MALARIA, MEDICINE, AND MEALS: A BIOBEHAVIORAL PERSPECTIVE
NINA L. ETKIN AND PAUL J. ROSS
The study of indigenous medicines commands a prominent position in medical anthropological study that seeks to comprehend, from multicultural and crosscultural perspectives, how people manage health and illness. Intellectually, such inquiry is most meaningfully cast in the theoretical idioms of a human ecology that explores not only the cultural and social construction of therapeutics but also the physiologic outcomes of health-seeking behaviors. Since the publication of pioneering research that revealed the extent to which the category "medicine" overlaps that of "food" ( Etkin 1986b; Etkin and Ross 1982, 1991; Johns 1990), studies of indigenous medicine increasingly include dietary and other contexts of plant use in order to assess the extent to which people are exposed to pharmacologically active plant constituents. Such investigations embody the biobehavioral perspective of medical anthropological inquiry ( Etkin 1986a, 1988, 1990, 1994a; Browner et al. 1988; Armelagos et al. 1992; Franquemont et al. 1990).
Working in more narrow intellectual frameworks, phytochemists and pharmacologists are optimistic that the study of indigenous medicines will expand the biomedical pharmacopoeia, at the same time -- ironically -- that biological and cultural diversity are conserved ( Abbink 1995; Anyinam 1995; Chadwick and Marsh 1994; Kinghorn and Balandrin 1993; see also the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Planta Medica, Economic Botany). For their part, ministries of health in developing nations have formalized policies that champion indigenous medicine, both to accommodate the limited availability of biomedical resources and to serve political ends through the reaffirmation of traditional institutions. Compelled by a more applied agenda, international agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) have made explicit recommendations to study indigenous medicines ( Akerele