International Month: South America Week

  • Sorry for such a long break, but we’re back today to kick off international month! What region are we looking at first? Let’s check out our neighbors below the equator- South America. Most of us (at least I do) think of them as a vibrant culture (fiery latinots) with a long history (Inca) and great source of hidden treasures (the Amazon and rainforests). How about all those Brazilian models? Don’t we all envy those bronzed perfect bodies? What’s going on down there? This week we’ll explore South American health (both past and present) and explore some of its cuisine. South America has over 400 different indigenous groups. Spanish conquests of the 1500’s wrecked havoc on these populations, however, spreading diseases that the these groups had never encountered (much like our Native Americans in North America). Most cultures became mixed and indigenous people only survive now by self isolation. Those that are more integrated into mainstream society are more vulnerable to modern diseases (obesity and hypertension, which lead to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes), along with alcoholism. Those who live in isolation have a better quality of life. Poorness or richness have no relevance because they don’t recognize land property or monetary systems. Their health is linked to a healthy ecosystem, transmitted knowledge (practical information, beliefs, and religious practices), and health practioners (shamans). Extinction of indigenous groups have resulted in a loss of rich information on medicinal plants and their eco-systems. There are still many groups today  (mostly able to live through government protection because some have encountered land disputes with miners and deforestation). In Brazil many tribes in Brazil can be found in the Javari Valley. Some other groups include:
  • the Nanti and Nahua of Peru
  •  the Nukak of Colombia
  •  the Ayoreo of Paraguay
  • the Huaorani of Ecuador (some of these we’ll look at closer).

   So how do these tribes live today? The Nukak are nomadic

hunter-gatherers with seasonal patterns. They are expert hunters- using poisonous blowguns to kill monkeys, birds, peccaries, and cuman sclerops (whose eggs they eat too). They also capture rodents, amardillos, tortoises, frogs, crabs, shrimps, snails, and larvae of palm weevils. They fish with bow and arrows or harpoons. I also read that they use nuun roont, which stun the fish in the water and make them easy to capture. Another tribe are the Huarani of Ecuador. They also hunt monkeys, birds, and peccanes, but refuse to hunt deer (which the Nukak do too) because their eyes are too similar to humans. They don’t like to kill and to counterbalance that the shaman demonstrate respect through preparation of the poison on the darts. They believe by using darts they are retrieving rather than killing. These tribes are as close as one can be to our paleolithic ancestors. Hunting and gathering for themselves, and only really sucombing to modern diseases by coming in contact with society. That means no obesity and heart disease and diabetes. Next we’ll look at popular regional cuisines that most in South America are eating.

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