Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Tale of a Shaman's Apprentice by Mark J. Plotkin, "chief ethno-botanist for Conservation International" (Plotkin: Back cover). The Works Cited one source in MLA format.

Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice

With the augmenting technological development at a rapid pace, today life offers no guarantees but innumerable luxuries. However, the pruning of trees and cutting down priceless forests and vegetation that can provide evidence of life on earth has crippled the economy, with every sketching moment millions of people all over the world suffering from fatal diseases. Isn't it better to prevent the causes then to spend billions of dollars every year in conducting researches for the cure and possible treatments? As the adage goes: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Hence, to search for cure of fatal diseases, that have transformed this world of happiness into one of suffering and to look for preventive measures, Poltkin, an ethno botanist as well as an achiever embarked on a journey that gave birth to his famous monograph, Tale of A Shaman's Apprenticeship discussing the significance of rain forests in the life of plague-ridden human beings.


It's a monograph narrating the "anthropological adventure story" (Plotkin: Back cover) written about the devastating consequences that can result from destroying the much-needed forests and the plants therein that have the God-gifted power to prevent from and cure human diseases. Tale of a Shaman's Apprentice unfolds those ten years of diligence that succeeded Plotkin's attempts to learn about the ways and approaches of aboriginal tribes in the Amazon areas of Guyana and Suriname, which they used to utilize native plants for medical treatment of their people. Hence this leads to our thesis statement in the light of which we will conduct our research and analyze the contents of the book thereby highlighting the aim of the author and the accomplishment of the desired goal.

Thesis Statement/Aim of the Book

The thesis statement of our analytical research paper states: "preservation and efficient management of the rain forest's botanical, cultural and therapeutic resources is the key to a healthier life and a better world. Hence, Plotkin, through his informative monograph sheds light on the aspect of life, scrutiny and thorough exploration of which reveals its significance in the welfare of the people of the world. Dwellers of the rain forests that have been left to sink into atrophy (due to neglect) along with their priceless information regarding curative and botanical treasures of forests need to be preserved and valued for Plotkin believes: "Every time a shaman dies, it is as if a library burned down" (Plotkin: Back cover). Hence, the book unfolds the importance of rain forests that need to be preserved so that in times of need human beings can reap benefits from them and from those utilizing the resources appropriately for the betterment of human dilemma.

Summary And Further Analysis

Though the following passages of the paper will discuss the contents as well as study critically the material as included in the book under various headings, a brief summary will further help understanding the reasons for considering some of the writer's claims as his strengths while others, his lack of comprehension or organization.

Through the Tales of A Shaman's Apprentice, Plotkin demonstrates the urgent need to cease the rapid environmental destruction increasing at an alarming pace. Plotkin explains the need to explore the Amazonian rain forests and to preserve them as a solution to the endemic health ailments. By describing the reactions of medicinal plants of the rain forests on the human body and outlining the various classifications of forest plants, Plotkin has successfully managed to accomplish his aim of spreading the much-needed awareness regarding the protection, preservation and management of the rain forests spread world wide and the need to take care of and conduct research of the fragile cultures that inhabit these forests. The captivating book highlights the importance of the Amazonian forests by describing in detail their diverse and unique botanical power and the availability of the majority of the insects and other animals in various regions of the Amazon jungles. In addition to the above, the writer also puts emphasis on the botanical wisdom of the shamans of the Amazonian forests.

Setting and Backdrop

Examining and exploring the characteristics, distribution, origins and classification of the plant life of a region is the primary concern of an ethno botanist. Since Plotkin was the principal ethno botanist, his job status demanded exploration of rain forests for the betterment of human kind. Hence, to hunt down shamans who are well aware of medical treatments done though the plants, were the basic requirements of his work. However, this was not the only reason as the author suggests in his book. He was intrigued by plant life and it all started on a September night lecture in 1974 at Harvard University (Plotkin: 2) that ignited a spark in the thirsty soul and made him discover the wonders of the Amazonian ever developing plant life and the cures that the medicine experts in the rain forests of the Amazon exposed (Plotkin: 3). For the same reason, he chose the particular plant life of the Amazon areas to study and learn, how to ameliorate the contemporary world and the ensuing deadly ailments with the advancement of industry and science. As Plotkin explains in his own words, his concentration on the Amazon area and the forests:

From that moment on I was hooked- hooked on plants, hooked on Indians, hooked on the Amazon" (Plotkin: 4). This compelled Plotkin to explore the lives of the people of Amazon rain forests and the woods that have much to offer to assuage human problems related to health.

Medium of Contact And Techniques Used to Amass and Assimilate Relevant Information

The introductory pages of the book provide enough smattering on how diligently the author of this remarkably informative monograph collected the valuable information to satisfy his insatiable thirst and to fulfill his dreams of experiencing adventure and acquiring "botanical wisdom" (Plotkin: 1) through an enriching learning experience. Plotkin gathered all the necessary information regarding rain forests and the "secrets of forest plants" (Plotkin: 1) for the survival of human race, with the help of a man whose habitat was forest and who cured the people through the healing charisma dormant in the plants, an art and an innate ability that was hereditary in nature. He lived as a visitor and paid a translator from an Indian tribe to interpret the worthy information for the author for he neither understood the language nor could spoke the same. Therefore, to comprehend the "medicine man" (Plotkin: 1), whom he considered divine and called "shaman" (Plotkin: 1), an interpreter was of great value to him. Moreover, for the ten years that Plotkin spent in the woods, remaining devoted to the plant learning he visited various remote villages and their people who were equipped with the real tools for human healing of diseases through botanicals, herbs and other plants. He offered them his services regarding writing down the history and secret formulae in exchange of learning the secrets of plants and their healing as well as deteriorating impact on human health.


Hence reading and analyzing the book reveals that Plotkin did not only draw the conclusion from his adventurous journey regarding the fact that "there exists no shortage of 'wonder drugs' waiting to be found in the rain forests, yet, we know little or nothing about the chemical composition of 98.6% of the Brazilian flora" (Plotkin), the ethno botanist learnt the secret formula for curing poison through plants and while collecting the various samples of medicine plants, he learnt indigenous cures for ailments like skin funguses and arthritis. Moreover, through his ten-year odyssey in the jungles of Amazon, he discovered the inconceivably assorted plant life of the Amazon. The following passage taken from the book highlights the most eminent conclusions that the author drew from what he learnt from the shamans of the Amazonian tribes: (Plotkin: 6)

One of every four plants on earth- about sixty thousand of world's approximately two hundred fifty thousand species- grows there and many of these species remain unseen and unstudied by Western eyes. A majority of the world's insects live in the Amazon rain forest and the fact that the forest has not been devoured by this entomological onslaught is testament to these plants' abilities as chemical warriors. Plants protect themselves by producing an astonishing array of chemicals that are toxic to insects, thereby deterring predation. When ingested by humans, these some plants- and there chemical weapons- may act in a variety of ways on the body: they may be nutritious, poisonous or even hallucinogenic. And in some cases they are therapeutic.


Though, the presentation of the material is organized and interesting, the author's sudden leap from his nightmare in Amazonian forests to his Harvard lecture appears slightly disconnecting as well as distracting. It comes unexpected. Moreover, when the reader finds sufficient reasons for the…

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