Dr Timothy Walker, plants, colonialism, Goa, India, Portugal

Dr Timothy Walker has been studying the role medicinal plants played in the colonial economy. Check this out…

Sitting in dusty archives rooms in Goa, Dr Timothy Walker has unearthed an amazing story of what the Portuguese learnt from Indian and South Asian traditions of plant-based medicines in the early colonial phase (around the 16th century). After a recent (Thursday, Jan 15, 2009) talk at the Fundacao Oriente, he spoke to FN and explained what his research was all about.

Keywords: medicinal plants, goa, india, portugal, 16th century, old goa, colonialism

On Thursday, Jan 15, 2009 at 6 pm, Timothy’s talk was titled, Supplying medicinal plants for the royal hospital: an
Indo-Portuguese medicinal garden in Goa 1680-1830.

As he put it:

Three hundred years ago, the practice of medicine in Goa’s colonial health institutions relied heavily on medicinal plants from India and even Africa, South America and China. It had become thoroughly hybridized. To ensure a ready supply of common local and imported healing herbs, the Royal Military Hospital in Goa maintained on its premises a medicinal garden, supervised directly by the Chief Pyshician of the Portuguese Asian Empire.

Professor Walker’s talk focussed on this garden as a multicultural space, wherein European and non-European concepts about healing blended. He described the physical space of the garden, its Indo-Portuguese caretakers and their unique medicinal cosmology. He described various medicinal plants cultivated in Indo-Portuguese hospital gardens, their applications and effects, as well as the social context in which the medicinal practitioners who employed these plants operated.

Timothy Walker is assistant professor of history at the University of Massachussets, Dartmouth, USA, and a visiting professor at the University Alberta in Lisbon, Portuguese. His teaching and research fields include Early Modern Europe, the Atlantic World, the Portuguese and their empire, maritime history and European global colonial expansion.

From an earlier report:

In 2005, Dr Timothy Walker (University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Universidade Aberta de Lisboa) spoke on ‘The Early Modern Globalization of Ayurveda: Portuguese Dissemination of Drugs and Healing Techniques from South Asia on Four Continents, 1670-1830.

This work discussed the methods and effect of the dissemination through the Portuguese maritime colonial network of Ayurvedic medicinal substances and healing techniques originating in India. Portuguese colonial agents (missionaries, colonial officials, marine commanders and state-licensed medical practitioners) accomplished this dissemination in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when Indian medicine played a significant role in the state-sponsored health care institutions of the Portuguese colonies.

Walker’s work has focussed particular analysis on consignments of typical Ayurvedic medicines shipped from Goa, the administrative capital of the Estado da India, to such destinations as Macau, Timor, Mozambique, Brazil and Continental Portugal. Colonial officials generally sent such consignments to stock official colonial medical facilities.

He has also devoted attention to official reports about Indian medicines produced by colonial medical authorities in India at the request of the Portuguese Overseas Council in Lisbon, the royal body responsible for colonial administration.

Such reports were an important conduit of information, not only to crown officials in the metropole, but also to medical officials in other parts of the empire. These reports provide a telling gauge of the state of contemporary knowledge about certain medicinal substances from South Asia, and about what techniques were thought to be efficacious.

Dr Walker says he intends “to demonstrate that Indian medicinal preparations and healing techniques became widely known in Portuguese-controlled enclaves in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, far from their indigenous roots, and were fully incorporated into the lexicon of tropical medicine in the Lusophone colonies”.

Timothy D Walker (B.A, Hiram College, 1986; M.A., Ph.D., Boston University, 2001) is assistant professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and a visiting professor at the Universidade Aberta in Lisbon, Portugal. Teaching fields include Early Modern Europe, the Atlantic World, the Portuguese and their empire, maritime history and European global colonial expansion.

Current research topics focus on the 17th and 18th centuries, and include the adoption of colonial indigenous medicines by European science during the Enlightenment, slave trading in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, as well as commercial and cultural links between the Portuguese overseas colonies in Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Email contact: Timothy Walker tdwalker2001 at yahoo.com

Alternative media is alive and well all over Latin America. — Marie Trigona (Argentina)

Marie Trigona
Marie Trigona
Marie Trigona is from Argentina. But her by-line has been splattered across so many alternative media outlets, across the globe.

A writer, radio producer, and film maker, her work focuses on labour struggles, social movements and human rights in Latin America.

Her writing has appeared in publications including Z Magazine and ZNet, NACLA, Monthly Review, Canadian Dimension, The Buenos Aires Herald, Left Turn, Americas Program, Clamor, Venezuela Analysis, Upsidedown World, Dollars and Sense and many other publications.

She also blogs at [http://mujereslibres.blogspot.com/]

FN: We’ve seen the media move over almost en bloc to support the entertainment industry, or itself entertain the fancies of the affluent. This has happened globally. At times like these, what is your own motivating fuel as a journalist? What are the values you search for in work and in life?

