Consequences of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade on medicinal plant selection: plant use for cultural boud syndromes affecting children in Suriname and Western Africa.

T. Vossen, A.M. Towns, S. Ruysschaert, D.K. Quiroz Villarreal, T. van Andel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Folk perceptions of health and illness include cultural bound syndromes (CBS), ailments generally confined to certain cultural groups or geographic regions and often treated with medicinal plants. Our aim was to compare definitions and plant use for CBS regarding child health in the context of the largest migration in recent human history: the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We compared definitions of four CBS (walk early, evil eye, atita and fontanels) and associated plant use among three Afro-Surinamese populations and their African ancestor groups in Ghana, Bénin and Gabon. We expected plant use to be similar on species level, and assumed the majority to be weedy or domesticated species, as these occur on both continents and were probably recognized by enslaved Africans. Data were obtained by identifying plants mentioned during interviews with local women from the six different populations. To analyse differences and similarities in plant use we used Detrended Component Analysis (DCA) and a Wald Chi-square test. Definitions of the four cultural bound syndromes were roughly the same on both continents. In total, 324 plant species were used. There was little overlap between Suriname and Africa: 15 species were used on two continents, of which seven species were used for the same CBS. Correspondence on family level was much higher. Surinamese populations used significantly more weedy species than Africans, but equal percentages of domesticated plants. Our data indicate that Afro-Surinamers have searched for similar plants to treat their CBS as they remembered from Africa. In some cases, they have found the same species, but they had to reinvent the largest part of their herbal pharmacopeia to treat their CBS using known plant families or trying out new species. Ideas on health and illness appear to be more resilient than the use of plants to treat them.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere112345
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume9
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Keywords

  • sexual abstinence
  • bulging fontanel
  • rural ghana
  • health
  • care
  • infants
  • deficiency
  • diarrhea
  • illness
  • symptom

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