Volume 35, Issue 2 p. 13-17
Original Article

Magic darts and messenger molecules: Toward a phytoethnography of indigenous Amazonia

LEWIS DALY

LEWIS DALY

Social anthropologist and ethnobotanist who lectures in environmental anthropology at University College London (UCL). Lewis is currently working on a series of articles on human-plant engagements in Makushi culture and cosmology. He is co-editor of the online magazine TEA: The Ethnobotanical Assembly.

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GLENN SHEPARD JR

GLENN SHEPARD JR

Ethnobotanist, medical anthropologist and film-maker based at the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi (MPEG) in Belém, Brazil. He is engaged in fieldwork among the Matsigenka people of southern Peru, studying traditional medicine, health status, ethnobiology and community-based resource management. He is currently working on a monograph entitled ‘Sorcery and the senses'. He blogs at Notes from the Ethnoground (ethnoground.blogspot.com).

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First published: 01 April 2019
Citations: 27

Abstract

Recent scientific findings on plant intelligence are forcing anthropologists to reconsider indigenous theories of plant vitality. In this article, the authors compare original ethnographic and ethnobotanical research among two different peoples from opposite extremes of lowland South America – the Makushi of Guyana and the Matsigenka of southern Peru – and explore how somatic experiences and the chemosensory properties of plants permeate indigenous understandings of the aetiology of illness and medical efficacy in both the cosmological and microbiological domains. The authors synthesize emerging theory in ecosemiotics, embodiment, plant personhood and plant intelligence with the concept of ‘sensory ecology’ to recast multispecies ethnography as a phytochemical as well as a philosophical endeavour.