by Stephanie Wood
This article is based upon information in For Children of Southeastern Amazonia, Tribal Traditions Hold Secrets of Rain Forests Essential Drugs by Daniela Pelusa Action for Children (Vol. III, No. 4) 1988
In southeastern Amazonia, children are learning about the medical secrets of the tropical rainforest, and are helping to bring traditional medicinal practices back to their communities.
For centuries, tribal shamans or medicine men passed on their knowledge of the tropical rainforest. They knew the properties of hundreds of plants and how to use them to make remedies to treat illnesses. Much of this invaluable knowledge is in danger of being lost, however, as people today turn to modern medicines they may not need.
In 1982, Guillermo Arevalo, a shaman of the Shipibo-Conibo tribe in Peru started teaching native youth how to identify plants and prepare remedies to treat common health problems such as intestinal parasites, diarrhoea and dehydration. Within two years, more than 40,000 people in 100 communities of Ucayli were taking part. By 1986, the project - which has come to be known as AMETRA 2001 - had spread to the region of Madre de Dios. This region, an area the size of Belgium and one of the most biologically diverse areas of the world, is home to 17 different tribes.
AMETRA health programmes are run by the native people. Each community chooses one or two volunteers to go on to a two-week medical training course. The health volunteers return to their villages with knowledge of traditional medicine and modern health care practices. Supervisors make follow-up visits to the communities and provide further instruction.
One of the most successful of the AMETRA programmes is the oje campaign in which whole villages are organized to treat parasite infections. Oje is a milky tree resin that is remarkably effective in treating intestinal parasites. Teams are organized to collect oje early in the morning and according to tribal traditions. AMETRA volunteers show the villagers how to prepare the resin with alcohol and honey to make it taste better. On the date set by the General Assembly of each village, everyone takes the oje at the same time in order to minimise the risk of reinfection. Oje has proven to dramatically reduce the number of cases of intestinal parasite infections.
Children can take part in all AMETRA projects, and thus learn about their health needs and the natural benefits offered by the rainforest. In many communities, children especially enjoy planting gardens which serve as natural pharmacies.
AMETRA health promoters are rediscovering and teaching the medical secrets their ancestors once knew. They can identify, cultivate and prepare herbal remedies to treat skin diseases, tuberculosis, fevers, animal bites, infertility, kidney disorders, venereal diseases, impotence, cateracts, conjunctivitis, cuts and wounds, burns, tooth decay and malaria. Using the plants found in the rainforest reduces the need for modern medicines which are often hard to get and very costly.
For further information, contact:
Asociacion AMETRA 2001
Casila 42, Puerto Maldonado
Madre de Dios, PERU