Photo by: Chris Kilham.

Cultural Preservation
Three Tahua

“Fire walking is an act of faith. I don’t know why it works. I don’t know why people don’t die doing it. But I found it very exhilarating.” - Chris Kilham, LA Times

All over the world, traditional people are disappearing. Native cultures with rich traditions are fading into twilight, displaced by timber companies, mining operations, petroleum exploration, land developers and thousands of entities who extract natural resources from the environment, and leave waste in exchange. On all continents native people have suffered, have been driven from homes and communities, and have wound up disenfranchised and reduced in numbers.

From the Amazon to China, from North America to the South Pacific, the world is changing rapidly. Some of this change is beneficial and good. Some of it spells disaster for traditional cultures. On the world stage, corporate interests supersede the interests of people whose ancestors have lived on the same lands for dozens of generations. As once-open lands become developed, as forests are cut down, as native places all over the world are subjected to every imaginable type of insult from fires to diseases, native people have fewer places to go.

As part of my work as a medicine hunter, I am interested in at least forestalling the decline of traditional cultures. I believe that through the medicinal plant trade, such people can earn a living, can remain on their own land, and can possess some economic clout in a world that apparently values money more than humans. If native people can cultivate or sustainably wild-harvest medicinal plants of decent commercial value, then they can help to reduce destruction of land for other purposes.

As the world population continues to explode, natural environments, from forests to reefs, will be even more stressed. More people means more need. More demand for animal, vegetable, mineral and other resources means broader exploitation of all ecosystems. This means greater cultural decline and displacement. Native people have many talents to share, and they deserve to thrive. But unless we find ways to curb population growth and reign in exploitation of the natural environment, there will simply be no place left for these people.