GRCC Race, Ethnicity Identity Conference: Dr. Maria Fadiman

GRCC Race, Ethnicity Identity Conference: Dr. Maria Fadiman


>>Our visiting Geographical
Scientist Series continues here with
Dr. Maria Fadiman, Associate Professor
of Geography at Florida Atlantic
University, where she will be speaking
on “People and Plants.” I’d like to have a round
of applause, please, for Dr. Fadiman. (applause) Thank you so very much,
and, by the way, our International Geographical
Honors Society chapter is selling t-shirts to
support the education of girls in sub-Saharan
Africa, and they will be in the back
of the room afterward, okay? Thank you
so very much. Maria, take it away.
>>Do I go down here?>>Where do you wanna go?
>>Probably down here.>>You can go here. Or do you have–
>>I think, right? Is this where you
all can hear me? Phew. All right, well, we’re
just hoping I don’t sing. That was good.
(chuckling) We’re not going
that here. All right, well, I am
super excited to be here. I appreciate you
guys inviting me, and I heard the weather
was different last week, and given my choice of shoes…
(chuckling) I’m pleased that
it’s nice as it is. Everyone can see?
I’m fine down here? Up there’s…? We’re all good? Everyone’s like, “Yeah”–
okay, perfect! All right, so…
“People and Plants. “Conservation of Forests
and Cultures.” So I do this– we’re gonna
use some examples from Tibet and Africa. And within geography,
I do ethnobotany, and again, when you
say you’re a geographer, people often go, “Oh, you
study– you’re a– what?” (chuckling) And with ethnobotany, they
just don’t do anything. They just go, “Wha–
did you speak?” (laughing)
Yes, so, ethnobotany is really the relationship
between people and plants. Actually, you
know what? I’m coming up here because
now I feel really important. (laughing) And I can see you all you people
back there, the back ones, too. Okay… so you’ve got people
and plants. And this can be, you can
have medicinal plants, fiber plants, food,
construction, spiritual. And then, there are some uses
that are somewhat unexpected. I’m gonna use an example
from the Amazon before we get to
Tibet and Africa. That– I was working with
a group out there, the– actually, the Achuar,
and they invited us to be part of one of
their ceremonies. And so, you got up early,
early in the morning, and it’s dark, and
you’re walking out, and when we emerged, there were
elders sitting around this fire and this bubbling
pot of leaves. (mimicking sound
of boiling water) And you sit down and
everyone takes a gourd, and they give you one, and
you start to drink the brew. And you’re like…
(slurping). And of course, I was like,
“Is this a hallucinogen?” (laughing)
“No, you’re good.” I’m like, “Okay.”
(slurping) And I don’t really know
what’s supposed to happen but I just keep…
(slurping). And then, I notice that some
of the people in the group started to
peel off, and then I heard
this “bleh, bleh!” And I was like…
(clearing throat). And they’re like, “No,
no, you have to drink,” and I’m thinking, “Oh, I’ll
be culturally sensitive,” and “Oh, this is a plant,”
and I’m thinking, “There is no way
I’m doing this.” Like, “No, no, no,
drink another one.” (slurping slowly). They’re like, “You
have to drink faster.” I’m like, “All right.” (slurping) And they said, “Drink
another, drink another.” I was like, “All right,
if I’m up at 4 o’clock “in the morning, I’m going
to try and do this thing.” So I’m– (slurping)– and then,
the woman I’m with, she said, “Okay, come on,
it’s our turn.” And I’m like,
“Huh.” So we go out, and I
hear this “bleh, bleh!” these little dainty splatters,
and I’m thinking, “Oh, no.” So I’m over here, but I
don’t throw up very easily. So I’m…
(exhaling loudly). And she’s like, “I know
you aren’t throwing up.” And I’m like,
“Ooh! (exhaling loudly)
“Aaah…” She’s like,
“What are you doing?” And I’m like, “Well, not much.”
(chuckling) And she said, “Take one of
the leaves of the plants “and stick it
down your throat.” And I’m like, “Oh, are
you kidding– oh, fine!” So I take it,
and, “Bleh!” And I was like,
“Yeah!” And really, it was just kind of
the water I had just drank. But I was like, “You know,
I can throw up “with the
indigenous people.” I’m like,
“I’m in. “This is what
it’s all about.” And so, we go back there, and
they’re all sitting there and everybody has thrown up,
and now you analyze your dreams. And really, I could have done
without the whole ceremony. I’m like, “This
was terrible.” (laughing) But for them, the leaves,
these are essential, and this is important
to their culture, and who they are. And I had
to get that if I was gonna be connecting
people and plants. What does it
mean to people? And now, this is way
out in the Amazon, this is some example
out in the boonies, but when we look
at us, and here, and our relationship
with plants, it’s like, “Okay, maybe
medicinal, construction, “spiritual, religious,” but
there’s a certain time of year where we all put a certain
plant outside of our house at the end of October, and
it has to be a certain one. It has to be round
and orange, okay? Now, what do
we do with it? What do you– yes, we
have to carve it, right? We all know that, and
if you’re going to do the traditional carving, what
shape would you make the eyes? Triangle, yeah–
you all are kind of– that’s right,
you shout at me, and then I feel good, okay?
(laughing) So yes. Triangles, and
we know that. And then, what do you put in it
before you put it out front? A candle. And then, you’ve got
this thing out there. This is a super
ritualistic use. And if one year I said, “You
know what, I’m not doing that. “I’ve been out
in the Amazon. “I’m gonna carve a big, old
zucchini into a snake– mmm!” You just
don’t, right? It has to be
that plant, and it’s used in this
very ritualistic way. So when we say, “Oh, you
gotta go out in the boonies “to get that kind
of connection.” You don’t. We have that here, too,
this connection with plants. So, starting off
with Africa, there’s the saying, “When an
elder dies, a library burns.” And this is an
African proverb, but this could be in
any part of the world. When someone older dies, all
this information goes with them. And for me, a lot of what
I concentrated on is– and all of that medicinal,
or all that useful, all that plant information
also goes with them. So, we thought, “Well,
let’s not feel bad about it. “Let’s build
a library.” Woo-hoo! That’s sort of a big
job, so we thought, “Well, let’s start
with a booklet.” (smirking) And this is
just Grace Gobbo– she is somebody else
with whom I was working. She’s also a National
Geographic Emerging Explorer from Tanzania. Just to give her
some credit. So, what were the goals
of the project? One, does creating a
booklet help maintain ethnobotanical
knowledge? What role does language
play in this endeavor? What are the most effective
ways to include people in the process? So, I’m out in this
African village, and I’m trying to
blend in, which I… don’t.
