“Our ancestors have left behind many valuable places and things that teach us of our past. … Our forefathers also left behind Nature Farms that we highly value for their ancient seeds, root suckers and bina, which we harvest carefully up until today for use in our farms and gardens.” (South Central People’s Development Association, 2012: 69)
This semester, one of the key themes for the Political Ecology class is exploring how Indigenous peoples have traditionally used the land and culturally managed their natural resources in a sustainable manner, in consideration of the future generations yet to come. As a biological research and teaching field station, the Villa Carmen campus incorporates aspects of this Traditional Ecological Knowledge into its demonstration projects in order for students to gain a better understanding of the depth of knowledge Indigenous peoples have obtained through interactions with their environments. Recently the Political Ecology class visited one of these projects, the Medicinal Plant Garden, with Sr. Leonidas Huaccac, a staff member of the Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica (ACCA), in order to begin to understand how Indigenous peoples traditionally managed their natural resources.
Students experimenting with an anesthetic plant from the Medicinal Plant Garden, Villa Carmen
We learned that the garden hosts over seventy types of medicinal plants used historically by local Huachipaeri and Matsigenka communities, and that this is only a small proportion of the plants which have been traditionally used by Indigenous peoples in their healing and ritual practices. In order to gain an even greater appreciation of how natural resources have traditionally been managed and used, we then visited the forest, walking along the trails of Villa Carmen to explore the possibilities of plants for medicinal purposes.
Sr. Leonidas Huaccac demonstrating to students (from left to right, Erika Weiskopf, Kana Yamamoto) medicinal plant uses in the Villa Carmen forest
Visiting the forest with Sr. Leonidas granted us the opportunity to see the plant life within it from a different perspective, and with his guidance, we could begin to appreciate the vast wealth of Traditional Ecological Knowledge acquired by Indigenous peoples through their interactions with the forest, a theme we will return to when the Political Ecology class visits the Parque de la Papa (Potato Park) in the Sacred Valley.