Explorer Wade Davis on the Ethnosphere

If you can listen past his voice — trembling with excitement — National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis, here speaking at TED 2003, has some excellent insight to share from his travels. Here he discusses world cultures, dying languages and unique spiritual practices including tribal psychoactive rituals.

On a variant of DMT:

To have that powder blown up your nose is rather like being shot out of a rifle barrel lined with baroque paintings and landing in a sea of electricity.

… and on how one particular ethnic group distinguishes the subtle variants of a plant species they use to make Ayahuasca, a psychoactive tea:

You ask the Indians and they say the plants talk to us. Well what does that mean? This tribe, the Cofán, has 17 varieties of Ayahuasca, all of which they distinguish at great distance in the forest, all of which are referable to our eye as one species. And then you ask them how they establish their taxonomy. And they say, ‘I thought you knew something about plants, don’t you know anything?’ And I said ‘no’. Well it turns out you take each of the 17 varieties on the night of a full moon and it sings to you in a different key. Now that’s not going to get you a PhD at Harvard but it’s a lot more interesting than counting stamens.

The problem is that even those of us sympathetic with the plight of indigenous people view them as quaint and colorful but somehow reduced to the margins of history as the “real world”, meaning our world, moves on.

Wade has written several books including The Serpent and the Rainbow & Light at the Edge of the World.

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