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The Clouded Leopard: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire Hardcover – 24 Jun 1999
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Wade Davis, anthropologist, ethnobotanist and author of The Serpent and the Rainbow, explores remote corners of the world in search of sacred plants and disappearing ways of life.'
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Wade Davis has lived this suggestion and has harvested the knowledge of some of the most interesting cultures of the world, cultures threatened by the far reach of modernization and environmental destruction.
Reading this book makes me feel like a teenager again, enthused with the prospects of travels and new adventures. It is full of the fascination of discovery and novel knowledge about the world that is buried under the incessant wash of media news and popular culture. Here you will read of the "survival" culture of Canada, the reason the ethnic cultures of the Amazon have no word for the color blue, an Malaysian forest people without a concept of time, the fragility of our modern economy at risk of collapse from the lack of resin from a jungle tree.
If you have read "The Serpent and the Rainbow" or "One River" you will find familiar but reexamined thoughts on the Vodoun ceremonies of Haiti and the hallucinogen religious journeys of Amazonian shamans.
Wade Davis himself has traveled the world far enough to know and tell many fascinating stories but it is his ability to find those places and moments to listen that have made him an exceptional writer and this book one more treasure to read.
This book is described by the publisher as “a spellbinding collection of travels, from Peru to Haiti, conveying a timely and urgent message for our times.” It is indeed that and more. Davis is an ethnographer and photographer (among other accomplishments) with a passion for understanding more about other cultures, particular indigenous ones who are threatened by the spread of “progress” in these modern times. Despite his academic background, the writing style is far from stodgy or dense. Davis has a fluid, engaging writing style not unlike John McPhee, another master of non-fiction prose. To give you an example of the power of his writing, here is a paragraph from one of the chapters of The Clouded Leopard, about the Penan people who live in the rainforests of Borneo:
“Language is the reflection of the soul of a people. In Penan there are forty words for sage, and none for good-bye or thank you. In a forest of such abundance, in a culture in which sharing is an involuntary reflex, in a life of endless wandering, certain words have no relevance. Certain concepts have no meaning. For the Penan, land is a living entity, imbued with spiritual meaning and power, and the notion of ownership and land, or fragile documents granting a human the right to violate the Earth, is an impossible idea.”
In case you haven’t gleaned it yet, Davis is concerned about environmental issues and the threats to traditional way of life for indigenous people. For many years Davis traveled through many of the world’s most remote regions in search of places where cultural diversity survives, untainted by the influences of globalization and modernization. Even during the 1980s and 1990s, when many of his books were researched and written, that wasn’t such an easy task.
Reading the essays in The Clouded Leopard takes the reader into what feels like another world, until you realize that this is OUR world and it’s all connected. As he notes in the last chapter: “The earth is a finite place that can endure our foolish ways for only so long … There is a fire burning over the earth taking with it plants and animals, cultures, languages, ancient skills, and visionary wisdom. Quelling this flame and reinvesting the poetry of diversity is the most important challenge of our times.”
Very well put. Davis writes about important issues (well, the chapter that describes the phenomenon of toad licking borders on the bizarre, but it’s still fascinating stuff), and offers us lessons and things to think about. This is powerful writing.
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