(laughing) So, I decided I was gonna
get a little bicycle. A lot of the
researchers come in and you rent four-wheel drives,
which makes sense to get around but I didn’t have
to go that far, so I got a little bicycle
and, for some reason, it was very small and
I would get on it, and I would be biking,
and the first day, I had to go through a village
in order to get out there. And I’m on
my bicycle, and the kids see me, and
they start to shout, “Aaah!” And I was like,
“Uhh, ha ha.” And they’re super excited
’cause it’s a foreigner, and I’m thinking,
“This is what I wanted. “I am connecting
with the people, “and they
wanna see me.” And they come running out…
and I panicked completely. And I started to ride on my
bicycle faster and faster. And these kids
are chasing me, and I’m riding away on
this little bicycle, and I think, “Oh, my gosh,
what kind of researcher am I?” I was like, “Well, clearly,
that kind of researcher.” So, I sort of got
myself together, I learned a little
bit of Kiswahili– the language they speak, one
of the languages they speak– and I worked out how to
say, “You can touch me. “You can touch
my bike. “Please don’t unzip my backpack
and take out my bananas.” (laughing) And once we had
that basic balance, then it all worked
really well. So, there was some
initial fieldwork comfort that we all
had to get. So, who are
these people? They’re the Ha. And I was working
in Tanzania, and they like
Tanganyika. And I was
in Bubango, which is near Gombe
Stream National Park, and that’ll become important
a little bit later. So what’s the
area like? Miombo woodlands,
you’ve got farming, oil palms are a
big industry there. And deforestation
is a problem. So you have people collecting
it for their firewood, they need to
cook their food. For construction to
build their homes. And deforestation is important
no matter where you are. But this is
particularly important ’cause this community
is right next to that Gombe
National Park. And Gombe National Park
is particularly important. That’s where Jane Goodall
did her research. Who’s heard of
Jane Goodall? You’ve just–
yeah! And those of you who
haven’t, you will, and she’s,
“Whoooa!” So, Jane Goodall worked
with chimpanzees, and this is the area
where she worked, and these are where
her chimps are. So, we went
over there. Where I was working was
just right over this hill. And then, this
is the park. And we were
in the park to basically kind of look
at some deforestation, look at what the
park was like, and we’re hiking and hiking,
and the people we’re with say, “Well, we’re gonna make
sure you see chimps.” And not that chimpanzees
aren’t really cool, but that’s not
exactly what I do, so I wasn’t that–
I was like, “Oh, okay.” And we’re hiking and hiking,
and it’s up and it’s down, and it’s hot,
and it’s tiring, and it’s been
about 7.5 hours, and they’re like, “We’re
gonna see some chimps!” And I’m like, “I don’t
care if we see chimps. “I just– I’m–
I wanna go home.” And then, suddenly
out of the forest, you see these big,
brown blobs coming out, and it was a big group,
and there were 14 chimps. And it was suddenly–
I mean, it was just unreal, and when a chimp comes
and sits near you– you know, even
talking about it now, it gives you
the chills. You’re like…
(gasping). I mean, I can’t believe I
didn’t want to see a chimp. (laughing)
What kind of idiot was I? And sitting there,
and then she turned, and she scratched her chin,
and then she looked at me. And it was– I’m looking
at her, and I’m thinking, “I am the chimp whisperer.
(laughing) (audience laughing)
“And this is awesome.” And we’re looking,
and then she gets up, and she starts to
come towards me, and I’m thinking,
“Oh, my gosh, this is it. “You know, Jane Goodall,
eat your heart out. “Here we go!” And she comes right to me,
and she picks up a rock, and she throws it
at my head! And I’m like…
(screaming). And the guides are
like, “Oh, oh!” And I’m like,
“Oh, oh!” And they said, “Yeah, you don’t
wanna look ’em in the eye.” (laughing)
And I’m like, “Thank you. “Yeah, I’m gonna stick
with the plants, okay.” Yeah, I mean, she’s big and
strong– you know, big rock. And we’re like…
(nervous laughing) “You didn’t
die, cool.” And everyone’s like,
“Cool, let’s keep going.” And I’m like, “Okay.”
(laughing) So that was pretty
incredible. I would say the chimps, just
don’t look ’em in the eye if you get
out there. So, the methodology for what
we were doing for our project, we were doing both informal
and semi-structured interviews, all with
informed consent so everybody who was a
part of it was agreeing. We had 21 people that
we were selecting as the ethnobotanical experts
in these categories– medicine, crafts, music,
construction, food, and rituals. And what we had is each
one of them to discuss their top
five plants. They all know many,
many, many plants, but we had to limit it
to make it doable. And then, the entire
group of them voted on which plants we
included in the book. So, I’m very excited.
(chuckling) I’m on the back
of a motorcycle. We’ll talk a little bit
later what motorcycles are in my life. But going out to
the study site, so I’m on this motorcycle,
and there’s wind, and they’re
speaking Kiswahili, which I can say “banana”
over and over again. I’m like,
“Ndizi, ndizi,” and I don’t know what
else we’re saying, but finally, he’s
basically saying, “What are you doing on the
back of my motorcycle?” And I’m like, “Oh,”
so I start to explain, “We’re working on making
a booklet of the plants “within this
community.” And it was important when
we go out to the community, do they want this? And the answer
was “yes.” This one man said, “The
children are not learning “about how to
use plants. “They only care about
their cell phones.” And, um… when you’re out there,
there’s no electricity in these villages, but
they’ve all got cell phones, and often, people don’t eat
more than one meal a day. That’s very common
out there. And they’ll still
have their cell phones. So, we’re interviewing
the elders. They’re the ones
with the knowledge. And just for
an example, we’ve got musical
instrument plants– but they’re not the only
ones who are interested. So, we’re talking
with the elders, but if you look up
in the window, oh! They’ve got the little
peekers are looking in. And there was a
lot of curiosity. What were we? (chuckling)
We’re foreigners. What were we so
interested in? The fact that it was the
knowledge of their elders about plants, that then
became interesting simply through our presence
and working on the project. And so, then, they started
to watch all aspects of it. You have other
villagers. You have
the kids. So learning something
else a little bit about scientific method,
but again, “Ah, plants, plants,
the importance of them.” (chuckling)
We’ll just handle
this right now. This was one of the
motorcycle drivers. And what his
shirt says is, “Please tell your boobs to
stop staring at my eyes.” (all laughing) So now, he doesn’t
speak English, so it’s sort of irrelevant
to him what’s on his shirt. But that’s what’s happening.
(laughing) So. (audience chuckling) Yup. So, we’ve got the
boob man watching– I mean, the motorcycle
driver watching, and– but this
is someone who– he doesn’t have an interest
in plants particularly, but we’ve talked to
him about the project. He’s waiting to take us back out
so he’s got nothing else to do, so he is now listening
to his own elders talking
about plants. And so, we had a
lot of curiosity. There’s a lot
of watching us, seeing what
we were doing. And we wanted to actively
engage people more, and especially
the kids. We wanted them to get this
information about their elders and the value
of that, since their elders are
going to pass away. So we went to the school to
try and generate some interest, and clearly there’s
a lot of interest. And what they’re all
raising their hand about is we just started off with,
“Who used plants today?” And “Waaaw!” You know,
they can’t wait. They’ve all used
plants today. I mean, we’ve all used
plants today at some level. So we also wanted to tap
into what were they doing that’s already
fun for them? And drawing– little
kids like to draw. So, we were gonna have
them draw plants and to put those
in the book. Now, I thought,
“Kids like to draw. “They’re all gonna
wanna draw.” And Grace, who is
from there, said, “Well, if we make it a contest
and they can win something, “then they’re really
gonna wanna draw.” Okay, so, we were
setting up a contest, and we’re buying school
supplies as prizes, and this guy who’s selling
us the school supplies, he’s asking, “Well,
what are you doing? “Why do you
want these?” So we explained to
him the project. And so, we’re talking
about the drawing portion of the project, and what’s particularly
important is this man. Because who we’re
talking to is the Head of
Village Education. And now, he’s sitting
there with a plan. He’s looking at it, and he’s
in a room full of healers, and so, now, he’s
becoming interested in this knowledge
of the elders and this understanding
of the ecosystem. And the kids! It gets them involved
at a whole new level when you’re looking
at a plant, and you’re assessing
what is its angle, and, “How would
I draw it?” And you’re connecting
with it in a different way than if you were just
taking notes on it, but really trying
to capture it. So connecting them to the
plant and also to language. This down here
is in Kiha. So Kiswahili is
the language that people throughout
Tanzania speak, and Kiha is this
tribe’s language. So, also trying to keep that
language alive and useful. And then, we had
the teachers. We’re asking them if they
can judge the pictures. So now, teachers
are getting involved and learning about
ethnobotany. This is Adam. He was working with
us on the project, and he was talking
with these women, and they were kind of asking
him what were we doing? And I didn’t understand
Kiswahili very well, but he kept saying,
“Blah-blah-blah Kiha, “blah-blah-blah
Kiha.” Which is the
language. And I began to get that
the fact that something was going to be written
in their language, that was huge, and
that was a big focus that a lot them
had on this. So, in terms of language,
this is Rashidi. We brought him to
the town of Kigoma, and we’re working
with translating it from Kiswahili,
Kiha, and English. So Grace is working
with the Kiswahili, I’m working with
the English, and he’s working
with the Kiha, and we’re trying to
get the information in all three
languages. So this is what the booklet
ended up looking like. And so you’d have the plant,
the information– and really, this
was the big part, this was
the Kiha. And we made a big point to
have the Kiha came first. This was the language
most important. Then, Swahili, and
then lastly, English. So, the list of the plants
with the scientific names, and then there were
many more plants that they wanted
to include, they were all trying
to vote on it, we were trying
to limit it, and so, a lot of these are
actually still being identified at the herbarium
in Tanzania. And for future analysis,
we’ve got the habit, meaning what is it–
a plant, is it a tree, is it a shrub, what part
of the plant do they use, how do they collect it,
what’s their preparation? And how accessible
is it? Is it in danger?
