November 17, 2010

Cultures at the Far Edge of the World

With stunning photos and stories, National Geographic Explorer Wade Davis celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the world's indigenous cultures, which are disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate. Edmund Wade Davis (born December 14, 1953) is a noted Canadian anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author and photographer whose work has focused on worldwide indigenous cultures, especially in North and South America and particularly involving the traditional uses and beliefs associated with psychoactive plants.

Davis came to prominence with his 1985 best-selling book The Serpent and the Rainbow about the zombies of Haiti. Davis has published popular articles in Outside, National Geographic, Fortune and Condé Nast Traveler. Davis was born in West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and grew up in Pointe Claire, Quebec. He attended Lower Canada College and later, when his family moved back to British Columbia, Brentwood College School. He received degrees in Biology and Anthropology as well as a Ph.D. in Ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent more than three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among 15 indigenous groups in eight Latin American nations while making some 6,000 botanical collections.

Davis's work later took him to Haiti to investigate folk preparations implicated in the creation of zombies, an assignment that led to his writing The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985), and Passage of Darkness (1988). The first was an international best-seller, which appeared in 10 languages and was later adapted by Universal Studios into a 1988 horror film that Davis despises. The second reprints material from the first, and is primarily about the theories of how zombies are made, while the first is the story of the investigation. He is author of eight other books, including One River, in which he follows in the footsteps of his mentor, Harvard ethnobotanist Dr. Richard Evans Schultes. Davis is a citizen of Canada, Ireland and the United States. He has worked as a guide, park ranger and forestry engineer. He has conducted ethnographic fieldwork among several indigenous societies of northern Canada. He has published scientific and popular articles on subjects ranging from Haitian Vodou and Amazonian myth and religion to the global biodiversity crisis, the traditional use of psychotropic drugs, and the ethnobotany of South American indigenous peoples. His discussions of drugs such as the Amazonian entheogenic tea ayahuasca reveal how some human uses of psychoactive substances can be profound and culturally enriching.

A research associate of the Institute of Economic Botany of the New York Botanical Garden, Davis is also a board member of the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecotrust, Future Generations, and Cultural Survival — all NGOs dedicated to conservation-based development and the protection of cultural and biological diversity.

Recently his work has taken him to Peru, Borneo, Tibet, the high Arctic, the Orinoco Delta of Venezuela and northern Kenya. Davis's television credits include Earthguide, a 13-part television series on the environment, which he hosted and co-wrote. He hosted the National Geographic and History Television series Light at The Edge of The World. He also wrote for the documentaries Spirit of the Mask, Cry of the Forgotten People, and Forests Forever. Davis is an outspoken conservationist and belongs to many non-governmental organizations that work to preserve biological and cultural diversity.

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