diseases treated over a continuous period of four years. Cross-cultural comparative translations were articulated of recorded disease conditions through ethnographic interviews of elder Trio shamans and a comprehensive atlas of indigenous anatomical nomenclature was developed. RESULTS: 20,337 patient visits within the period 2000 to 2004 were analyzed. 75 disease conditions and 127 anatomical terms are presented. Trio concepts of disease and medical practices are broadly examined within the present and historical state of their culture. CONCLUSION: The findings of this investigation support the presence of a comprehensive and highly formalized ethnomedical institution within Trio culture with attendant health policy and conservation implications.

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Herndon, C. N., Uiterloo, M., Uremaru, A., Plotkin, M. J., Emanuels-Smith, G., & Jitan, J. (2009). Disease concepts and treatment by tribal healers of an Amazonian forest culture. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 5. https://doi.org/10.1186/1746-4269-5-27

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