Where’s it located? So there’s all this
kind of information with which we can do a
more quantitative analysis. But for now, it’s about
saving their language– I mean, working
with the language and this plant
information. So, in order to give this
project more credibility, more importance,
we had a big ceremony ’cause in this
particular community, having a big ceremony is gonna
make whatever you’re doing that much more
impactful for everyone. So, we’ve got
villagers have come, the people who are
involved have come, and we have dancers,
and what they’re wearing are that plant we saw
in the beginning. They’ve got a plant and
they’ve got another seed they stick inside, and they
put it on their ankles, and there’s a whole
ta-ta-da-da… which doesn’t look
anything like that, but they do it and it’s got
all this fabulous rhythm, and that’s the
musical instrument. So they’re part
of this ceremony. And the point is, we want
it to be loud and noisy. We want people
to come in. We want people to say,
“Oh, what’s happening?” And then, see it and go,
“Oh wow, medicinal plants, “that’s so important–
useful plants.” Now, I can’t pretend
that all of these people are actually there for
this because this group we had a bit of a
captive audience. The chief of the village had
been working with land titles of a whole group
of people, and he had also
agreed that day that we would come
and do the ceremony. So we showed up,
he’s in the middle of doing the land titles,
and he’s said, “Oh!” He’s like, “Okay,
you guys wait here. “We’re gonna have
a ceremony.” So these people really
didn’t mean to come but we’ve got ’em.
(chuckling) And really, whatever brought
each person to this event… they’re all paying
attention. They’re absorbed. And here are the
ethnobotanical specialists, some of the people
that we interviewed, and they’ve all got their
books for the first time. And they’re
talking about it, they’re still discussing
the plants, who thinks what. So it’s keeping this
information, in many ways, alive, and
really relevant. And then, you just see
the quiet response. This is the first time
this man has seen his own words
in print in Kiha. And you just watch as
he opens the book, the smile
on his face. And then it was great–
hey, you’ve got other guys. We don’t have any idea
who this guy is. (chuckling)
And he got a book. And it’s now
given him status. He’s holding court. He’s, “Yeah,
medicinal plants this, “useful plants that.” And suddenly, being
knowledgeable about these kinds of uses of the
environment, that gives you a
level of importance. And the schoolchildren, the
ones who were helping us draw, we’re giving
them books. And they’re super
interested. You know, they’re, “Whoa,
what is in this book?” And it went beyond Bubango,
beyond the village, which is what we had
intended it to be for them. This is a
Western doctor. Western-trained doctor,
and he had heard that we were
making this book, and he wanted a copy to see
what the information was that the people in
Bubango were knowing. This is at the
Jane Goodall Institute. No matter how I now
feel about chimpanzees, when you work
in that region, it’s good to be connected to
the Jane Goodall Institute, and they were very
helpful with us. And now, he’s getting a book,
and this is kind of odd ’cause he’s the processed
food guy– ha ha, huh? The doctor, the Jane
Goodall Institute, okay. The dude who sells
canned goods? But out there, that’s
a power position. You don’t have
processed things. You don’t have things
in cans or packages. So the guy who
does bring that in, he’s kind of the head honcho
of the village in many ways. And then,
also priests. Also influential
people in the village. And then, the guy at
the stationery store. He’s like “Hey,
I heard that book “you were talking
about was in Kiha.” And so, he’s basically saying,
“And I would like a book.” So we’re giving
him a book. And then, from the
back of the store, we heard, “I wanna
book in Kiha!” (chuckling)
So we gave that guy a book. And then, other
villages came to us. And they were asking
that we make a book of their plants
in their language. And then, it began to expand
out in totally unexpected ways. This is the lodge where
I was working, Cosmos. He said, “Hey I would like
a notebook and a pencil.” I said,
“Okay, how come?” He said, “Because I’m
gonna make a book, too, “like your book.” I said, “Oh,
great, okay.” So he was collecting plants,
and he was writing the uses, and… his uses, though, as
we were working on it, he explained that
he wanted to write about how the animals
use the plants, and that that was
the connection that he was interested
in documenting from his
knowledge. And so, the idea is
with all of this is, if people are
valuing the plants, if they know
how to use them, then the idea is you’ll
value the forest in which those
plants grow. And just as we’re
looking at deforestation, which is somewhat
disheartening, we look here– this has
had 10 years regrowth. Ten years is not
very much time. This is the exact
same landscape, but that has
been protected. So you can see that it
doesn’t take very much in order for something
to grow back, and you get your Miombo
woodland the way it can be, and the way the chimps
are the happiest. So, looking at
the conclusion, starting with the
second question. We’ll get to the
first question last. What role does
language play? What did this have
to do with anything? Oh, my gosh, this had a
huge amount to do with it. We thought it was, you know,
“It’s the plants, “and it’s the knowledge
and that’s so exciting,” and that
was for some. But the fact that
it was in Kiha, that’s what drew
many of them in. Then, the fact that
it was about plants kind of gained
some momentum. What’s a good way
to include people? Well, definitely
the group meetings, bringing them in on
every stage of the way, doing the interviews,
doing the collecting. And this is really I
would say what was key, was the public
aspect of it. ‘Cause this is where you had
the other people watching, and becoming curious, and
helping this expand out. And then, certainly
for the kids, also the drawing. The ceremonial presentation–
this was big. This brought them in, and
even the captive people, other people came of
their own volition, and this became
a big “oomph,” and, “Wow, this must
be really important.” Okay, but then, there’s
the big question, “Does this help
anything?” So, we made
a booklet. One, they now
have a record. We talk about
“a library is lost”– there is now a written
record of this information when that person
passes away. These people can choose to
use that information or not, but they
have it. We also wanted to make it
really aesthetically pleasing– photos and colors– because
not everybody is literate. So, even if it’s
in your language, if you can’t read, we
wanted people to be able to connect
with this book. The spatial
dimensions– this was not part
of our goals at all, it was just– we were doing it
for Bubango, for this community. And then, when we had
other villages saying, “Please, please
come to us.” And we actually have
a grant in now to go back
this summer to work with one of
these other villages. The people in town,
the Western doctor, the stationery
store guy– they’re now thinking
about these plants. The motorcycle drivers–
who knew? The guy making the
animal plant book… he was inspired by this
to do his own thing. So, part of all of this
is that we began to see the process itself, and
having it be public, was really almost as
important as the product. That having all these
people be involved in what was happening, and
hearing about it and seeing it, that drew a lot
of people in. So, in answer to this,
in the present, “yes.” And the idea is– and what
we have yet to see is– it’s for the
future generations, it’s for the next group,
for when people pass away. And the idea for all this
is that people themselves have access to their
own information. This is their information
and they should have it. (laughing)
This is just some
acknowledgements. But what this picture is–
so we’d done the ceremony, we’d done the dancing,
and it rained, and that ended things
just a little bit early, and the dancers
were not done. (chuckling)
It’s like, “We’re
gonna come out!” So they’re stompin’ and
chompin’ in the mud. And just people we’re thanking
particularly the village, and then “National Geographic”
funded this project. So, that’s one example
of people, plants, ethnobotany, a
booklet in Africa. Now, we’re gonna shwooooop
away somewhere else to the Tibetan
plateau. (chuckling)
Turning your pages to take fresh
notes on this? Got a little
rustle happening? All right! Tibet, phew. So with this book,
we now– we wanted to have
more participation. We had done this and
really people got excited sort of
peripherally. And now, we wanted to
really have this be these people’s book and,
again, working with kids. So before I went up to
the highlands in Tibet, we were in
lowland China. Beautiful. And… there were certain things that
I found personally amusing. I was like, “I kind
of think this girl “doesn’t really know
what her shirt says.” (chuckling)
You know, “love,” that’s cool. But, you know,
“burn, sexy, hot,” really? (laughing) So, I thought– so I’m
sneaking up behind her and taking
a picture. Cool or not cool, she
didn’t know I took it, so here we go.
