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Lisa Gollin's PhD Work
My dissertation research builds on prior ethnomedical and ethnobotanical projects I have conducted in Java, Sumatra, and Maluku. Fieldwork took place in Dayak Kenyah communities in East Kalimantan, Borneo (Indonesia) first in 1994 and then in 1997-98 Funding for dissertation research was provided by a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (award no. PO22260043) and by a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant (award no. SBR96-14148).
I lived in a small village (pop. 165) situated in a river valley bordering the Kayan-Mentarang National Park, one of the largest rain forest reserves in Southeast Asia. Dayak Kenyah Leppo' Ke is the majority cultural group in the study village, although there are other cultural groups represented as well.
Interviews were conducted in Bahasa Indonesia and the local language (Kenyah Leppo' Ke) by myself and my local field associate, Ba'un Uluk, in the study village as well as in neighboring settlements along the Bahau River.
Broadly, my research examines health and healing in a community heavily reliant on plants -- be they grown, gathered, or managed -- for primary health care. I start by looking at the epidemiology of the area and how people conceptualize health and illness. How do the Leppo' Ke organize and categorize disease? What are the recognized causation factors of illness (e.g., spirit-borne, natural causes such as wind, and rain)? How are botanical and other (e.g., animal, mineral) therapies prepared and administered (e.g., orally, topically, via incisions, tattoos, enemas, etc.)? Are they combined with Western pharmaceuticals? What are indigenous concepts of efficacy? In other words, what is the expected outcome of botanical preventives and treatments? Is their purpose to, for instance, "draw out" disease (apan tai kawang), to "cool" a feverish body (apan sengim), or to cure (apan tai ndeng)? I also cover how Leppo' Ke understandings of illness and therapy converge and diverge from those of the biomedical perspective.
Two key questions asked by ethnobotanists are: what is the cultural and chemical basis for the discovery and ongoing use of medicinal plants by indigenous peoples, and, how do botanical preparations have the potential to influence physical health? A common fallacy in ethnobotany has been that people discover new botanicals by "trial and error," suggesting a random approach to selection of medicinal plants. But this is a precarious and potentially lethal proposition for negotiating the chemical cocktail of the rain forest environment. Recent research demonstrates far more systematic approaches to how people negotiate, exploit, and manipulate their natural surroundings. People tend to favor plants with distinctive taste, smell (e.g. bitterness, astringency) and physiologic features (e.g. blood red or milky latex) for their native pharmacopoeia; plants that are also particularly high in secondary metabolites known to be of pharmacological value.
I center my study on the chemosensory and symbolic attributes of plants that guide the Leppo' Ke in their selection and utilization of medicinal flora from the wide array offered by their local environment. How do the Leppo' Ke classify their floral and chemosensory environment? What gives a specific plant its power to cure? What are the therapeutic attributes of chemosensory properties (e.g., astringent plants are favored for GI problems)? By conducting an extensive investigation of the chemistry, pharmacology, and cross-cultural use of study plants, I am able to consider questions such as: What do bioscientific assessments of the Leppo' Ke pharmacopoeia reveal about the biological activity and potential physiological effect of plant use? What compounds might people be identifying in their sensory cataloging of medicinal plants, and what is the predictive value of this system? Is "informant consensus an accurate indicator of a plant's efficacy?
Findings will be published in 2000. The data generated by this study will benefit the Kenyah communities' current effort to preserve and develop medicinal knowledge and resources, will aid government workers to design culturally-appropriate health services, and can be used to influence policy decisions on nature conservation at a regional, national, and international level. Research findings on remedies that enjoy the highest degree of local success, coupled with phytochemical analysis, can be used to expand the availability of pharmacological resources. Toward this end I have been collaborating with study participants in putting together a guide to the local pharmacopoeia to be written in Indonesian and Kenyah. The botanical guide will also include information on the ecology and abundance of medicinal taxa. (Funds for completion of guide are still being sought).
A FEW SUGGESTED REFERENCES AND RELATED STUDIES
Brett, J. A. and M. Heinrich (1998). "Culture, perception and the envirnoment: the role of chemosensory perception." Angewandte Botanik(72): 67-69.
Etkin, N. L. (1993a). "Anthropological methods in ethnopharmacology." Journal of Ethnopharmacology (38): 93-104.
Etkin, N. L. (1993b). The negotiation of 'side' effects in Hausa therapeutics. Medicines, meanings and contexts. N. L. Etkin and M. Tan. Manila, World Health Organization/HAIN.
Johns, T. (1994). Ambivalence to the palatability factors in wild food plant. Eating n the wild side: the pharmacological, ecological, and social implications of noncultigens. N.L. Etkin. Tucson, University of Arizona Press: 46-61.
Leaman, D. J. (1996b). The medical ethnobotany of the Kenyah of East Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Ottawa-Carleton Institute of Biology. Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Leaman, D. J., J. T. Aranson, et al. (1995). "Malaria remedies of the Kenyah of the Apo Kayan, East Kalimantan, Indonesia Borneo: a quantitative assessment f local consensus as an indicator of biological efficacy." Journal of Ethnopharmacology (49): 1-16.
Leaman, D. J., Y. Razali, et al. (1996a). The contribution of ethnobotanical research to socio-economic and conservation objectives: an example from the Apo Kayan Kenyah. Borneo in transition: people, forests, conservation and development. C. Padoch and N. L. Peluso. New York, Oxford University Press: 245-255.
Moerman, D. E. (1989). "Poisoned apples and honeysuckles: The medicinal plants of native America." Medical Anthropology Quarterly (3): 52-61.
Trotter, R. T. and M. H. Logan (1986). Informant consensus: a new approach for identifying potentially effective medicinal plants. Plants in indigenous medicine and diet: biobehavioral approaches. N.L. Etkin. New York, Redgrave Publishing Company: 91-112.