The Cultural History of Plants, 2005

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Durand De Wild. Iboga Tabernanthe iboga Baill. Other salient plant species linked to Bwiti were the ant tree Barteria fistulosa Mast.

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The fact that informants, regardless of their religious affiliation, named the above-mentioned plant products reflects the importance of these species in their social environment. Species such as A. Likewise, A. Many different ritual uses for these species have been documented recently in Benin and Gabon Quiroz Apparently, these species are directly associated with folk religion. Considering the definition proposed by Platten and Henfrey , in which cultural keystones species form a complex incorporating several tangible and non-tangible system elements for example beliefs, ideas, norms, and values concerning social identity and its enactment through culturally appropriate practices , our results confirm those of earlier inventories of ritual plants Quiroz that at least A.

Apart from highlighting important aspects of the cultural practices of our countries of study, our results indicate the implications of using the right terminology when conducting research with local informants and asking questions about religion. Far from attempting to engage in an epistemological debate about the definitions of religion or folk religion, or the adequacy of these terms, our results invite a reflection on how informants actually understand these questions and the possible curtailing of research results.

By failing to understand the boundaries of a study domain, we risk asking the wrong question for a particular culture Martin In their long-term effort to destroy pagan animism, Christianity has been successful in eliminating local beliefs in spirits that inhabited plants, which would ensure their protection White The results from our study suggest that, as long as the emic term for local folk religions is used, Cultural Domain Analysis can be an effective method to document practices where supernatural agency is involved, related plant products, and cultural salient species.

In our study, we gained understanding of the cultural domains global religion and folk religions in Benin and Gabon from an emic perspective. We were able to confirm that to the informants, notions of the term global religion reflected a domain more akin to Western than to African cultures. Our findings vindicate the limited role plants play in this domain, both for followers and non-followers of Vodoun and Bwiti.

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This points to the cultural saliency of ritual plants, not only in the context of folk religions but also in the wider, social environments of Benin and Gabon. Assessing the cultural importance of ritual plants in this context could be a starting point to analyze their role as cultural keystone species. Lastly, Cultural Domain Analysis proved to be an effective method to retrieve information on the major ritual plant species and products, as long as the specific local terminology is used with regard to folk religions. We thank all informants for their time and willingness to take part in this study.

Ingrid S. Legba and Innocent Essou assisted the collection of data in Benin. Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF.

The Cultural Importance of Plants in Western African Religions

Open Access. First Online: 03 April Introduction Researchers have tended to label the unknown or the incomprehensible in other cultures as religious or mystical Bowie Benin is located in the Dahomey Gap, the corridor of savanna vegetation that separates the Upper and Lower Guinea forest Fig. Gabon is located in the latter Fig. Apart from the dissimilar biogeography, substantial cultural differences exist between the two countries.

Linguistically, the peoples of Benin included in this study belong to the Ewe and Yoruba, and in Gabon to the Bantu-Kikongo groups William and Blench Access to primary education is widespread in both countries, resulting in the command of French by large sectors of the population.

It is not uncommon, however, to find older individuals and women who only speak the local languages, especially in rural areas.

The flourishing and social acceptance of two well-known folk religions in these two countries facilitated our choice for comparison. Open image in new window. Data Collection We conducted fieldwork in Benin in and in Gabon in Data Analysis Following Puri , we elaborated a matrix for each domain with the items mentioned by the informants ordered as rows.

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Due to time constraints, the number of informants in Gabon was half as small as in Benin Table 1. Table 1 S ocio - demographic characteristics of 96 participants. The results of the DCA Fig. The free list for this category was composed of terms with terms provided by all Beninese informants and 39 by the Gabonese ones. Followers of folk religions from both countries provided an average of 5.

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From the scatter plot of terms Fig. However, with the exception of non-followers of traditional faiths in Gabon, some informants in the other three groups also mentioned aspects of folk religious practices when asked to define religion. We therefore accept our hypothesis that plants are not generally associated with the domain global religion. We obtained similar results in the number of responses by the different groups that included elements of the natural world. Non-followers mentioned three times as many words of this type than the followers of folk religions.

Thus, for Benin, we reject our second hypothesis that for followers of folk religions, plants and other elements of the natural world more evidently conform their idea of the cultural domain folk religion than for non-followers. Acknowledgements We thank all informants for their time and willingness to take part in this study. Albuquerque, U. Monteiroa, and M. Medicinal and magic plants from a public market in northeastern Brazil.

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