(laughing) This takes us back
to language again. And I’m looking
at her shirt, so I’m orating
off the top bunk, and I’ll talk about
what I’m doing. But if you notice,
the shirt I’m wearing, that’s a shirt that
I bought at Target. I’ve been using it in
the field for years ’cause it’s brown and
it looked kind of cool, had a Chinese
character. I thought that was
kind of pretty. And then, I brought
it to China when I was packing
all of my stuff, and I thought, “Oh my gosh,
I don’t know what this means.” (laughing)
You know, what if it means, I don’t know, “Your boobs
are staring at my eyes,” or something totally
awkward like that, and I was glad to
see it did not. It actually– it means
“love,” so I was okay. But again, it was before
I laughed at some girl for wearing a shirt for
words she didn’t know. And I’d been wearing
that for years before that
occurred to me. And what I’m doing, is
this is a sheet of paper because I have
come back later, we’re doing some work
and I am going to dinner, and usually somebody
who spoke Chinese was also going to dinner,
but they weren’t tonight so I had to go and
order my own noodles. And I wanted to say,
“Fried, not too spicy, “not in a soup, without
meat, with vegetables.” And I have no Chinese–
I can say “shi shi.” (chuckling) And so, I am practicing
because it’s a tonal language, and it’s hard, and I really
wanna get the right noodles. So there’s a whole
group of them, they’re down below,
and I’m on the bed, and I’m practicing
ordering noodles. (laughing) The language
is an issue. But when you do get the
noodles, it’s awesome! They stretch ’em out, they
take ’em over their head, and they boom, boom, boom,
and they beat ’em, and they cut ’em, and they’re
really, really delicious. But again, coming back to
what role was language? We’re walking in China,
and there was words, and they were written
on the sidewalk. And I, “Wow,
sidewalk art! “How beautiful
is this.” And then, we saw
the guy painting, and he’s painting
them in water. And I was like, “Ooh, it’s
like effervescent art.” He painted, and then,
phoo, it goes away. And I was with somebody
who spoke Chinese, and I said, “Ask him
about the art.” And she did, and she said
he said he’s practicing. I was like, “Why do
you have to practice? “Aren’t you
Chinese?” And he was like,
“Yeah, Chinese is hard.” (all laughing)
I was like, “Oh, okay.” So the role that
the language plays in all kinds
of realms. So going up to Tibet, we
were in the Kham Region. And… getting the human-plant
connect in Tibet, they’re already very connected
to the natural world in so many ways. These are
prayer flags, and they write the
prayers on the flags, and then they fly and
the prayers go off, off into
the wind. And when you are– you
see these everywhere. They’re on the hills,
they’re on the bridges, and they’re
stacked up, and they’re
draped on houses, and it’s just you’ve
got all these words fluttering
to the winds. And then, also, there’s
a prayer carver. And that’s
kind of cool. And he’s carving
them into stones. And there’s
hundreds of them. All of these stones have
prayers written on them. So there’s this connection
with the natural world. So, specifically,
what our project was, was working with international
high school students. Tibetan, Chinese,
North American, and then, he is Chinese-American
just to mix it all up. (laughing)
Confuse all of us. And the idea is, we wanna
connect the Chinese and the Americans to
the Tibetan landscape. And in so doing, also empowering
the Tibetan students themselves. So I was working with
a rural school in Tibet with Machik, and one of
their focus is connecting. They really want these
kids to be proud of where they are from and
get this connection to place. So, working with this
connection with place, and doing it, in this case,
through the wild plants, in order for me to also
help them understand really the people
and the land– this was a new
area for me. I did a lot of work in
Latin America, Africa. And going up here,
so really to get up to the upper plateau gives
you a different sense of what’s
happening. So the most common way
to get up to the plateau is on a
motorcycle. Now, who here rides
a motorcycle? Yeah, okay,
so people do. And I grew up in
Northern California where I could pretty
much do anything, except ride a
motorcycle. (chuckling)
Riding a motorcycle’s dangerous. Don’t do it– if you ever do
do it, which you shouldn’t do, always wear
a helmet. So, I’m on a motorcycle
with no helmet. (chuckling)
And initially, I had sat really
far back from him, ’cause it’s a
different culture, he’s male, I’m female, I’m
tryin’ to do the right thing. And the villagers
are all standing, they’re like, “No,
no, no, get closer.” And I’m like. “Get closer!” So I get a
little closer. “No, no, no, put your
arms around him!” So, I put my arms around
him, and they’re like, “Yeah, whoo,
hoo, hoo!” And I’m thinking,
“What’s happening?” (laughing) And they said,
“You’re– on the hills, “you wanna make sure, you wanna
make your weight his weight. “So when he moves, you
guys move together.” And I was
like, “Okay.” And I got how important
that was when… that was the road
we were on. I was like, “Oh,
so I can never tell “my parents this.”
