Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Sanctuary for Medicinal Plants

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Sanctuary for Medicinal Plants

Article excerpt

FOR THE KOFAN people, who live in the Ecuador/Colombia border region, native plants provide life: they are the Kofans' traditional medicines.

During recent decades, however, outsiders have illegally settled on and deforested much of the Koran land, plant-Lug soy and coca crops in the newly cleared areas. Petroleum production has damaged other areas, driving many medicinal plant species into near extinction.

"Since the medicinal plants are no longer found in our territory, we have to buy them from the whites," says Luis Octavio Criollo, 39, who is studying to become a traditional healer. "We're losing our cultural identity. When the elders perform ceremonies, the young people no longer participate.... It's another ideology, from outside."

Before the arrival of Europeans, the Kofan numbered in the tens of thousands. They lived by hunting, gathering, and cultivating crops like corn, yucca, and a variety of fruit. But conflicts with Europeans, western diseases, and loss of territory devastated the Koran, and now there are only a few thousand members of the tribe on both sides of the border between Ecuador and Colombia.

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Today, the Kofan are hoping that a new national park created specifically to preserve their traditional medicinal plants will also help them recover their culture.

The 25,205 acre Orito Ingi-Ande Medicinal Plants Sanctuary was created in June 2008 in the Colombian departments of Narino and Putumayo, a two-hour drive from Kofan territory. Colombian environmentalists and national parks officials believe it is the first national park in the world designed specifically to protect an indigenous people's medicinal plants.

Among the important medicinal and spiritual plants found in the new park are the yoco and yawhe vines which act as a stimulant and a hallucinogenic. Unfortunately, yawhe has also become popular among non-indigenous recreational drug users, who harvest the plant unsustainably. …

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