Dangerous Harvest: Drug Plants and the Transformation of Indigenous Landscapes

Dangerous Harvest: Drug Plants and the Transformation of Indigenous Landscapes

Dangerous Harvest: Drug Plants and the Transformation of Indigenous Landscapes

Dangerous Harvest: Drug Plants and the Transformation of Indigenous Landscapes

Synopsis

Throughout history almost all traditional indigenous societies have used psychoactive substances derived from plants in religious and healing rituals. Once such plants are adopted by outsiders for profane use, the often impoverished peasant farmers who grow them are faced with a life of extreme poverty or are lured by the prospect of a very lucrative cash crop with a steady market. Before long, their cultural and physical landscape is drastically altered. The purpose of this book is to explore this issue from a variety of perspectives, ranging from opium production in Afghanistan and Pakistan to peyote gardens in south Texas.

Excerpt

The global drug trade and its associated violence, corruption, and human suffering create global problems that involve not only the use and abuse of substances that have traveled across great geographic spaces but also political and military conflict and policy, economic development, and indigenous and ethnic minority rights in the production regions. Drug production and eradication efforts directly affect the stability of many states and relations between states, shaping and sometimes distorting foreign policy (McCoy 1991, 1999; Bagley and Walker 1996; Meyer and Parssinen 1998; Albright 1999; Rohter 1999). Drug production and the efforts to halt it often derail national and local development (Westermeyer 1982; Smith 1992; Goodson 2001) and create potential human rights violations as small-scale producers get caught in the legal crossfire between their dangerous harvest and economic hardship (Sanabria 1992; Kent 1993; Clawson and Lee 1998). External demand and influence, not indigenous cultures, have transformed apparently simple, local agricultural activities into very complex global problems.

Psychoactive plants have always played important cultural roles in indigenous and ethnic minority landscapes. After a history of coevolution and experimentation, indigenous societies came to use psychoactive substances derived from plants in a range of religious and healing rituals. Traditional healers, or shamans, consume psychoactive plants to consult with the spiritual world in order to foretell the future and assist patients; patients ingest psychoactive substances to rid themselves of demons or diseases; and indigenous cultures use psychoactive substances in semiritualistic social situations to reinforce social and political bonds or simply as recreation. However, as these traditional cultures come into contact with the outside world, nonindigenous societies often mimic these practices, trying to reach a β€œnew level of consciousness.”

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