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Another Map for the Americas

By Marcello Dantas

Many myths and legends are created from misperceptions of facts. Many say that knowledge of the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas had not been compiled or was kept secret in their remaining communities. In part this is true, but the closer we get to the research this myth is diluted.  This week I am opening an exhibition at SFER IK in Mexico on the power plants of the Mayan culture. Made with Colombian artist Cristina Ochoa - Pharmakon: Psychotropical Symbiotic is an interpretation of the knowledge that one has access to the healing, psychedelic and therapeutic powers of plants never truly studied by science or simply neglected like weeds.

Each of these plants individually has the power to alleviate or cure many of the ills of contemporary life. From inflammation, to joint problems, bowel problems and, above all, from re-awareness and the manifestation of a certain map of the mind.

The world urges a new pharmacopeia, based on entheogens and not simply more synthetic substances that plague generations of people with their sometimes devastating side effects. Like almost all knowledge, indigenous natural medicine has its origins in observation and experience, trial and error.

Oral tradition is its main vehicle of transmission and, passed by word of mouth and, from generation to generation, a good number of herbal remedies have surpassed the barrier of time to be used until our days.

The interesting thing is to think that Martin de la Cruz and Juan Badiano, indigenous Jesuits doctors from the College of Santa Cruz, in 1552, created a codex on this knowledge accumulated by the ancient mexican cultures over more than 7000 years. This codex was kept inaccessible in the Vatican library until it was finally published only in 2020. On the other hand, the silent and incessant work of peasants of the Nahua and Mayan cultures kept these species alive either in nature or in ethnobotanical gardens.

The Cruz Badiano Codex is the oldest medical book made in the Americas. It is a first-hand source of what could be the foundation of pre-Columbian medicine. Its publication in this historic moment meets the urgency of this knowledge for our daily life.

Ailments ranging from sleeping problems, to sexual problems, relaxation, anxiety, high blood pressure, healing and inflammatory states are accessed with great effectiveness by these plants that go by names like Sac Nicté, Henequen, Copal, Xtabay, Peyote and Ixquic. An incredible expression of biodiversity and biopossibilities.

It is impressive that it took so long to publish the main work that manages to unite pre-Columbian medicine with some systematic Western method. Valuing the knowledge of these plants and their healing potential is essential in this moment of global exhaustion.

The decolonization process requires procedures for opening up encrypted knowledge and territories of neutral practice where the encounter of cultures can flourish. This knowledge does not belong to nationalities but to natural kingdoms. They are passwords left in nature so that we could face the challenges that would one day come.

We need to create mechanisms for listening and interpreting ancestral knowledge. We need to be able to experience these paths before there is no more path possible.