Bio-Human Ecology
Livelihood & Anthropology
Herbal Forests and Elders’ Spirit

Inherently, the life carries in it with the mutual harmony of countless relationships. Thanks to such interactions, nature and human and things have been through billions of years of existence and development, until today. During that a series of the prolonged time, the goal that life should be achieved, as well the basis of all existence is a harmonious relationship and accept each other in sharing and mutuality. In which, human and nature are just parts of it.

Regarding values of the spiritual and cultural life as well as indigenous knowledge of ethnic minorities, we cannot separate them from the environment in which they live. Those are the forests, high mountains in the watershed areas. These values ​​are expressed in a simple but very clarity in life through their behaviors with forest. In contrast, regarding the forest, we cannot forget to refer to, come with and feel the values of local knowledge created by the peoples living there. Have existed, attached and shared with nature over generations, they are better than anyone else who understands the vegetations which have an important role to human beings.

Over the last generations, mountainous dwellings in general and the Thai ethnic in particular have used vegetation to make herbs for healing. Herbal plants have came into the life of community as a testament to the harmonious relationships between human and nature. Elder Ha Van Tuyen in Pom Om village, Hanh Dich commune, Que Phong district, Nghe An province has devoted his life with herbal plants and traditional medicines. As one of 3 Thai elders who are very knowledgeable about the herbal medicines, Mr. Tuyen cherishes herbal plants as priceless gifts of the sacred land and forest to his villagers.

Elder Ha Van Tuyen, a healer said, our herbal medicines have been transmitted over many generations. Many people with healthy and long life are that thanks to medicinal plants. Many dangerous diseases were successfully cured by herbal medicines. Generally, almost vegetations are herbs, including our daily dishes ingredients like lemon grass. Thai people in Hanh Dich all use herbal plants for treatment, including serious cases like malignant malaria.

There is no coincidence that people are able to know species of plants used for healing. Daily experience of villagers then gradually became community knowledge. Have undergone many years, over generations, people living in such deep forests and high mountains, after having been empathy with nature found materials needed to support their life and health stable and balance from the surrounding vegetation.

Such wisdom of medicinal plants has not only become valuable capital of human and communities, the more sacredness that it is actually the link between the heart of human and nature. Deeply felt this value, elder Tuyen is a pioneer in development of herbal medicine garden. Currently, his garden has more than 300 plants. In which, there are 90 different rare herbal species. Taking care and preserving herbal plants to elder Tuyen is not only a way to repay nature, burden sharing with nature. Rather, this is an effective way in promoting values of herbal plants in anytime. From the little plants in the garden, many people have found their life again.

Mr. Vi Van Hoan, a villager in Pom Om village said, around 1991, 1992, malaria epidemic occurred in this region. We did not know how to treat, just only eat jackfruit seeds. Elder Tuyen told us to drink herbs. Later on, he made herbal medicines and gave all patients.  Many severe patients were successfully cured. Villagers started to use herbal medicines since then.

Medicinal plants have actually come into the lives of mountain people. They are attached into whatever activities of the local communities throughout many generations. Women after giving births also use forest plants for health recovery. New born child also received the vitality of nature through grass species, which have effects in increasing milk that his mothers gained from herbal plants. The use of natural medicines for health improvement and treatment via daily vegetables and foods has become familiar with adults. Perhaps, this is an explanation to why mountainous people believe in their close intangible, but indispensable relationships with nature, in which, connectors such invisible string are healers.

According to Mr. Lo Khanh Xuyen, a researcher on the Thai culture Nghe An, herbal remedies of the Thai are not only for healing, but also cultural products. The first is about kindness. The second are very deep and subtle social relations. With the request of patients, the healers took their conscience to help. Patients only brought only a few betel nuts or coins regarded as something ask the healers to help.

At that time, for the kindness, healers did not ask anything about money. They had to climb up mountains and pass many streams to find herbal plants to cure the patient. In case those needy patients bring nothing, healers still provided treatments. Then, after succeeded, the patient would give back by their heart or labors to the healers. The prestigious healers are those who have successfully cured many patients; then, they would have more reputation and widely emotional ties in the community and region. The more prestigious healers are who are able to use many types of herbal plants; so that, they would have higher fidelity. Therefore, the healers are able to gain more supports and admire of the entire community. Since then, the conscience of healers has been nurtured. This promotes the curiosity of healers to learn and practice more. Therefore, the healers’ families become a central exchange and emotional centers of the masses.

Everything born, including grass species has its meaning. This applies not only in this place, this time with the thing, but in other places at other times with other objects. Plants and humans coexist and influence each other. They help each other. That's the philosophy of the harmony in nature and belief of the Thai people. When anybody becomes healers, the Thai believed that those are selected by god, spirits in the sacred forests and high mountains. The spirit dwells in every plant. Therefore, every villager has to behave with such trees and spirits in most honored ways.

