Please join the Latin American Studies Institute and the Department of History on Thursday, November 16, at 3:30 p.m. for the following talk, by Henrique Carneiro, Brazil's leading historian of food, drink, and drugs, on the historical roots of the modern prohibition of certain substances.
In 1563, in the Portuguese colony of Goa, India, a Portuguese doctor of Jewish origin, Garcia da Orta, published the first report of Eastern plants and medicines. The Latin translation of this work was the most significant work in medical botanical study in about 1,500 years; since the days of the Greek botanist Dioscorides, the West had known of only about 600 plants.
Orta not only expanded this list, but also included previously unknown plants that produced aphrodisiac and dreamlike effects, such as bhang (hashish), and, in keeping with the modern scientific revolution, insisted that scientific authority should be based on empirical experience, as opposed to the Hippocratic-Galenic dogma that authority derived from antiquity.
The Portuguese empire is where the West would confront for the first time the implications of new plants that appealed to the senses. The Portuguese Atlantic colonies linked a growing European demand for luxuries like sugar with new regions in the Americas, with the entire system based upon African slavery. Above all, this "psychoactive revolution," as historian David Cartwright has called it, played out in Brazil through the production of sugar, liquor, and tobacco.
But while these plants were turned into global commodities, plants used by enslaved Africans, such as maconha (cannabis), and those used by indigenous and mixed-race people in sacred contexts, such as the ayahuasca vine of the Amazon, or the jurema shrub of the Northeast, had their use limited, even banned. Social regulation of food, drink, and drugs based on race, class, and religion, in the context of a colonial economy based upon the use of more "acceptable" substances continues to exercise a profound influence on policy in Brazil today, and indeed around the world."