Evidence of a link between taboos and sacrifices and resource scarcity of ritual plantsby Diana Quiroz, Tinde van Andel

Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine


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Evidence of a link between taboos and sacrifices and resource scarcity of ritual plants

Quiroz and van Andel



Quiroz and van Andel Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2015, 11:5 http://www.ethnobiomed.com/content/11/1/5

RESEARCH i am th ed t tion of these data into conservation planning and imple- Sacrifices have received relatively little attention in circles



Quiroz and van Andel Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2015, 11:5 http://www.ethnobiomed.com/content/11/1/5associated with signs of spiritual purity [14]. They have2Wageningen University, Biosystematics, P.O. Box 647, 6700AP Wageningen,

The Netherlandsmentation remains rather limited, like for example, the almost exclusive attention that sacred natural sites have received as de-facto protected areas. Although this is a laudable achievement, cultural values (which include religious traditions) encompass a wider range of social other than archaeology and social anthropology. Taboos, which we define according to Meyer-Rochow [10] as the prohibition to interact with a plant, are, on the other hand, a topic of interest in several disciplines. In fact, there is a long-standing dissension about their necessity and origin in human societies. Taboos have been found to exist as a means of avoidance of potential health hazards [10-13], or* Correspondence: diana.quiroz@naturalis.nl1Naturalis Biodiversity Center, P.O. Box 9517, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlandsacademia [1-6]. However, at the policy level, the integra-and an emic viewpoint (perceived scarcity by local people), we conducted 102 interviews with traditional healers and adepts of traditional faiths.

Results: We documented a total of 618 ritual plants, from which 52 species were used in both countries. In Benin, the use of 63 of the 414 ritual plant species was restricted; while in Gabon 23 of the 256 ritual plants were associated with taboos and sacrifices. In Benin, restricted plants were significantly more often officially threatened, perceived as scarce, and actively protected than non-restricted plants. In the more forested and less densely populated Gabon, plants that were perceived as scarce were more often associated to local restrictions than officially threatened species.

Conclusions: These results prove the presence of a form of adaptive management where restrictions are related to resource scarcity and protection of ritual plant species. By providing baseline data on possibly endangered species, we demonstrate how plant use in the context of religious traditions can yield important information for conservation planning.

Keywords: Africa, Benin, Bwiti, Ethnobotany, Gabon, IUCN Red List, Plant conservation, Threatened species, Vodoun


One of the main obstacles in the mainstreaming of practices associated with religious traditions as tools for the conservation of biodiversity is the insufficient applicability of research results in this field. Over the last two decades, a considerable body of evidence linking religious traditions to nature conservation has been produced in mechanisms that pose an untapped potential in conservation [7], as they are a form of adaptive management of natural resources based on traditional ecological knowledge [8]. Our work is concerned with practices related to religious traditions that regulate the use of ritual plants, namely, taboos and sacrifices.

Following Evans-Pritchard [9], we consider sacrifices as a symbolic payment prior to the use of a certain plant.Evidence of a link betwee and resource scarcity of r

Diana Quiroz1,2* and Tinde van Andel1


Background: One of the main obstacles for the mainstre of nature is the limited applicability of research results in implemented by local people (taboos and sacrifices) relat

Gabon (Central Africa).

Methods: To see whether these restrictions reflected plan© 2015 Quiroz and van Andel; licensee BioMe

Creative Commons Attribution License (http:/ distribution, and reproduction in any medium

Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecom article, unless otherwise stated.Open Access n taboos and sacrifices tual plants ing of religious traditions as tools for the conservation is field. We documented two different restrictions to the use of ritual plants in Benin (West Africa) and scarcity from an etic perspective (official threat status)d Central. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the /creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, , provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public mons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this

Quiroz and van Andel Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2015, 11:5 Page 2 of 10 http://www.ethnobiomed.com/content/11/1/5also been viewed as mechanisms for the partitioning of resources, either with the purpose of monopolizing [15] or conserving them [10,16-18]. While these views might support or refute one another, the discussion has predominantly revolved around food taboos and, particularly, the consumption of wild-caught fish and birds or bush meat [11,19,20]. Moreover, only a few of these studies are supported by quantitative analysis based on interviews with local informants [12].

We focused on adepts of different traditional faiths and traditional health practitioners (henceforth healers) in Benin (West Africa) and Gabon (Central Africa) in order to identify ritual plant species. We define ritual plants as those plants that are employed in the context of religious traditions in Benin and Gabon. For example, medicinal plants that are used in religious healing ceremonies, or as amulets, charms, food offerings for spirits or ancestors, are all examples of ritual plants. Likewise, we use the term “non-ritual plants” as those plants that are not used in a religious context. In the same line of argument, we define rituals as ceremonial activities that take place in the context of these traditional religions. In