(laughing) And we’re doing this, and
it’s going pretty well, and I’m just thinking,
“Please, please, please, “don’t let us fall
off the road. “Please, please,
please, please.” And I’m gripping on to him which
is kind of fine going uphill, but when we
go downhill, I start to feel him
noodging me back, and I’m like– and I
realize I’m squashing him. (laughing)
Oh. So I go back, I’m
hanging on here, I hang onto the back,
and I’m squeezing with my thighs,
and I’m like, “Okay.” And then, he starts
to talk to me. And he says, “Gobbledy,
gobbledy gook.” Which is, of course,
not what he said, but whatever in
Tibetan it was. And I speak
no Tibetan. And I think, “I don’t
want him to wonder “why I’m not
answering. “I don’t want him to look back
and see what’s happening.” And I was like, “Just,
Maria, say something.” So he said,
“Gobbledy goo,” and I just said,
“Gobbledy goo.” And that worked. Then, he said, “Gobbledy gaga,”
and I went, “Gobbledy gaga.” And we did that
the whole way up. (audience chuckling) And then, I got off
the motorcycle, and he was
like, “Yeah.” and I was like,
“Yeah, we– yeah. I have no idea…
but it worked. And when you
get up there, I mean, it is, you know,
just top of the world, but you just,
you know… (singing one high note)
♪ Ahhhh ♪ Yeah.
(laughing) But you gotta be careful.
(chuckling) You don’t wanna get run over by
a roaming yak– tromple you. So you’ve got the
yaks up there. And really, the people who
are up there live as nomads. So they move around
with the seasons, and yaks are their
main livelihood. Mostly the milk, and
butter is a big thing. But you can see, they really–
they give homage to the yak. (laughing) So, I’m up there, and they
serve me some yak milk, and then I get
some yak yogurt, and there’s some tea,
and I’m very excited it’s got no yak
product in it, but then they mix
in yak butter. And I was like,
culturally polite, “Cool, yeah, yak everything.”
(laughing) (slurping noises) It’s better than I
thought it would be. So while I’m up there, one
of the things we’re doing is helping them
learn some English. And as they’re
making the letters, they don’t know from which
direction the A starts. And I realize I don’t
know which direction the A starts
from either. And I’m trying to be patient,
and it’s frustrating ’cause I feel like, “How could
this be so basic and so hard? “And I can’t even remember
something so simple.” But then, I get
some perspective. That’s my
notebook. And they’re trying
to teach me Tibetan. And I don’t have any
idea from which direction the letter
starts. Then, that is
my notebook and that is
beautiful. And that is not my writing.
(all chuckling) We were teaching a
little group of girls, working with them
with English. And then, they
saw my notebook, and they, at first,
they were puzzled. How could my Tibetan
be so, so bad? And then, it was
kind of disgusted, like, “How–
this is horrible.” And they looked at me,
I was the “teacher.” And then, they
felt sorry for me. You know, it was, “Wow, how
could you be so pitiful? “You can’t even
write Tibetan.” (audience laughing) And then, one of
the little girls, she just took
my notebook, and they had their own
work, and she took her– it’s a sliced
off chopstick, and she dipped
it in the ink, and she wrote this
beautiful alphabet, and then she just handed
the book back to me, and went back to
her own work. And I was
like, “Okay.” So, ethnobotany, geography–
where do these come together, and what is
this project? So, in this case, it’s the Tibetan youth
who are our teachers. We were really
conscientious. We went, “These are the people
whose knowledge we want, “and we want them
to be buoyed up, “and them to connect to
their own knowledge.” So they’re
teaching us, and when you work
with useful plants, and you’re working with
a certain age group, you end up with a lot
of edible plants. (laughing) Things that you could eat,
things you could nibble, things you
could suck. It was pretty much, “What
could you put in your mouth “and get something out of it?”
(chuckling) And, um… And again– but there’s
another plant there, hmm. And there were these
kind of sticky plants, and they found them and
the Tibetans were saying, “Hey, look what we do,” and
they threw them at each other, and they stuck in their hair,
and they threw them at me, and I’m like, “Ha ha,
you know, this is fun. “Okay, yeah,
that’s good.” (chuckling) “Let’s go back to
doing the project. And they looked at me, and they
said, “This is the project. “This is– these
are throwing plants. “And what they do
is they stick.” And I’m like,
“Oh, okay.” You know, I’m like, “Ha ha,
let’s empower you guys, “but do the
plants I want.” I was like,
“Oh, right! Okay, so those got
included in the book. You know, as
hair decorations. (laughing) And then,
there were plants I was a little more
familiar with these uses. This was
basketry plants. And as we’re
looking at these, one of the guys is picking
grass, and he’s showing us, “This is how you prepare
it with your teeth. “You run it through
your teeth.” And then, he’s like, “Now,
you have your curled grass.” And I said, “What do you
do with curled grass?” He looked at me
and he said… “You curl it.”
(chuckling) I was like, “Oh.” That went in
the book. Anyhow, working with
teenagers– it was great. You’d just turn
around and– phloh!– and I was
like, “Hey.” And they’re like,
“Just taking a rest.” And you’d turn
around– whoa! And there’s not a lot
of oxygen up there so it might have
something to do with it. (laughing)
There was a lot
of grass flomping. So, but they were also
really working hard, and we’re
collecting plants, and it’s kind of hard
to see what this is. It’s a plant that we
have when you take it, you…
(exhaling softly) It’s a dandelion. And we asked, “What
do you do with it?” And they said, “We make
a wish, and we blow.” And the Americans
loved that. (laughing) And the Chinese
loved that. So they were all…
(exhaling several times) together, and they were
connecting to each other. And they were doing that
through the natural world. And I love this– you know,
she’s pretty good at it, he’s great at it,
and he’s going, “I didn’t grow up with this.”
(laughing) What we’re emphasizing
is that they are experts in their own
environment. And to give it
increased meaning when you’re collecting
and you’re documenting, this connects them again
in a different way. And we’re doing
plant identifications. I can see– so we’re looking
for the scientific names, and we’re teaching
them how to do some of the scientific
parts of it, but if you’ll notice,
they’re doing this, and then there’s a little
Mickey Mouse hat creeping in. And that’s
a little kid. And part of the
idea of this is to have it be
intergenerational. So you have teenagers
you are working with. And then, you’ve got
younger children. Again, it’s
this watching. They think whatever the
older kids do is the coolest, and it’s also
fascinating. They have people from
other parts of China which is a pretty
big deal in Tibet, and they have Americans,
and what are they doing? “Oh, they’re interested
in plants, and our plants.” So, we also were
interviewing elders. ‘Cause they’re really the
ones with the knowledge. And the idea was to
have the students interview their own elders,
so they don’t need me. To have them do
it themselves. So, we’re working
on some techniques, how you analyze, and again, the idea is so that
when these people pass away, that knowledge does
not die with them. And things started to change
after we’d been interviewing. The elders were
talking about incense, and we were going home, and
one of the kids was like, “Hey, hey, that’s
an incense tree.” Now, before when we
were doing the plants, if you couldn’t eat it
or throw it at somebody, it wasn’t
included. Now, their plant world
was expanding, shifting. And the idea is then to bring
that out to larger ideas– ecosystems,
sustainability. Where can go
with this? And it was teaching
each other. So, again, we’ve got–
we made a booklet. Chinese, and Tibetan,
and English. They’re drawing the plants,
connecting with the specimens. They then gave
presentations, and it was always the
Tibetan person in the group who gave the presentation
that the whole group helped them
work on it. But they were the
ones speaking out. And all the nationalities
working together, to translate, to make
the lights work. You know, and it was
frustrating sometimes. It wasn’t all
“hoo-hoo-hoo.” But the idea was really
connecting them to place, their place, and
doing it through this in-depth interaction
with the environment… and with
cultural knowledge. Now, with knowledge with
the very traditional– and you look, and she’s
got her rosy cheeks, and she’s talking to
us about her plants, and then we hear this
ch-chang-chang-chang, whaaa, bng! It’s like, “What?” Chang-chang-chang
whaaaaa b-b-brng! And she pulls a phone
out of her dress, and goes and
answers it. I’m like, “Wha…?”
