NCB Naturalis (section National Herbarium of the Netherlands) is offering a position for

Two PhD Students, on the subject ethnobotany (38h.wk)
Plant Use of the Motherland: Linking West African and Afro-Caribbean Ethnobotany is a new, NWO-funded, ethnobotanical research project that has started in February 2010 at the NCB Naturalis (section NHN). This study will compare medicinal and ritual plant use between the Suriname Maroons and their main ancestral tribal groups in Benin, Ghana and Gabon. We offer two PhD research projects:
  1. Focuses on plants used for women’s health and child care in Benin and Gabon by means of literature reviews, database analyses, quantitative market surveys, interviews and plant collection in the field.
  2. Focuses on plants used in traditional religion and magic rituals in Benin and Gabon by means of literature reviews, database analyses, quantitative market surveys, interviews and plant collecting in the field.
Your profile: You must have a degree (drs./MSc) in the domain of Biology or Anthropology, with a focus on Ethnobotany and Tropical (preferably African) Flora. You must be proficient in spoken and written English and French, have good communication skills and either a strong interest in the topic of plants used for women's health and child care or the topic of African rituals and magic plants. Applicants must be willing to spend 6 months in Benin, 6 months in Gabon, and, while in the Netherlands, travel frequently between Wageningen and Leiden. More details on the two research subjects are given below:

Ritual and magic plants

West African traditional religion has been studied in detail by anthropologists, but plants associated with these beliefs have only scarcely been described. Plant uses are often described as ‘medico-magic’ without further details or species are listed with their local names only. Apart from the Nigerian Yoruba, few comprehensive studies exist on plants used in African rituals. This likely reflects the long-standing notion that African ritual plant use is too much typified by witchcraft and sorcery to be of
practical medicinal benefit. African magic plant knowledge, however, is rapidly eroding under pressure from Christian or Muslim religions. At the same, sacred forest remnants provide an oasis of biodiversity in an increasingly degraded African landscape. Local prohibitions to destroy the vegetation around graveyards, ancestor shrines and other spiritual sites contribute substantially to the conservation of biodiversity. As magic plants not only play a role in forest preservation, but also in the cultural heritage and mental, physical and social well-being of Africans, there is a great need to document the species involved, their uses, extraction methods and potential for biodiversity conservation.

Women's health and child care

Finally, the proposed research will focus on plants used for women’s reproductive health
and child care. Because of the many taboos surrounding these issues (e.g., sexuality,
abortion, birth control), and the fact that until recently most researchers and informants
happened to be male, women’s plant knowledge has been long neglected in studies on
herbal medicine49,70,71,72. This is remarkable, as gynaecological morbidity and infant
mortality are among the most severe health problems in the Third World
( In rural areas, where health centers are poorly equipped, women and
children depend largely on traditional medicine18,72,73. Doctors and anthropologists have
expressed their concerns about the frequent use of herbs as menstrual inducers, child
enemas and vaginal drying agents in West Africa74-76. These studies, however, provide
little information on the plants involved in these practices. As research on these topics in
Suriname yielded large amounts of new data12,18, I expect the same for West Africa.
Plant species and uses concerning fertility, magic and the survival of children are often
strongly connected and shaped by century old traditions14