Ritual and Magic Plants
Background: The project “Plant use of the Motherland: linking West-African and Afro-Caribbean Ethnobotany” is an initiative by Tinde van Andel which in 2010 was granted funding by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). This will be the first comparative study of ethnobotany in both the African and American continents and its aims and objectives are constructed around a central research question: “How African is Afro-Caribbean plant use?” In order to answer the question above, the proposed research will focus on three aspects:

1. medicinal plants in trade,
2. plants for African and Afro-Caribbean rituals, and
3. plants used for women’s health and child care.

Selected students will research the first two aspects in Gabon.

Why plants used in religion and magic? Commonly, scientists tend to group African religion and magic 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 religious practices, understanding their use within religion and magic poses a great potential to contribute to improved plant resource management and, ultimately, conservation.

Thesis 2: The sustainability of ritual plant trade
Objectives: Provide indications on the sustainability of commercial harvesting
Methods: Plant collection and herbarium identification, interviews, literature review, market survey
Time Period: 4-6 months (of which 2 months of fieldwork in Gabon between June and November, 2012)

Student Requirements:
- Knowledge of tropical flora and ethnobotany (priority given to students enrolled in “Tropical Plant Families” Course at NHN-Leiden)
- French language ability
- Experience living in tropical/developing countries
- Willingness to travel (Leiden-Wageningen) during preparation and data analysis
- Enrollment in botany, agricultural sciences, anthropology or a similar field

For more information please contact Diana Quiroz (diana.quiroz@wur.nl)
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Plants used in Women’s Health and Childcare

Background: The project “Plant use of the Motherland: linking West-African and Afro-Caribbean Ethnobotany” is an initiative by Tinde van Andel which in 2010 was granted funding by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). This will be the first comparative study of ethnobotany in both the African and American continents and its aims and objectives are constructed around a central research question: “How African is Afro-Caribbean plant use?” In order to answer the question above, the proposed research will focus on three aspects:

Introduction: Century-old traditions have shaped the use of plant species in fertility, magic, and the survival of children among the Bantu-Kikongo of Gabon. Because of the many taboos surrounding these issues, 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 medicine. This is a remarkable contradiction, as gynecological 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 medicine. Doctors and anthropologists have expressed their concerns about the frequent use of herbs in women’s health and childcare, but little information is known on the actual plants involved in these practices. Which plant species are used for fertility, childbirth and menstruation in Gabon? What is the role of herbal medicine in the care of young children? From which vegetation types are these plants harvested? Are plants used for these purposes mainly cultivated or secondary weeds?

Objectives: To identify medicinal plant species used for women’s health/childcare and document their collection, preparation and administration.

Methods: Plant collection, plant identification in Herbaria, interviews, quantitative market survey

Student Requirements:
- Knowledge of tropical flora and ethnobotany (priority given to students enrolled in “Tropical Plant Families” Course at NHN-Leiden)
- French language ability
- Experience living in tropical/developing countries
- Willingness to travel (Leiden-Wageningen) during preparation and data analysis
- Enrollment in botany, agricultural sciences, anthropology or a similar field

Duration: 4-6 months; 2 months of fieldwork between June and November 2012 (Gabon)

To apply, please email Alexandra Towns (towns@nhn.leidenuniv.nl)