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ISE Newsletter Volume 5, Issue 2 (August 2013)

In this issue of the ISE Newsletter, focused on Ethnomedicine, Alain Cuerrier and Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel provide an overview of Ethnomedicine in the contemporary world, Karim-Aly Kassam and his research group at Cornell University take us on the journey of indigenous communities in the Himalayan Range, the Pamir Mountains, the Siemen Mountains and Northern Maine towards health sovereignty, and Nemer Narchi shares the history of marine medicines. 


Editorial: Ethnomedicine in the contemporary world

Contributed by Alain Cuerrier and Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel. This issue of the ISE Newsletter focuses on ethnomedicine, sometimes used as a synonym for traditional or indigenous medicine. Ethnomedicine usually refers to the health beliefs, knowledge and practices derived from indigenous cultures, as opposed to the conceptual and practical frameworks of biomedicine or modern medicine, a misnomer since ethnomedicine is still a modern tool in many countries…

Indigenous Knowledge and Health Sovereignty

Contributed by Karim-Aly Kassam. Sovereignty is about individuals and communities exercising agency. The notion of sovereignty incorporates dimensions of ecological possibility, cultural appropriateness, knowledge capacity, and social governance structures of communities or regions with respect to meeting their food, health and energy needs. The notions of health security and health sovereignty are analogous to the discussion of food security and food sovereignty…

The Role of Schools in Conserving Medicinal Plants: Findings from Eastern Nepal

Figure 2. Amrit Bahadur Rai, Yangshila’s first teacher and Conservator of Botanical Knowledge

Contributed by Rajeev Goyal. When the foothill region, known as the “Chure Bawar” or “Little Himalayas,” was first settled, Amrit Bahadur Rai founded the Sawitri Primary School in Yangshila village in 1969, and served as its first headmaster and teacher. Today, Amrit Baaje (“Grandfather Amrit”), as he is known, is also the most knowledgeable medicinal plant expert of Yangshila. He can be found living in a two-story home constructed of planks from local sal trees, shrouded in medicinal plants on the eastern edge of the village…

Medicine for the Trees: Biological Control of Chestnut Blight in Azerbaijan

Figure 3: Chestnut Castanea sativa fruits

Contributed by Jeffrey Wall. In the fourth century BCE, the Greek traveler Xenophon reported that chestnut was a prominent food for people of the Caucasus.  The tree and its use as food and timber first spread from this region around the Black Sea and eventually to Central and Western Europe . The Caucasus and Eastern Turkey remain the center of highest genetic diversity for the European chestnut, Castanea sativa.  The onset of chestnut blight, Cryphonectria parasitica, which has been reported in Azerbaijan since 2003, is a threat to this genetic diversity and to the livelihoods of chestnut-cultivating communities in the Caucasus Mountains of Azerbaijan…

Healing Agriculture: Medicinal Plants in the Semien Mountains of Ethiopia

Figure 6- Participatory mapping in the village of Mesqel Aura, Ethiopia

Contributed by Morgan Ruelle. Subsistence farmers in the Semien Mountains of Ethiopia maintain a rich legacy of plant diversity, including many plants they know how to use as medicine. These farming communities are encountering a number of complex changes, including population growth, new road construction and local effects of global climate change. Favorable market prices induce farmers to increase production of a few cash crops, often decreasing crop diversity and increasing the amount of land under permanent cultivation. As land use changes, medicinal plants may be eliminated from the landscape, thereby diminishing important local health care options…

Habitat Modeling for Health Sovereignty: The Case of Muskrat Root in Northern Maine

Figure 8_crop

Contributed by Michelle Baumflek. Medicinal plants and fungi play important roles in the health of Maliseet people from northern Maine, USA. A critical aspect of health sovereignty for this community is being able to locate and have access to these plants.  Commercial development on their traditional gathering sites and restricted access to privately owned lands limit the ability of the Maliseet to gather medicinal plants. Habitat modeling can enhance health sovereignty by identifying locations in which populations of medicinal plants can be conserved or established…

A Brief History of the Human Use of Marine Medicines

Figure 1 First plane sea stars of undeterminable species sold at mercado de las brujas as a cure for heart diseaseContributed by Nemer E. Narchi. During the year of 2007 I was walking down the streets of La Paz, Bolivia, as part of a group of anthropology students waiting for some others to arrive and go down to the Bolivian Amazon to learn field methods in anthropology as part of the Tsimane Amazonian Panel Study summer course. Walking on Cerro Cumbre, where the famous mercado de las brujas (the witchesʼ market) can be found, I saw something that sparked my curiosity…

Research Reports from the Field

In the Talamanca Mountains: A Photo Essay Describing My Experiences Working with Bribri Youth in Costa Rica

Photo GContributed by Olivia Sylvester. Why do youth use forest foods and medicines? This is a question I set out to answer during the research associated with my doctoral dissertation. Perhaps the part I enjoyed most was working with young people to create an engaging and inviting environment to do research. In this process, I learned a lot about young people’s lives. In this photo essay, I have chronicled my experiences before I began to collect data directly related to my research questions…

A Special note on Prior Informed Consent (PIC)

Contributed by Ranjay K. Singh. This article presents practical guidelines for healthy and ethical collaborative research with traditional knowledge holders and local/traditional communities. Experience indicates that, in a majority of cases, research on indigenous knowledge or traditional knowledge systems in India and elsewhere also is pursued with very least follow-up of ethical guidelines and prior informed consent of community partners and knowledge holders…

Getting to Know Bhutan before the 2014 ISE Congress

Bhutan6Contributed by Jigme Dorji, Olivia Sylvester, Anna Varga. Bhutan has a rich biocultural heritage, but information about this country may be challenging to find. To help you prepare for your travels in 2014 to attend the 14th International Society of Ethnobiology Congress in Bhutan, we have provided you with some important facts…

Conference and Workshop Reports

ISE Round Table on “Ethics, Ethnobiology, and Participatory Research” at the 3rd Latin American Conference of Ethnobiology.

SOLAEContributed by Armando Medinaceli. In the framework of the collaboration that exists between ISE and SOLAE (Sociedad Latinoamericana de Etnobiología), and as a follow up to a first joint session on ethics in 2010, a round table on “ethics, ethnobiology, and participatory research” was held at the III Latin American Society of Ethnobiology congress in La Paz, Bolivia (12 October 2012)…

ISE Announcements

Call for Nominations and Applications for the ISE Darrell Posey Fellowship

ISE Darrell Posey Fellowship pictureThe Call for Nominations and Applications for the 2013 – 2015 ISE Darrell Posey Fellowship for Ethnoecology and Traditional Resource Rights awards is open! In 2013 we will award one Field Fellowship, two Small Grants, two PhD Fellowships, and two Masters Fellowships. All seven awards include additional funds to support the recipients’ participation at the 2014 ISE Congress in Bhutan.

Update on the 2014 ISE Congress: 1-7 June 2014, Bhutan


This announcement includes general updates about the Congress, as well as information about logistics, registrations fees, and the program of events.


ISE Member Forum

Other important announcements, including fellowship and job opportunities, are posted on the ISE Member forum. The Forum is open to ISE members. If you haven’t registered for the forum yet, you can do so here. If you are not yet a member of the ISE community, you can join the ISE or renew your membership here.