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Ethnobotanical notes from Daniel Rolander's Diarium Surinamicum (1754-1756): Are these plants still used in Suriname today?

Tinde van Andel, Paul Maas and James Dobreff
Taxon
Vol. 61, No. 4 (August 2012), pp. 852-863
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41679313
Page Count: 12
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Abstract

The recent English translation of the diary of the Swedish naturalist Daniel Rolander (written 1754-1756) reveals the earliest records on useful plants of Suriname. Since he did not grant Linnaeus access to his specimens, Rolander never received credit for his work, part of his collection was lost, and his diary never published. Here we compare Rolander's notes with recent ethnobotanical data from the Guianas and discuss how plant use has changed in the past 250 years. All species names in the diary with (potential) uses were updated to their current taxonomic status by using modern and historical literature, digitized Rolander specimens, herbarium collections and online nomenclatural databases. Rolander's diary lists uses for 263 plant names (228-242 spp.). Major use categories are medicine (109 spp.) and food (107 spp.). About 86% of these species are still used in Suriname today, 54% similarly as in the 1750s. Greatest correspondence was found among cultivated food crops, timber and ornamental species. Living conditions in Suriname have greatly improved since 1755, so much ancient famine food is now forgotten; while then popular fruits have become 'emergency food' today. Although ideas about health and illness have changed over the past centuries, uses have remained unchanged for 36% of the medicinal species. Rolander's diary contains first-hand observations on how plant uses were discovered, and how this knowledge was accumulated, transferred or kept secret in an 18th-century slave society. It represents one of the few historical sources that document the transfer of ethnobotanical knowledge among Amerindians, Europeans and Africans, as well as the trial-and-error process by which the enslaved Africans learned to use a new, American flora.

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