University of Cambridge > > Biological Anthropology Seminar Series > Knowledge on wild plants in BaYaka hunter-gatherers and its implications on cultural evolution and health

Knowledge on wild plants in BaYaka hunter-gatherers and its implications on cultural evolution and health

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Knowledge of the wild plants has historically been an essential function of culture and is especially important for health and nutrition in small-scale populations. The wide sharing of adaptive knowledge, which contributes to an individual’s chance of survival and reproductive success may explain the resilience of current day populations who do not have access to modern medicine. Here, I study the knowledge and use of 33 plants in 219 BaYaka hunter-gatherers living in the northern rainforests of Congo-Brazzaville. I investigate shared knowledge of plant uses among individuals to examine the role of human social structure in cultural evolution. I find that marital ties facilitate the exchange and accumulation of medicinal plant knowledge, demonstrating the importance of exogamy and pair-bonding in cultural evolution. I then analyse potential health effects of medicinal plant use. My results show that the majority of the medicinal plants that are used by the BaYaka are also used by other Pygmy populations, chimpanzees, and gorillas. Moreover, BaYaka mothers who use more plants for treating respiratory disorders have children with higher body-mass-index. Finally, I examine the variation in wild plant use and consumption in different BaYaka groups and its implications on health.

This talk is part of the Biological Anthropology Seminar Series series.

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