(chuckling) And I realized– you know,
that surprised me. That wasn’t my image of them,
but that’s what’s real. And this was really
brought to light when there was a man
at the monastery. I went to the monastery
where all the stones are, and you circle. You get kind of good juju
when you circle. And then, it
started to rain, and I thought maybe
you get extra credit, like good youdabahooda
when it rains if you kept walking,
which wasn’t true at all ’cause this guy was like,
“Hey, yo foreigner, come in!” I was like,
“Oh.” And he was the caretaker
of the monastery. And I went inside and
he gave me this… (sighing)
ubiquitous glass of yak milk that always appears. And I had to drink it.
(sighing) And he had his
prayer beads. I mean, this is the
caretaker of the monastery. And I’m holding
my yak milk, and I’m looking around,
and I see that! I was like,
“What?!” Not only is it a television,
it’s a flat screen. And it’s big! And I was like,
“You spend all day “walking in circles
and praying.” I was like, “Yeah, and
then I guess he comes home “and watches a movie.”
(laughing) And I had to put this
together in my mind. But this was just
his reality. So, again, this connection–
culture and nature– it doesn’t always look
how you think it will. And again, the idea is
to increase empowerment through peoples’ controlling
their own knowledge, that, “I don’t need
to go and do that.” And again, so the kids,
the kids get it, so also, so they
are not victims. That they are empowered
through their own work. And really reconnecting
with the land and the culture
and the plants. And through doing that, really
reconnecting with themselves, and doing this
through geography. Thank you. (applause)>>Maria, thank you
so very, very much. We have time for
a few questions. I have a question first,
though, if you don’t mind, and that is this– you talk about going to
these very isolated places at the far ends
of the earth. You reflected on,
really, a couple of the challenges
that you’ve faced. Being hit in the head with
a rock by a chimp, okay.>>(Dr. Fadiman laughing).>>And trying to conquer
some Tibetan writing which our Western
minds, I guess, are just not able
to decipher. Would you care to share,
perhaps, in a general sense, what your greatest
challenge might have been in these
environments?>>The greatest
challenge. I would– did I
just turn it– oh. I would say one of the
greatest challenges is finding a place really
within the communities. There are a lot of
physical challenges where it is, you know,
hiking up hills, and there’s not
a lot of oxygen. And actually, we were
hiking up to a monastery and I said, “My group,
we’re gonna hike.” The rest of them
were taking buses. And then, the other kids
wanted to hike with me, and I said, “Yeah,
sure, sure.” And then, another
person said, “Maria, they won’t make it–
you can’t do that.” And I was like,
“Okay, just my group.” So we start hiking,
and I’ve never hiked where there’s
very little oxygen. (laughing) So, my group was
all “ch-ch-choo.” You know, they’re
all 16 years old. And I’m like…
(gasping and wheezing) And it was so humbling
and so embarrassing, and so mortifying, and I
would just have to sit down ’cause I could
not breathe. And my image of myself
as being able-bodied, and going up, and being tough,
and showing everybody that– I was like, “I gotta suck it up,
’cause I can’t walk.” So there was a humbling–
like the physicality of that. And we did make it
to the monastery, really, after everybody
else was up there. So there’s those, but
the real challenge is how to have people
accept me in the community? How do I find the balance
between learning from them, trying to offer what I have
to give, being respectful, understanding boundaries
that are new to me? And frankly, also being out
there is so incredible, and you’re in
another culture, and sometimes I just can’t
believe I’m out there. And also, sometimes,
it drives me nuts. (laughing)
I’m tired of watching
every move I make. I’m tired of trying to
be socially correct with everything
I do. I’m tired of having
somebody follow me every– when I
go to bathe, I’m gonna have a
little group of kids who are like, “Ooh,
what’s this look like?” (chuckling) That gets hard. And not the question
of challenge, but it’s also so incredible
when you do start to feel like you’re
just part of it. When I was up in the
tent with the nomads, and I’m so– I’ve got–
I’ve tried to learn 10 words of Tibetan, and I’m
trying to say those, and we’re working with it, and
I’m trying to be respectful, and they’re trying
to figure me out, and we’re doing
this whole thing. And then, at some point,
it just started to relax. And we were laying down,
and they were laughing, and I was laughing, and I
thought maybe I understood why. (laughing) But there was a shift,
so there’s that moment when you do get there and it’s
so incredible to really feel like you’re a part of it, as
much an outsider ever can be. And it’s hard getting
to that point. That takes a
lot of energy and a lot of emotional
fortitude for me.>>Well, you’re revealing
much concerning the notion of sense
of place, really. And for these people both
in Asia and in Africa, this matter of plants is a
connection to their place, and it must be
extremely frustrating for the older generations
to see their children lost to technology,
in many ways. Would you care to elaborate on
that just for a few moments? Maybe interactions you
had with some members of the older
generation that they’ve commented
on those things?>>It’s interesting,
and it’s complicated, ’cause also
my image was– and they certainly
were projecting this in the beginning, that,
you know, “We care about this, “and they just care
about their cell phones.” And it was never as
simple as just that. We were in one of the meetings
with the healers in Africa, and people are talking,
“Which plants do we use?” And people were really involved,
and one of the guys has an iPad, and he’s trying to figure
out how to take pictures, and he keeps taking
pictures of himself, and he’s looking
at that, and everyone starts looking
at that, and it was– that was
confusing to me. ‘Cause I thought,
“Wait, don’t you guys “care about the plants
and the environment “as younger generation that
just cares about their phones?” And there is some
truth to that. And technology is really
exciting for all of us. And it’s hard for me,
because I when wanna say, “Oh, technology, you
guys shouldn’t have that. “That disconnects you,”
I have a cell phone. Does it disconnect me
from what’s around me? Often, yes. But I’m not in a
position to say, “You guys can’t
use what I use.” And there is a difference
with the generations there, and the interest. The older people
are connected. They’ve grown up
using those plants, and many of the younger
generation haven’t. Many of them
may have used some, but they also are getting
medicines from the store which, of course, is hard when
you don’t have very much money. So, it is–
there is a divide, and when you watch some
of the younger generation get excited about what the
older generation knows, it’s just a new level of
connection again to place. And place for all of
us– if you think– if there’s a tree that you
grew up with in your yard, and that means
something to you. If it means
something to you, then your yard means
something to you, and that tree means
something to you, and where you are
means something. And for them to be
attached to place, ’cause also, certainly,
as television comes in, you see people living
really differently in other parts
of the world, and that looks
really appealing. And again, I’m not one to say,
“You can’t go live that way.” And it complicates
where they do live, and what that
interaction is. And again, with the
generations, you know, when that woman
pulled the cell phone out of her dress, we were up in
the middle of the mountains, and there’s nothing
there, and I’m thinking, “Oh, my gosh!”
(chuckling) And then, I had
to catch myself. I’m like, “Why are
you judging her?” And so, it’s having– for me
to also have to absorb that this is what
people are doing. So, also as some
people have said, which I think is
a good suggestion, is with the booklets
and things, “How about putting
them on the web?” There’s a little bit
of complication between– you have
to get the rights, and those people
have to want that. But then, also… they actually don’t have
WiFi often, many of them. But if they could get, somehow,
this on their phones at all, that might excite them
about that information in a different way. So it’s also looking at
maybe incorporating that. Yeah?
>>Did you ever
feel uncomfortable or like discredited
for being a female in some of the
male-dominated cultures?>>That’s a good question.
>>Can you repeat that?>>Pardon?
