Plants used in traditional spiritual practices in Benin and Gabon Français
By Diana Quiroz



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The latex of Adenium obesum (left) is held to have magical properties related to ordeals and exorcism in West Africa (Arbonnier, 2004). The Yoruba of Benin and Nigeria invoke Lantana camara (right) in an incantation to keep an "abiku" child (one who is intended to die early) on earth (Verger, 1995). Photos by Diana Quiroz.

Commonly, scientists tend to group African traditional spiritual values and the rites that are related to their practice into the “obscure” and metaphysical science. This attitude does not only overlook an important aspect of societal life in Africa but fails to acknowledge the interrelatedness of traditional religious beliefs to the concepts of health, the human psyche, and the natural environment. Because plants do not only play an overriding role in African traditional medicine but also in spiritual practices, understanding their use in this context poses a great potential to contribute to an improved plant resource management and, ultimately, conservation. This study will document the use of plants for traditional spiritual practices of the Ewe-Fon in Benin and the Bantu-Kikongo in Gabon and, where possible, will provide scientific explanations for them. Although not an ancestral tribal group of enslaved Africans, the plant use of the Babongo of Gabon will also be studied as their belief-system and the associated plant use has evolved in close coexistence with Bantu-Kikongo tribes. Of special interest are the methods used for the harvesting and preparation of plants used by all of these groups, as well as their domestication and threat status; the crops grown for the veneration of their gods and spirits; and the ecological knowledge embedded in their spiritual beliefs. Fieldwork including quantitative market surveys, plant collection and herbarium identification, cultural domain analyses, participant observations, and interviews will be carried out for six months in each of these two countries and the results obtained will be used in comparing similar plant use amongst the Maroons of Suriname and the Fante-Akan of Ghana.


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About Diana Quiroz

Diana has worked in conservation projects approaching the utilization of non-timber forest products and agriculture in Yemen and Liberia from 2008 to 2010.

Diana holds a BSc degree in Environmental and Resource Management from the Brandenburg University of Technology and a MSc degree in Ecologic Agriculture from the University of Kassel in Germany. Her research experience includes a systematic review of the agro-pastoral land use systems in the Hawf Protected Area in Yemen, a study with a strong component of ethnobotany and traditional natural resource appropriation.

In September, 2010, Diana joined the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity-Naturalis and the National Herbarium of the Netherlands in Wageningen University as a PhD researcher. She studies the magico-religious aspects of plant use in West Africa as part of the project “Plant Use of the Motherland: Linking West-African and Afro-Caribbean Ethnobotany”.

Contact Email: diana.quiroz@wur.nl