Pioneers in ethnopharmacology: The Dutch East India Company (VOC) at the Cape from 1650 to 1800

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The earliest inhabitants of South Africa are believed to be the Khoi-Khoi and San peoples, whose knowledge of economic botany is extensive. Their ethnomedical practice, based on the plant species indigenous to the region, is an oral tradition and particularly susceptible to disruption. The culture of both peoples has during the past 350 years come under increasing threat of extinction, resulting in the likely loss to science of important ethnomedical knowledge. While written records of Khoi-San traditional medical practice are preserved in English, they mainly cover the period from 1800 onward. Earlier written records do exist, but do not appear to have been adequately screened. The present study was undertaken in order to complete the historical written record by critically examining all potential sources of Khoi and San ethnomedical information, for the years 1650-1800. These sources comprised journals of exploratory expeditions, herbarium specimens, published academic works and archival records associated with the activities of the former Dutch East India Company (VOC) at the Cape. The results of the search show that the VOC had a great interest in Khoi and San traditional medicines and attempted to record this knowledge. The VOC archives in particular represent a largely untapped source of ethnomedical information with potential application in health care, new drug development and intellectual property protection. © 2007 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.




Scott, G., & Hewett, M. L. (2007, February 12). Pioneers in ethnopharmacology: The Dutch East India Company (VOC) at the Cape from 1650 to 1800. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Elsevier Ireland Ltd.

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