What an interesting paradigm: the entertainment and media industries cater to the affluent, yet they really aim to make us into mindless drones. So either the affluent want to make us stupid, or they have a very-low cultural and intellectual appetite. I am forever surprised by the lack of intellectual and cultural content in the mass media.

For me as a writer, radio producer and video maker I try to produce intelligible yet accessible analysis.

As a journalist, I really enjoy challenging myself to tell stories that aren’t being told in other places. I also try to focus on stories that I am a part of.

I believe that my own subjectivity as a person fighting for social change helps and enriches my work. I hold a lot of values dear — so it’s hard to narrow them down. Yet:

* Freedom (in my personal, professional and political life). Freedom to decide what I write, how it is presented, and of course fighting for freedom from exploitation and oppression.
* Revolutionary perspectives and gender balance. (You’d be surprised, a lot of people believe revolution is necessary and possible).
* Self-managing parts of my own life and researching self-management (in a utopia, all media and aspects of life would hopefully have elements of self-management).

FN: Do journalists as a community recognise the power of info-activism?

I don’t know if all journalists even consider activism or social change when reporting. From what I read, hear and see on the news I would say no. However, there are some journalists even in mass media reporting on interesting stories, but I would say they are the minority.

There is a large community of journalists and media makers developing alternative media. They certainly see that media can be used as a political and organizing tool for social change.

Even the anarchists from the beginning of the 19th century used info-activism with their own newspapers, theatre performances and literature.

FN: Can there be information without activism? What’s your view? I mean, can information be “without value” or “wholly neutral”?

Marie Trigona
Marie Trigona
Most journalist schools teach objectivity. Objectivity is a misnomer and myth. Even if you are writing a straight-up news report you are being subjective, because you omit and purposefully include certain elements of the story.

To me, the most honest media and information come from a subjective perspective, someone telling their personal story and experience.

Luckily, I never went to journalism school, so I missed out on the objectivity lesson.

FN: Of all the diverse media you worked in, what do you see as the most powerful? Why?

Definitely video has been the most effective and far reaching.

I participate in a video collective Grupo Alavío– we create materials that are artistically, journalistically and cinematically adept yet at the same time produce a new working class subjectivity.

One myth that surrounds alternative media is that even though videos are distributed in informal circuits with small budgets, they can’t reach a massive audience.

In Grupo Alavío’s experience this has been the case, tens of thousands of people, if not more have viewed our materials. After screenings it is common for political debates and organizing efforts to take place.

FN: What’s your advice to activists wanting to get a sympathetic hearing from the (mainstream) media? Is it possible? Does it happen often? A remote chance? Just luck?

Of course if you have an issue or struggle you are trying to win, you have to rely on the mass media. That’s why we need to produce savvy press releases and do actions to catch the media’s attention.

But we can’t always count on the mainstream media to paint a sympathetic picture. This is why people need to create their own media — so we can express our own popular culture, set our own media agendas and give voice to those who wouldn’t have a voice otherwise.

FN: In bullet-points, what do you see the state of the alternative media in Latin America today as being? Is it better due to the recent upsurge of people’s movements, and ascendence of less-regressive governments?

Alternative media is alive and well all over Latin America.

I would say that there are several reasons for the growth of alternative media.

* Mainstream-media in Latin America is filled with a lot of junk, and many news programs don’t give social problems any focus.
* The upsurge of social movements throughout Latin America.
* Some governments (like in Venezuela and Bolivia) have supported alternative media initiatives.

Video activism is moving in full speed; many people are producing wonderful documentaries. Radio stations and television stations are also blossoming.

However, in many parts of Latin America community radio stations and television stations have no way of broadcasting legally. And, in some cases, alternative media outlets have been persecuted and journalists threatened.

In Argentina, for example, only three media groups own most of the country’s media. To top it all, all the legislation written during the military dictatorship in the 1980s bar all community association from accessing a broadcast license — creating a virtual monopoly on TV.

FN: As a journalist, what do you see as the three biggest challenges before info-activism today?

* Access to technologies and funding (especially for people in the Third World)
* Social movements really understanding the importance of creating their own media
* Training and information exchange.

FN: Is this your first visit to India, and if so, what are your expectations?

I never thought I’d ever have the opportunity to visit India, so this is a special experience. What a great way to begin 2009.

I’m looking forward to getting out of the city and enjoying nature. I am also very excited about trying new foods from India — here in Argentina Indian food is hard to come by. And most importantly, connecting with activists from the region.
My collective also told me that I need to track down activist videos from India with Spanish subtitles

CONTACTS: Marie Trigona

Vidura: Battles of another kind?

Vidura, journal of the Press Institute of IndiaVidura, the journal of the Press Institute of India, is just out with its January-March 2009 issue. Some themes I found interesting:

    Language media in the electronic age
    Business and religion in the Gujarat media
    Print media in Kashmir, post-1989

Vidura 2009

… and, of course, a number of smaller informative snippets.

Vidura‘s annual subscription is Rs 200 for four issues, and Rs 500 for 12 issues spread across three years. Email pii@gmail.com