Kerala, a state at the southern tip of India, is known
as the southern land of the coconut tree. In fact, however, its
ecology is diverse. Move a short distance inland from the coastal
towns, and you encounter hill country in which rubber plantations
and tea estates are widely distributed. This area is well known
as a region of “tribal people.”
One day, an invitation from a friend provided me with an
opportunity to visit a village inhabited by tribal people. The journey
involved a three-hour bike ride, followed by an hour's climb up
a mountain path. At the village, I was able to meet a folk healer.
Fortunately for me, this man was very famous as a healer throughout
the entire region. He practices a kind of medicine that uses crude
drugs obtained from wild plants that grow in the area. His medical
techniques enjoy a well-established reputation, his fame having
spread to the government of Kerala state. He says that in recent
years, he has ventured forth to the cities to treat high-ranking
government officials. His medical techniques are protected by the
state government, and there is a plan to promote his crude drug
prescriptions under state recognition as “tribal medicine.” Having
confidence in this recognition, he is keen for knowledge of his
techniques to be spread beyond the confines of the area where he
lives into a wider region.
When I met him, he was at first very reluctant to talk to me. He suspected that I had come to probe him for his knowledge of crude medicines. These days, folk medicines and healing techniques have been noticed throughout the world, and it is said that investigators wanting to develop new pharmaceuticals have visited villages even in the most remote of areas. The problem of intellectual property rights pertaining to natural resources is an issue that has been taken up at national level, and local people are extremely cautious toward foreign investigators. Up to now, village people have often suspected me of being an investigator sent by a pharmaceutical company, looking for crude drugs. This makes field work difficult. There is only one solution, and that is for me to patiently explain my research objectives and to establish favorable and trusting relationships with the local people.