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Globalization and Loss of Traditional Medicinal Knowledge

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Globalization and Loss of Traditional Medicinal Knowledge
Cheryl Hansen
GLC1 - Task 1

Globalization and Loss of Traditional Medicinal Knowledge People often have strong and conflicting views on globalization producing many different definitions. Although there is not a precise definition, the term globalization refers to complicated processes that focus on how events and activities bring forth fundamental change in developing countries. Haviland, Prins, Walrath, & McBride define globalization as it refers to “worldwide interconnectedness, evidenced in global movements of natural resources, human labor, finance capital, information, infectious diseases, and trade goods” (Haviland, Prins, Walrath, & McBride, 2008, p. 19). South America and Africa are endowed with rich and highly diverse biological resources. Indigenous people of these countries are gifted with traditional medicinal knowledge of their organic resources. This traditional knowledge reflects the knowledge and beliefs of the local people and the relationship with their environment taught and handed down through generations. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines traditional medicine as: “the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness" ("Traditional Medicine: Definitions," 2000). Traditional medicine has been the indigenous people’s only way of health care for centuries. In this paper, I will highlight the Tsimane’ and the Pygmies. Two societies whose cultures and traditional knowledge have been significantly impacted as a result of globalization. An Amazonian society, the Tsimane’ people of Bolivia have relied for centuries on the forest and Amazon River for their subsistence. The Tsimane’ people have a vast knowledge of the medicinal use of the plants within their forests. Globalization from a direct result of logging in the forests has threatened their culture. As many of the young people integrate into societies that do not value their traditional knowledge, a big piece of their culture is lost. Many of these people are promised better western medicine, but they actually do not have access to it. Most of the Tsimane’ people have limited access to modern health care. In 2002, the Tsimane Health and Life History Project stepped in and has improved and provided better access to modern health care for these people. ("Tsimane Health Project," ). Traditional knowledge is vital for the Tsimane’ people to protect themselves and their children from disease, treat infections, and provide a more nutritious diet. The Tsimane Health Project can work with the medicine healers to preserve and pass on this knowledge. Another society affected from globalization is the pygmy tribes of central Africa. These people also depend on the forest for their spiritual as well as temporal homes. Pygmies believe they were created in the forest and their ancestors live in the forests they treasure. Many tribal men and women, as well as traditional healers, use their knowledge of the herbal plant resources to treat the ill, ward off infection and cure ailments and diseases. The Pygmies lands and forest homes are under attack and being destroyed as a result of logging as well as farming ("Displacement and discrimination devastating forest dwellers.," n.d.). Land rights are non-existent, meaning that those who are bigger and stronger will win the fight of the land ownership. Against their will, the Pygmy tribes are being pushed out of the forest. Displaced and lacking the natural resources once available, these tribes no longer have access to the means of subsistence they have been accustomed to for centuries. Loss of land has lead to hunger, ill health, poverty, and depression among tribal members. Survival is tough. Tribes are exposed to outside diseases of which they lack immunity to as well as the herbal medicine to defend their selves. With the loss of their traditional medicine and no access to modern cures, these people are dying. The threat of extinction of their culture and traditions are real. Traditional hunting of forest bushmeat becomes difficult for the pygmies when forced to live in villages outside the forest. The elder pygmies find it very difficult to continue to teach their young ones the traditional hunting skills vital to their survival and culture. Nuts, fruits, honey and bushmeat are no longer plentiful if even available at all in their villages. The nutritional status of the pygmies has been greatly affected due to forced diet change. Cultural transmission of knowledge is a powerful adaptation mechanism that can benefit indigenous societies such as the Tsimane’ and the Pygmy. One may question if globalization benefits or harms any given society. In the case of these people, I would have to argue that the negative impact on their societies is unquestionable. Without outside assistance and uncorrupted government control these societies along with the traditional knowledge that they possess will become extinct.
Haviland, W. A., Prins, H. E., Walrath, D., & McBride, B. (2008). Anthropology: The Human Challenge (12th ed.). [Vitalsource Bookshelf].
The ’Pygmies’. (n.d.). Retrieved from
The Tsimane’ Health and Life History Project. (n.d). Retrieved from
Traditional Medicine: Definitions. (2000). Retrieved from

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