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

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8 thoughts on “Dr Timothy Walker, plants, colonialism, Goa, India, Portugal

  1. Interesting. I am looking for the records on actual shipment of medicinal plants from the ports of India in the 18th and 19th centuries. I have already surveyed some of the early indigenous Ayurvedic texts for materia medica as well as their 19th century representations in English by both Indians and Europeans. Could have been enlightened by fuller correspondences

  2. I would like to know what Dr. Walker has collected from the ‘dusty archives rooms in Goa’ about cholera and phiranga-roga(syphilis)that devastated the 16th century Goa? It is really an interesting work to assess the importance of ayurvedic medicine in Portuguese India during 16th,17th and 18th centuries.

    From where do I get the article ‘The Early Modern Globalization of Ayurveda: Portuguese dissemination of drugs and gtechniques from South Asia on four Continents, 1670-1830’.

    Thank you,
    Srabani Sen

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