“Every time a shaman dies, it is as if a library burned down.” - Mark J. Plotkin, PhD
The old caboclo woman stopped abruptly in her explanation of the plant in her hand and stared to the back of our group, at the tall, sun-browned, shirtless man who had just stepped into her garden. “Ele é índio?” the old midwife asked excitedly, “ele entende muito de plantas, ervas, remédios?!” The newcomer had been just about to snap a photo of the scene but the force of old woman's reaction startled him into almost dropping his camera. He turned to my girlfriend Amber and I with a confused look, “What did she just say?”
I chuckled out loud and translated for him while Amber explained to the old woman that no, our friend Kenny was neither a “native” nor from the jungle, that he was originally from Hong Kong and - as an energy trader on Wall Street – Kenny’s particular knowledge of stocks and plants probably wasn’t quite what the old woman was hoping for. The midwife’s mistake was easy enough to understand though: a dark brown, muscular man with long raven-black hair, Kenny looked like a piece of history stepping out of the jungle. In fact, most of the people we had met during our weeklong tour of riverside communities had made the same mistake about Kenny’s heritage. What surprised me instead about the old midwife’s reaction was that even though practically a medicine woman herself - born and raised in the Amazon - she still seemed desperate to pump an outsider for his knowledge of local plants and medicines.