Tales Of A Shaman

’s Apprentice Essay, Research Paper

In Chapter 3 of Tales of a Shaman s Apprentice, Plotkin s use of long lists, detailed descriptions, and analysis forces us to understand the value of his expedition because these well-kept secrets in the rainforest have numerous possibilities as medicines which are in demand right now in our world. Mark Plotkin talks about many plants that serve as healing products. These plants can be found in the jungle and used for all kinds of different pains or diseases. From page seventy to page seventy-one, he is visiting with the Maroons in Suriname and gets his first lesson learning the vernacular names of common plants. He talks about agrobigi, fire liana, mispel, jarakopi, konsaka wiwiri, mokomoko, and the herb found growing at the edge of a trail. In this scene, he, like us, is a student and is getting his first taste of ethnobotany.

Plotkin introduces this passage by bringing up his first lesson, which is taught by his guide Fritz von Troon. Fritz and Mark hike into the jungle located at the edge of the Suriname village. During this first lesson, Mark tries to learn Fritz s language and his plants. He senses something special about the way Fritz and other Maroons related to their surroundings. It is then that Mark no longer fears the jungle as he once did during his stay in French Guiana. As Mark and Fritz wander through the jungle, Mark begins to learn the vernacular names of some of the common plants. The first was a huge tree with thick buttress roots and reddish bark. The bark of this tree, agrobigi, is brewed into a tea and drunk to treat fevers. Plotkin begins to wonder about the simplicity of the name agrobigi. He recalls an early publication where Surinamese flora, kakabrokoe, was doubted as a treatment for constipation because literally translated, the name mean shit in your pants. Often times botanists were overzealous in their note taking or completely baffled by the local language. After walking for several hours, Fritz and Plotkin stop for lunch. Fritz injures himself on fire liana, which he had encountered once before in French Guiana. Fritz comes to his rescue by creating a paste from a small herb with bright green leaves. He rolls the leaves together into a cylindrical shape, and crushes them into a thick green paste. Fritz rubs this paste onto Mark s wound and by the time they had finished with lunch, the pain and redness went away. As the continued on into the jungle, Fritz continued to point out healing plants. They came across a triangular-leaved mispel herb that can be eaten to treat gonorrhea, and the fetid wood of the jarakopi tree which can brewed into a tea that can relieve fevers. Plotkin learns about the green heart-shaped leaves of a delicate little herb called konsaka wiwiri, which is used from head to toe as treatment for headaches and athletes foot. The sap of the mokomoko, a shrub with leaves shaped like arrowheads, if dripped into cuts and other wounds can stanch the blood flow, but it burns when applied. But the most intriguing plant was a small green herb, the find growing at the edge of a trail. The plant s appearance was deceiving for it gave no indication of its curative potential. When made into a tea and drunk twice day, this plant can cure diabetes.

Plotkin uses this list style to show that in one day alone, he found cures to many common ailments. There are many plants that no one even knows exist which can serve our needs. He also uses a list to give us direct facts and information. Description is used to place the reader right there next to him learning the Surinamese plants. In this scene, he is Fritz s student and we are Plotkin s students. Plotkin describes each plant in detail, what it looks like, where it is found, and what it can do to give us a picture of what it looks like. This shows us that Plotkin is being extremely observative, making sure that nothing is overlooked, so that he will not have to ask Fritz or any other native again. He tells us what he sees so that we know what it is he is talking about. In school, a teacher would describe the cause, effects, events, and people involved in the war. The teacher would not just give the name of the war and leave it at that. Same goes for Plotkin. He is trying to put us in his shoes. By intriguing us with a list and describing in detail the plants he observes, he does more than just draw the reader in; he puts us there right next to him on this expedition.

Plotkin also gives us an analysis of what these plants can do and how they can be used to treat ailments that we suffer from every day. The jungle and rainforest are more than what they seem. It is actually a pharmacy that can serve the needs of people all over the world. In a way it seems as if this pharmacy has been kept a secret from everyone. Plotkin writes about these plants because these discoveries affect the audience. Everyone knows someone who has suffered from a headache, cut, or burn. The reader or audience can understand why Plotkin is searching for these plants. The audience can see that his reasons are practical. His intention is to help the human race. Since these secrets are quickly dying with the elders of these small tribes, Plotkin takes it upon himself to preserve the knowledge. These natural medicines can probably cure better than any man- made medicine. There is an abundance of natural cures yet our world chooses to use synthetic cures that does not even compare next to ones created by nature. From the analysis, the reader is able to apply these discoveries to his or her own life. The reader is able to see the value of Plotkin s expedition and how it can help him or her.

Mark Plotkin s use of lists, descriptions, and analysis puts the reader right there with him in Suriname. He is a student soaking up the environment and learning the basics. And he learns something new from Fritz, the reader too learns. Plotkin knows that the Suriname culture, like other native cultures, is vanishing. Knowledge, like the one acquired by Plotkin on his expedition, can be preserved and it will live on. These secrets of the rainforest can be used to help the people of our world who suffer from things as simple as a fever or as complicated as diabetes. One day it is also possible that an ailment, which has no cure presently, can easily be cured by a plant that we never expect to offer a cure. Thanks to Plotkin these little secrets will not die with the withering of the natives culture.


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