>>Can you repeat the question?>>Ah, just asking did
I ever feel discredited being a female in many of
these male-dominated cultures? Which is really
a good question ’cause that
comes up, and… you know, it’s interesting
’cause my experience, for the most part, has been
that, often, as a female, it’s almost easier
for me to get in because I’m not
threatening to them. That it is considered,
“I’m just a chick. “What could I do?”
(chuckling) And so, often, I’m
invited in more easily sometimes than
a man would be. I’m certainly then more privy
to what women would talk about. They’re much more
open with me. And in many ways, I get
to straddle the worlds because also I can go out
into the forest with the men. They will take
me out there, where sometimes they
wouldn’t take the women. Because I’m a little bit
neither here nor there. There was actually
one point, I was– well, I was wearing pants,
field pants out there, and the women
all wear skirts, and one of the
kids came up, and asked one of the
people we were with– he’s like,
“Is that a man?” (chuckling)
And I’m like, “Wow! “I’ve never had
that mistake happen!” (laughing) And so, there’s also I
think a little confusion about exactly
what I am. And actually,
another time, I was– it was in Africa,
and I was walking– I was doing some work down
the road with people, and I bumped into
some other people, and they were all
cutting up elephant meat. Actually, the whole thing
was very exotic to me. And they were like, “Oh
come over, come over.” And I was like,
“Oh, okay.” And they invited
me into the hut. And I’m like, “Oh,
this is so exciting.” And they pointed
for me to sit down, and there were these
little, tiny stools that they were
sitting on. So I sat on a little stool, and
I’m like, “Whoo, I’m in Africa, “I’m in a hut,
whoo-hoo-hoo!” And then,
I looked, and I heard,
“Cchh-cchh-cchh!” And all the women were on
the other side of the hut. And I was
like, “Oh!” And they were going,
(grunting), and I was like,
“Oh, really– sorry.” (chuckling) And so, I went over
to the women’s side, and they were all sitting
on mats on the ground. They were lower. That much lower,
but lower. And then, everybody
settled down when I sat. But you know, the men
had invited me there, so sometimes, I’m a little
neither here nor there. So, actually,
for me, I have found that I do have
access to people. Now, do I have to look out
for my personal safety? Yes, and I think
in a different way. I had my little bike, and I
was very excited, after all, because, I mean, I–
“(speaking Kiswahili)” to everybody who saw me,
but not after dark. Not that I would
necessarily do that in places in the
United States as well. But I would make sure I
would bicycle in before dark so I wasn’t out as a
woman alone after dark. And a male researcher,
that might be different. It might not. So, in my personal experience,
I’ve been really treated with respect, although
many of these societies, in certain ways, there
is a level of sexism that is different than
to what I’m used to.>>Hi there–
two questions. The first was
with reference to your scientific
naming, nomenclature. Did you have readily
accessible keys that were indigenous
to that area? Or how did you come
about actually identifying the plants
scientifically?>>Good question, so how
do we identify the plants? I’ve got those fancy
scientific names,. And as I was saying earlier,
I’ve taken my botany classes, I’m learning how
key out plants, and I go to a place I don’t
know, and there’s no chance. (laughing) I’m like, “That’s right, I’m
a geographer not a botanist. “You know, I don’t
wear that hat!” So, actually for this, Grace
has more botany than I do, but also we took them to the
university in Dar es Salaam, one of the big
cities in Tanzania, where they have
an herbarium. And you work with specimens
that they have there, and they have keys, but
also you compare specimens to see if
they overlap. And they’re also
botanical experts there. So that is a
good question. How do you get that
scientific aspect taken of? And that’s really
where teamwork and collaborative work
comes together.>>Absolutely–
thank you so much. And then, just secondly,
is there a message in terms of just the tenets
that you’re presenting in terms of transferring that
to even our own country? And I look back, and I
think of my grandmother, who is 104, and she’s got
more plant concoctions than I can even
care to remember. And just to learn
from her, you know– “Well, you use this for a burn,
and you use this if you have–” and it’s, like, I wonder
if there’s a piece of this that we’ve
lost, too. Or maybe it calls upon us to–
I don’t mean to editorialize, but to maybe be mindful
about that to our elders and what they know and
maybe what history is still within
our grasp.>>I think that’s a wonderful
both question and comment. And absolutely! I go work out
in the boonies ’cause I’m
into that, and I teach ethnobotany
at my university and it’s always
their project. They all have
to do a project. And it all has to be
that they have to– it’s boots on the ground,
so it has to be in Florida, and it has to be either
talking to elders or looking at how plants
are used in different ways. So, absolutely, I am
a big believer that– ’cause if it’s a place
that I have chosen, I don’t think that has any more
importance than any other place. And I think all
of the things that are happening out here
are happening right here. And absolutely. And if you’ve got– if you all
have elders and grandparents who do use plants
in any way, you know, not to
tell you what to do, but I’m gonna tell
you what to do.
(laughing) Just take a minute,
write some of them down, so that that doesn’t
get lost here where it’s already so
much of it has been lost. But absolutely,
and that’s a big– and there’s lots of people
who do ethnobotanical work in the
United States. That’s also really a
big, common thing to do. But it is something
that we can all do. Right? Of course, my
grandparents are dead, so I’m off the hook.
(all laughing)>>In the beginning of it,
you had emphasized using their
language first. I believe you
said is was Kiha?>>Mmm-hmm.
>>Why was that so important to use theirs first? And you followed up with
there wasn’t much literacy. So, he was really proud that
it’s his words in writing and he acted like he’d
never really seen that. How does that play a role
in this whole situation?>>Ah, that’s
a good question. So, and also, I might
have misspoke. There’s– quite a few
of them are literate. But the seeing… seeing
your own language in print, and it’s something
I had to get used to that, because we see English
in print all the time. We see it all
over the place. And I had to really
get into the mindset, if you had– and some
of you perhaps English is not your
first language, and to have that be
validated in terms of print. And it’s hard to say why when
something is written down, it becomes
more important. But there’s something about
that that it just is. So when people see their
own words written down in something
sort of official– I mean, the booklet that
looks more professional than other things– there is a sense of,
“Wow, my culture, my tribe. “The words and the
language we use.” Which is usually
always pushed down. So, it’s English– “Yeah,
you gotta learn English, “you gotta
learn English. “Oh, Kiswahili– well, that’s
what everybody’s speaking.” Well, what about
the language of us? Well, the tribe
is not so important, and we’re saying,
“Yes, it is.” And that’s why it was so
important to have it first. To not have the other
languages precede it, but to show that’s the
place we were putting it.>>(with accent)
Question of a general nature. Do you think it is possible
that we kind of register as possible as accurate
the cultures which are slowly
disappearing for our benefits, from whatever you have
today presented to us. But some other
aspects, too. Do you think it’s
possible to do that? I have been in Africa
where you cannot go with any type of car,
back in 1982. The language
was Kikongo. Well, except my translator,
nobody could understand. I was attending
order of a dinner for guests of honor–
that was me. No Verizon,
just tam tam. I was listening
to that. It is reality– I didn’t
see it in Hollywood movie. So, question is,
can we register that for the benefit of
future generations?>>I think just to make
sure so everybody can hear, can we register– make
sure I have it right– all the cultures and then
also sharing a little bit about the experience of
being way out there, a long time earlier
before I was out there. It was probably
a lot more exotic. I mean, I think
we have to try. I just think there’s
so much rich culture, there are a lot of people who
are working with just language so these languages
don’t die away. Because again, the first
thing of a culture, if your language goes,
your culture starts to go. And so, I think that
what makes this world as interesting and
rich and diverse, and what we have to
learn from each other, I feel like we
have to try. Can we? I can’t go
that far. I’m just going for the
effort we can put into it.>>How does your
work tie in with the pharmaceutical
companies, and so forth? I mean, hearing you talk about
these plants and so forth, I think of all
pharmaceutical companies that are doing
a lot of this and trying to find
drugs and so forth.>>That’s a really
good question. So, asking about the
pharmaceutical companies and finding new drugs,
the cure for cancer. When I first started doing
ethnobotanical work, I was all about
medicinal plants. And that, to me–
I’d heard about it, I knew about it,
it’s very exciting. You go out and
it’s all green, and those leaves actually
mean something to someone, and they can
cure you. And there was
a combination. One is I– I was
actually saying earlier that I was going out with a
curandero, a healer, in Ecuador, and I used to go
out every day, and I’d write down all
his plants, and take them. And then, one day, I had
kind of a sore throat. And I was
like, “Hey.” I was like,
“Hey… (croaking) “What should
I take?” And he said, “Well, why
don’t you take two aspirins “so we can go?”
