The Pusharo rock art found on the banks of the Shinkebeni River has survived as evidence of the fact that humans have inhabited the forests of Peru’s southeastern Amazon region, part of which is now protected by Tambopata National Reserve, for many hundreds of years. It is believed that the Arahuaco people (or their forebears) arrived as migrants, and that the other ethnic groups recorded by anthropologists were derived from these first colonists. Some of those ethnic groups, such as the Machiguenga, have survived in this part of Peru into the 21st century.
Over countless generations, the peoples who made these forests their home developed a harmonious relationship with the natural world and the fauna and flora upon which their survival depended.
In addition to a deep understanding of the many dangers that lurk in the forests of South America’s Amazon region, an essential component of this centuries-old ongoing coexistence with nature was the development of communal knowledge concerning the benefits of medicinal plants.
Today, the people of this part of the Amazon basin continue to use traditional medicine. Existing outside mainstream scientific practice (which in fact has become increasingly interested in ancestral medical practices and their possible applications in the modern world), traditional medicine represents the sum total of theoretical knowledge and practical skills that have been passed on from one generation to the next in what many people still tend to view as “primitive societies”.
More than 78,000 people live in the area around Tambopata National Reserve, and many of them continue to practice traditional medicine themselves, or to seek out the “healers” or “medicine men” who are the inheritors of such knowledge.
In Tambopata, plants are traditionally employed in an astonishing variety of treatments. The berries, leaves, seeds and bark of a vast array of plant species are used to treat ailments ranging from dysentery to kidney complaints, tooth decay, colds, diabetes, urinary infections, yellow fever, rheumatism, ulcers, skin infections, malaria and even depression. Increasingly, modern scientific research has begun to show that many of the effects traditionally attributed to medicinal plants can be laboratory tested. Mimosa pudica, for example, traditionally used as a contraceptive, has been shown under laboratory conditions to reduce fertility in rats when administered in high doses.
Undoubtedly, Amazon forests like those protected by Tambopata National Reserve and Tambopata Ecolodge constitute an as yet largely untapped source of medical treatments with the potential to benefit the modern world.