The Matses Amazonian Tribe 500-Page Traditional Medicine Encyclopedia

We highlight this for two reasons.

Firstly for the fact it exists and secondly their smart move with regard to translations the law and Intellectual Property issues.

With all these “players” moving into the world of psychedelics we presume many of these companies will do their best to hijack what they can from traditional and indigenous cultures in order to profit themselves and their shareholders.

The American Botanical Council writes

Despite the Matsés past experiences with biopiracy, Dr. Fragoso thinks they may eventually consider translating the encyclopedia into other languages. “Once mechanisms are in place to ensure the information cannot be misused or stolen for commercial purposes, they may find a way to make it broadly available. The important, labor-intensive step of recording the information for posterity has been taken,” he wrote.

However, choosing to translate the encyclopedia could be a gamble for the Matsés. It is possible that doing so would allow them to take advantage of certain defensive protection options, like those made possible by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). For example, if the encyclopedia were made more broadly available, a “prior art” search could then preclude illegitimate patents. In other words, parties trying to file for patents could be denied if already-documented information prevented an invention from meeting the “novel” and/or “inventive” criteria necessary to be granted the patent.5 In fact, a recent patent application submitted to the European Patent Office (EPO) by Pangea Laboratories, Europe’s leading dermaceutical (a skin care product with claimed medicinal properties) laboratory, was thwarted.6 The company proposed making a hair-loss treatment using turmeric (Curcuma longa, Zingiberaceae), pine bark (Pinus spp., Pinaceae), and green tea (Camellia sinensis, Theaceae), but was denied when prior art evidence contained in the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), which digitally documents existing literature on four of India’s traditional medical knowledge systems,5 showed that formula as being a traditional hair-loss remedy in India’s Ayurvedic system of medicine.6

But documentation in repositories such as the TKDL provides no guarantees against misappropriation of traditional knowledge. The WIPO warns that documentation can sometimes destroy rights, as it does not prevent knowledge from being used by third parties and may, in fact, provide ideas for new inventions. If an invention meets the necessary criteria to be patented, it does not matter if traditional knowledge was the basis for the idea. Consulting the WIPO’s Traditional Knowledge Documentation Toolkit can help indigenous groups develop an intellectual property strategy when deciding to document their traditional knowledge.5

Whether the Matsés eventually decide to translate the encyclopedia or not, Dr. Fragoso said he thinks fear of biopiracy is actually hurting some indigenous peoples by preventing more collaborations like the one between the Matsés and Acaté. Dr. King said he also thinks fear of biopiracy can be detrimental. “At times, this concern has indeed stifled research, cooperation, medical exchange, and ultimately useful benefit-sharing out of paranoia,” he wrote.


Read the full report about the encyclopedia and we will be looking to see if we can find other articles and also lawyers interested in opening discussions about preserving cultural heritage in the area of traditional psychedelic ceremonies & medicines.


Here is the original press release from 2015 about the production of the encyclopedia

Amazonian Tribe Creates First Encyclopedia of Indigenous Medicine


Acate Amazon Conservation 

Jul 07, 2015, 08:40 ET

SAN FRANCISCOJuly 7, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — In the farthest reaches of the Amazon rainforest, the last remaining elder shamans of the Matsés tribe came together in a quest to save their ancestral knowledge from the precipice of extinction. The gathering, held in May in a remote village on the frontier divide of Perú and Brazil, concluded over two years work and culminated in the production of the first Traditional Medicine Encyclopedia ever written by an Amazonian tribe. The 500-page repository details medicinal plants used by Matsés healers for a diversity of ailments.

For centuries, Amazonian peoples passed on through oral tradition an accumulated wealth of knowledge of the natural world. Now with cultural change destabilizing even the most isolated societies, that knowledge is rapidly disappearing. For the Matsés tribe, outside contact occurred only within the past half century and the healers had already mastered their knowledge before being told it was useless by missionaries and others. As a result of these outside influences, the remaining elders, now all over 60 years old, have no apprentices among the younger Matsés generations. Their ancestral knowledge was poised to be lost forever.

With support from the conservation group Acaté Amazon Conservation, the Matsés developed an innovative methodology to save their medicinal knowledge while safeguarding against theft by outsiders. Each shaman was paired with a younger Matsés who over months transcribed the elder’s knowledge in writing and photographed each plant. At the meeting, the compiled Encyclopedia was collectively edited and reviewed by the elder shamans. The Encyclopedia is written only in the Matsés language and will not be translated. The concern for biopiracy is real for the Matsés. Previously, their knowledge of the properties of the Phyllomedusa bicolor frog skin secretions, long used by the Matsés in hunting rituals, was pirated by pharmaceutical companies and the isolated peptides patented without regard to their intellectual property rights.

Acaté Amazon Conservation is a non-profit organization based in the United States and Perú that operates in close partnership with the Matsés people of the Peruvian Amazon. Acaté works to maintain the self-sufficiency of the Matsés as they adapt to the outside world through three core domains: sustainable economy, traditional medicine, and permaculture.

The Matsés Traditional Medicine Encyclopedia marks the first time an Amazonian tribe has created a complete transcription of their medicinal knowledge in their own language and words. Each entry is categorized by disease name and explains how to recognize the disease by symptoms, its cause, which plants to use, and how to prepare the medicine. The Encyclopedia is written by and from the worldview of the Matsés shaman, describing how rainforest animals are involved in the natural history of plants and connected with disease. As the first of its kind and scope, it is hoped that it will become a template for other indigenous cultures to safeguard their ancestral knowledge.

For more information, contact Christopher Herndon, M.D. at

Christopher Herndon, M.D.
President and Co-Founder
Acaté Amazon Conservation
Phone: (415) 796-0335 


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