World Health Conference and “Censored” Topics in Health- Incomprehension and Destruction of Plants Puts in Danger Traditional Medicine
By Wendy Griffin
In the Internet video “La Aventura Garifuna” about his life, Honduran Garifuna singer Aurelio Martinez who has played in Seattle several times, including most recently at the Bumbershoot Music festival this year, also tells the story behind his song “Yalifu” (The Pelican) which is related to how his father left Honduras when he was 3 years old and he never saw him again until he was over 20 and playing in a concert in New York City. He wrote “Yalifu” when he was about 14 years old and the song talks about how he wanted to fly away like the pelican, and be where his father was (in New York).
Modern Honduran Garifuna music songs frequently has themes related to immigration-why people left, why their family did not want them to leave, how they feel when they are gone and the poverty of those at home, and how they feel when their family members are coming back from the city where the buildings scrape the sky to the humble and often very poor Garifuna villages along the Central American coast.
Some of the reasons they come home is to participate in traditional healing ceremonies for themselves or for family members or to bury their dead relatives or to spend their last years in a Garifuna village close to the sea and die there, close to the ancestors who saw them grow up and leave. Sometimes they go home for treatment with plants, like a New York Garifuna who told his mother, a famous healer with plants, that he had diabetes, and she made him a tea of a bark of a tree common in Trujillo, Honduras. He took some of the tree bark hidden in his suitcase to finish the treatment in New York City.
When he went back to New York, after finishing drinking the tea, he was tested, and he had no more diabetes. The doctor asked him, “What did he take?” and he lied, saying “Nothing.” Whether his doctor would drop him, or his insurance would drop him, for taking a medicine not on the prescribed protocol, he was frightened to tell the doctor what he took, even though it cured him. Five years later, still no diabetes.
A Maya Chorti plant specialist said one of his patients went to a Honduran university trained doctor after he saw him, and told him about taking medicinal plants. The doctor yelled at the patient, “What? You are going to die!” The issue that maybe insurance protocols and doctor prejudice are keeping patients from getting well because they try to prevent them from accessing alternative treatments, is also up there with “censured” topics.
When my sister in Florida had a sinus infection, the doctor gave her a medication, that I kid you not, said right on the box “causes death in children under 10 years old”. She thought if this kills children under 10, it can not be good for people over 50 either. I treated her with a Honduran cure of hot chilis dissolved in water, which made the sinuses open up and all the infection to come out. Hot chilis do not cause death. The fact that home medicine (medicina casera) based on plants is cheaper, safer, and often more effective than hospital medicine is a common topic of conversation among the Garifunas, Pech Indians, and Hispanics in Trujillo, Honduras, but it is probably a censured topic, too, at a conference about “health”.
In the video about the Ciudad Blanca Honduras, on Youtube, there is a Garifuna guide. He shows some of the medicinal plants in the Honduran Mosquitia rainforest in the Rio Platano Biosphere, which has 5 Garifuna communities living there. He comments that aid is coming to supposedly protect the Rio Platano Biosphere, the aid is coming, but the Biosphere remains the same. That video was made in 2000 and the people in the video are shown travelling through heavy rainforest cover.
In 2011 another video was made of the Rio Platano Biosphere called “Paradise in Peril” which is on Vimeo.com. It begins with showing the Biosphere burning, and then the cattle, and the Hispanics, and you realize looking at the two videos, that in fact much of the Rio Platano Biosphere’s rainforest and many of those 600 species of known medicinal plants that they were using that were known there are gone, just as the Pech Indians have been telling me.
The Commissioner for the Rio Platano Biosphere under Pepe Lobo’s government that left office in Janaury 2014, was Pepe Lobo’s son Jorge Lobo. He is now head of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cattle Ranching under the new government of Juan Orlando Hernandez which took office in Janaury 2014, and said he would seek the advice of his father Pepe Lobo a noted cattle rancher in his new post. Pepe Lobo was linked to illegal logging in the Rio Platano biosphere in the Honduran press even before he was elected. La Prensa newspaper devoted many pages to the destruction of the Rio Platano biosphere especially near Sico where the Illegal Highway in the Witness.org video “Lucha Garifuna” goes to.
Two recent articles by Dr. Kendra Mc Sweeney in Science and in NACLA links the money behind the increased deforestation in the Honduran Mosquitia which includes the Rio Platano biosphere to the need for landing strips and investing drug money in cattle ranches and African palms in the area as related to drug trafficking, as these people are known as “narcoganaderos” (cattle ranchers who are drug traffickers) and “narcodeforestacion”.
The topic that US taxpayers who funded the projects Path of thePanther and the Mesoamerican Biological Corredor and German taxpayers who funded specifically the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve sent money to protect the Central American rainforest, specifically because it had medicinal plants in it, and then it did not get protected and these resources are disappearing at an alarming rate, is probably another one of those “Censored” topics.
That sometimes parks were established and funded through US tax dollars, that purposely kept traditional people out of the parks so that they could not get to traditional medicinal plants or woods needed to make drums or medicinal fish or animals, while the native people had protected the forest there for centuries specifically so that they could collect plants, animals or fish there, that too probably fits in the “Censored” topics. See Keri Brondo’s 2013 book Land Grab or my books Los Garifunas de Honduras and Los Pech de Honduras for examples. This issue is affecting Africans in African parks too like in Kenya, where World Bank money is related to the expulsion there, just as it is linked to the African palm industry in Honduras. The president’s brother and long time politican and congressman for the department of Colon where Sico is, Moncho Lobo, lived in the same fairly small town Bonito Oriental as the drug king pin family Los Cachiros who were heavily invested in African palms and their processing, and that Moncho Lobo, another nephew, and Los Cachiros all had investments related to promoting tourism in the Trujillo area which are worsening the situation of the Garifunas there, is one of those situations that made her say, The different people involved in cattle ranching, African palms, deforestation, and drug trafficking in the area are just one relationship away from each other.
The whole issue of drug companies or seed companies trying to patent traditional knowledge and plants that God gave us, known as biopiracy in Latin America, and how these types of Intellectual Property laws actually inhibits medicinal plant study and prevents sharing and developing better methods or better medicines, instead of improving access to health as the Intellectual Property Law proponents claim, is also probably one of those censored topics at a conference about health. It is noticeable that in English we equate medicine with health, like the words medical schools, and medical conferences, but in Spanish “salud” health is actually considered to have been attained when you are not taking medicine.