Elder Ha Van Tuyen sharing, as our Thai ethic belief, all big trees have spirits. There are two ways to take herbal medicines. First, it is not allowed to let our body’s shadow to obscure the herbal plants. The second way of collecting herbal plants is by time. Depending on specific herbal medicine, healers will decide to go to collect herbal plants in the morning, noon or afternoon. Healers must ask the spirits when collecting herbal plants, producing and giving herbal medicines to the patient. The spirits is transmitted by our parents. Herbal remedies also handed down by our ancestors. When taking medicines, they must ask such spirits to cure. Once cured, the patient would bring offerings to give thanks to the spirits.

In the Black Thai communities in Hanh Dich commune, elder Tuyen is one among three experienced healers. He has succeeded to cure many patients. So he is respected by all villagers. Not only that, elder Tuyen is a leader in preservation of medicinal plants as well as development of medicinal profession.

Started in 2003, elder Tuyen and other female healers of the Ruc, Ma Coong and Kinh ethnics in Quang Binh province taken a trip on herbal medicine exchange in different locations in Vietnam. They are Ba Vi National Park, Ha Dong military traditional medical hospital and some other models on herbal medicinal gardens. Then, participants gathered in a seminar held in Quang Binh. As a result, a group of healers in Hanh Dich appeared.

However, to sustain the traditional medicinal profession, medicinal plants must be protected. In 2004, elder Tuyen and members of the healer group lobbied local authorities to assign them with a plot of forest for preserving valuable herbal plants of the community.

According to elder Ha Van Tuyen, regarding the forest, it must mention herbal plants. When talking about forest, it must refer to land where medicinal plants grow on it. So, to have herbal plants, we need to have land and forest. Forests must be delineated and protected. Therefore, we first determined together use forests, where there are abundant medicinal plants. Then, we asked the village management to assign such forests to our group for management of herbal plants. Next, we petitioned the communal cadastral officials and authorities for approval. With the approval, we mobilized members and villagers in the village to involve in management of the forest.

Then, we establish regulations for management and use of such herbal forests. The regulations prohibit all acts of cutting trees and collecting firewood in these forests. Every 3 days once, we assign one member to go for forest patrol. If there were a detection of forest cuts, we promptly notified to the village management board to take remedial measures and sanctioned by the regulations of the healer group. We also coordinate with the communal security men to educate villagers to understand the values of these forests. Villagers could go to these forests to collect medicinal herbs, but must comply with strict regulations in harvesting techniques. It makes sure that herbal plants are harvested while conserving medicinal resources. For example, if you want to get roots for herbs, you are allowed to take only 2 roots per tree. This ensures the tree still alive. If forests are protected, wild animals will also have shelter, water sources in watersheds maintained. In general, if the protected forest areas are well protected like herbal forests, people's lives will be safe.

Thanks to such above measures, medicinal plants have so far been preserved. They are being used for healing patients. Therefore, villagers get more appreciation to healers and herbal plants. It can be said that the establishment of models on community herbal forest like Hanh Dich is not only way to preserve natural resources, but also protect knowledge capital on herbal profession which has been accumulated for a long time. This contributes to enhance the health of villagers. In addition, it is also an effective way of reducing poverty, sustainable community forest management and development via networks of healers at the village level.
This is a creative thinking, a process-oriented with full macro strategies; so that, it cannot be underestimated. Clearly, started from the thinking for community, it has created community based behavior. From the individual initiative as Mr. Tuyen, it has contributed to change behavior of the entire Black Thai community in Hanh Dich toward nature.

Mr. Vi Dinh Long – Chairman of Hanh Dich Commune People’s Committee expressed, I must say that herbal medicines have been here for a quite long time ago. Our healers usually collect herbal plants to heal patients. The fact is that herbal plants in forest get reduced quite quickly so far. Then, they requested us to allocate them forest for preserving herbal plants. The Healer Group has made a proposal to submit communal authorities. Afterwards, we decided to allocate three plots of forest in Nasai, Pakim and Champut to the Healer Groups to preserve herbal plants. These forests are more effectively managed comparing to the past. This is because the Healer Group is very responsible. The gropu set up its regulation which is approved by communal authority in order to protect the forest. Members of the Group by turns go for patrol the forest. Herbal plants in the forest are identified and marked by signs in order to announce villagers to know and avoid cutting.

Now, coming to Om Pom particularly and Hanh Dich in general, we do not just see the terraced fields, home gardens and green fruit crops, but also the vast herbal forests. Every day, the life of villagers has passed peacefully with the protection of nature and herbal forests. It seems that each herbal plants grown up in such herbal forests, elder Tuyen handbook had one more page with careful written the valuable remedies and healing experiences through the years. He recorded such values by his voluntary heart and responsibility for the community. It can be confirmed that that is a type of intangible property with tangible values for the future inter-generations. The community based behavior of those who like Mr Tuyen will be surely remembered by the entire community. Such specific indicators prove that those people are community entrepreneurs in protecting, maintaining and development sources of intellectual capital owned by the community. This is done for the goal of caring for interplay between man and nature, in order to maintain a real harmonious relationship, safety and sustainability.
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