(all laughing) I was like,
“What?” So, partly, I wanted
to work with things I could see and touch, and
people would make things out of, as opposed to not that
they don’t use those plants, but I didn’t see the
actual use as much. And there’s the whole concept
of intellectual property rights. And that is, with the
pharmaceutical companies– and I initially,
there’s a company called Shaman
Pharmaceuticals. I kept trying to
get a job with them. They finally wrote me
back after I’d gotten into graduate school,
and I was like, “Well.” Where they’re trying to work
with the shaman’s knowledge as a way to find
the alkaloids– I mean, the plant– the
medicines we have now, aspirin originally comes
from the willow tree. And there’s so many
medicines we use that have originally
come from plants, and so pharmaceutical
companies are saying, “Well, let’s find what
that alkaloid is. “What is that
chemical composition?” “And then, basically,
we’re going synthesize it.” And in so doing, it
is very complicated because before you just take
the information and leave. Now, people are trying
to be more conscientious. But do you give that to
the healer who told you? But what if all the
healers in the region know that information, you
just weren’t talking with them? So, do they all get
some of that money? Should the country
get the money? Does that go to a
corrupt government where those people then
never get the money? If you influx a whole
bunch of money to a culture that’s not used to
working with it, is that a help, is
that a detriment? It’s really complicated
and, of course, if the cure for cancer is
out there, we all want that. So, it’s sort of a long
answer to your question, that is a huge issue
that is up there. And frankly, part of
my way of handling it is I have backed away literally
from medicinal plants. So, actually this book,
medicinal plants are part of it, but we also had all
those other categories of plants that
are important. And as someone was saying,
especially with the Africa one, they said the really,
really powerful ones, they said, “They’re
not telling you those.” And I was like, “Fair enough,”
because we made it very clear, “We only want to know what
you want to share with us.” So, but that’s good question
because it’s complicated and pharmaceutical companies
are out there, yeah.>>We’re gonna take one
more question over here, and then Dr. Fadiman
will answer it, and then I will make some
closing comments, okay?>>Hi there.
>>Hi!>>First, I wanted to
say, thank you very much for the presentation
that you’ve done, and I was
highly intrigued– there’s something that
normally intrigues me. It normally has to do with
something that concerns me, or, you know, a thought–
and a big thing for me is, like, technology nowadays
in the United States and how it affects
our generation opposed to generations
where you were. Where there
was technology, and you could see
that separation in between the elders who
didn’t use the technology opposed to the kids
who were using them. How would you say it
would be different, compare and
contrast, like… to say if they did
have technology there, do you feel like in
the United States, I almost feel like it
isn’t as important to kids to learn about
nature, and to learn about– because we have it
so easily accessible. So, part of it for me is,
like– I guess the question is “Do you feel like, as
different parts of the world “start to learn more and
more about technology “and things get easier,
do you see– “think there’d be as
much of a care there, “or do you feel like it
would get more leaned upon “like it is
here nowadays?”>>So just to
kind of see if I– so there’s use of
technology here, and there’s a bit of
a generation gap here, and kind of looking at
that generation gap there, and looking a little bit, kind
of comparing the two groups?>>Would say that
relying on technology– what would
you say– I guess I don’t really
know how to word it, but could you say that
the relying on technology, would you say to people
in the United States that it should be important
that you educate yourself? You know, like, the people that
are so highly interested there, would you say that
it’d be important to take that and grasp that
here for kids our age?>>Okay, so I think if
I’m gonna interpret this the way– and I’m sure
you’re saying it clearly. I’m trying to…
(clicking noise). Got my older lady brain on.
(laughing) Technology! Sort of some of the issues I
feel with technology there, would some of
those apply here? And also having people
here be as connected to nature here as
opposed to there, even though it’s a somewhat
different situation? He’s givin’ it to me, maybe
that’s what you meant, and I appreciate that.
(chuckling) Yes.
(chuckling) I think that being connected
to the natural world– this is my opinion–
I think it is essential to human beings and,
not to sound cheesy, but to the health
of the planet. That we are so
separated from that. And that doesn’t
mean it’s lost, though, and I think
technology– and again, I’m
probably not a great person
to ask about technology. I can turn my cell
phone on, I can text, and we’ve just about
hit my limit with what I know how to do.
(chuckling) So… but in many ways,
it adds so much, and we increase our
communication in many ways, and, of course, we limit it
and all of that. But also, in terms of where
technology plays a role in our further
separating from nature– and I’d say we’re already
so separate in many ways. But we also
aren’t. It’s even things–
like, we’re in here, and we are separated
from the ground, and we’ve got something
above us and walls, but we’ve got windows and
what we have out there is we’re growing grass
which has got it’s own ecological
problems, but! And trees, and
there are things that we’re naturally
connected to that people do bring
into their world. So, I think tapping in to what
people already like and want– I did a project on
urban parks in Shanghai. Shanghai– I mean, it is
thick with pollution. My friend jumped out and
took a picture one day because the
sky was blue. And like,
“This never happens!” Well, that
is true. And I was doing the
urban parks there, and people flocked
to the parks. So I think there’s something
innate in all of us that we are connected
to the natural world. And we do live in
a different world, and I’m not saying we need
to go sleep in the dirt. That’s not how
we function. But it is a way of looking at
how can we incorporate more? You know, is it talking to our
elders about their plant use? Is it looking at the
plants in our world, and saying, “Well, how could
we connect a little bit more?” And with
technology, I think different people
just feel differently. So I might say, “Use
technology to do that.” I don’t know how
they do that, but I’m gonna grant them
that’s a possibility. Mine would be to take a step
back for a little while, and kind of look up
instead of down.>>Well, it appears that
through these booklets and through the manner
in which the booklets are relating this
indigenous plant knowledge to local communities
in Africa and Tibet, you have this project
going on as well, there is a sense of empowerment
that is developed among those that are residing in
some of these areas. Despite globalization
with this technology that is rampant
across the world, it appears that
perhaps these youths are developing a
sense of pride as they take ownership
in their heritage, perhaps more so than
they would have otherwise had they just become
deeply immersed in that, I’ll say,
Western-oriented technology. It’s very
intriguing. I’ve not thought about
it in that manner before, especially with regard
to ethnobotany. That being said, I’d also like
to extend a special thanks to Maria for
her talk. Please, a round
of applause. (applause) Geography lives– amen?
>>(scattered) Amen.>>All right, go out there
and spread the word.

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