Book Review: Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice

December 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

Mark J. Plotkin born May 21, 1955 is an ethnobotanist, a plant explorer in neotropics, and an advocate for tropical rainforest conservation. Mark began his education at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, worked at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. Completing his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts at Harvard Extension School, received his master’s degree in forestry at Yale School of Forestry and his Ph.D. at Tufts University.

The book Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice is 328 pages long with the last 38 pages giving the reader more recommended reading on the subject and a plant glossary. This book was first published in the USA by Viking, a member of the Penguin Group LLC, 1993, then published by Penguin Books in 1994. Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice is a well written non-fiction book that takes you along with the authors journey in search of amazing powers of plants that the Shamans use in the Amazon rain forest.

At 1974 Harvard night-school lecture by Richard E. Schultes, Mark first traveled to the rain forest in 1979. Russ Mittermeier was on his way again to the Amazon, this time to search for endangered crocodilians and asked if Mark was interested in going with him. It was not a trip about medicinal plants, but Mark dreamed about going to the rain forest since he was a small child. With Mittermeier’s help this is how Mark learned about every old ecosystem that survives in the rainforest. A year later Mark set out for the land of the Maroons in search of learning plants of the forest. One of the fist lessons Mark learned was everything in the jungle happens in its own time. A year later Mark took the advice and went deeper into the forest to learn from the Indians. Mark thought of himself as an unlikely student to the Tirio and Wayana shamans, proposing in trade to write down what he was taught, thereby preserving the shamanic lore. Within his first few days in Suriname, he learns about a plant that, if boiled in tea and taken twice a day, will cure you if you have too much sugar in your blood or what biomedicine calls diabetes.

By the end of his second expedition to the land of the Tirios and ignoring the cautions of his Indian friends, he made up his mind to travel to Brazil in 1984 to research the Palu Tirios. Mark decided to trek (walk) to Brazil with the help of Kamainja. Half way through there trek they came across a man and his wife coming from the village. Told the both that it was to dangerous for a white man to be there, the Brazilian military was there in the village. Mark wanted to press on, so the two men continued their trek. The men finally reaching the village in Palu, Mark became disappointed at what he was looking at. Building, the Indians in hand-me down close. The missionaries had been here. After reassuring the sergeant that he was not going to be taking the plants of Brazil back to America the sergeant let him go on with his trip. Disappointed to see that Brazilian Tirios had already lost much of their culture they headed back Kwamala. Being back for a month Mark’s friend Kamainja came to the door and instructed Mark to take down his hammock and put it into his hut. Kamainja told Mark of the curse that was put on the village from the witch doctor of the Wayanas. A couple of days later Mark decided to head to the Wayana tribe to work with such a potent shaman was enticing. Learning form the Wayna shaman Found out that the practice of being a shaman was diminishing.

Many predictions about the loss of cultural and in the rainforest have come to light and continue to worsen. He reminds us, in 1994, that the 120 plant-based prescription drugs on the market are derived from only ninety-five plant species. This statistic is alarming, as at the time, only five thousand of the world’s 250,000 species had been extensively screened in the laboratory to determine their therapeutic potential. Still largely untested, the Amazon may cradle other cures, but current rates of deforestation threaten such discoveries. A practical optimist, Mark has not only translated plant knowledge into native languages and printed books for future generations of indigenous apprentices, he has been active in securing intellectual property rights that would ensure that profits flow from medical products sourced from the Amazon back to indigenous peoples and their countries.

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