The health of Amazonian peoples has always depended upon the wisdom of their elders. Passed down through the centuries, their knowledge of medicinal plants is a product of deep spiritual and physical ties to the natural world. Now with cultural change destabilizing even the most isolated societies, that knowledge is rapidly disappearing. Acate and Matses indigenous elders have developed a three-point plan of action to maintain their self-sufficiency in health as they adapt to the outside world.
It is hard to overstate just how quickly traditional medical knowledge can be lost after an indigenous group makes contact with the outside world. Once extinguished, this knowledge, along with the tribe's self-sufficiency, can never fully be reclaimed. Historically, what follows the loss of endemic health systems in many indigenous groups is near total dependency on the rudimentary and limited external health care available in such remote locations.
In 2012, Acate and the Matses elders developed a three-point plan of action to maintain their self-sufficiency and pass down their ancestral knowledge. Phase I, completed in 2015, resulted in first Traditional Medicine Encyclopedia ever written by an Amazonian tribe, a 500 page repository in their own words and language. In Phase II, the Apprentices Program, each elder will be accompanied in the rainforest by younger Matses to learn important plants and assist in the treatment of patients.
The initiative is important from the Matses perspective because loss of culture and poor health care are among their greatest concerns. The initiative renews respect for the wisdom of the elders and returns the rainforest to a place of healing and learning. The ultimate goal, Phase III, involves the integration of Matses traditional medicine with 'Western' health care delivery, so their communities may benefit from the best of both systems.