Plants are the windows to the soul

In this reading Nabhan explores the relationship the Opata Indians traditionally had and subsequently the mestizo now have with the flora of their region – the Sonoran Desert in Mexico. The story begins when Nabhan and his companion are given a tour of the village’s gardens by Don Manuel, whereupon they are welcomed to taste some atole de pechita – “a drink made of mesquite pods”. The story shoots off from there when Nabhan seeing how such an easy drink this is to make and how nutritious it is wonders why it has fallen from favour by Sonoran people today.

The essence of the story is in Nabhan’s detailing of the relationship past and present between the native plants in the Sonoran desert and those who reside there. While the story itself focuses around the Sonoran peoples, there are broader meanings to be taken from this piece, applicable to all people in all regions. Nabhan suggests that the relationship we have with our native plants forms our “cultural identity” – our use or nonuse of those plants tells much about whom we are. For example, the native plants, which had previously been recognized for their use of foods and medicine, spoke of a people (Opata Indians) “who lived in static balance with nature”. Today the supermarket dictates the mesitzo’s food, the result – a host of nutritional related diseases and a lose of identity.

I immensely enjoyed Nabhan’s piece, it very much so resonated with me. It brings the whole purpose of the Plants and People course into light for me – plants form our identity, by knowing them we can better know ourselves.

I agree with Nabhan that knowing the previous interactions people had with native plants is more than just “historical trivia”. These plants formed our identity, we co-evolved with them, we used them for a reason. Today in the Sonoran desert many suffer “from diabetes and other nutritional-related diseases” because they have turned their back on their native plants, and in a way they have also turned their back on themselves.


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