Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - When science and the spirits meet

When science and the spirits meet

When science and the spirits meet

LAURENT Pordie does not look like an academic. His long dread-locks and casual attire

seem more indicative of a back packer than a scientist. But as soon as he speaks

there is no doubt about his profession. His passion for his work is infectious.

He and his wife have been working in northern Cambodia with hill tribe communities.

Pordie is a pharmacist specializing in ethnic medicines while Muriel is involved

in environmental education. They have set up Nomad - a non-profit organization based

in France to promote the use of natural resources.

Pordie has just finished his latest three-month research project in Mondulkiri, studying

the medicine of the Phnong with the help of Medicins du Monde. Before that he spent

about a year in Ratanakiri on the same quest.

For the moment his work in Cambodia is finished. He is to present his research findings

at a conference in India and then he and Muriel will move on to other work. But they

hope to return to Cambodia because their experiences here have been far removed from

a straightforward study of the properties of medicinal herbs.

Pordie's first task was to update the first western study of the plants of the region

which was done more than 50 years ago - local healers have their own universal cataloging

system based on the healing properties of plants.

He then looked to the local traditional healers for more information, but he says

they wanted to be sure he was sincerely interested. One healer said to him: "I

need to know your insides first, then I will show you some of my magic."

The concept of the magic in the healing interested Pordie. He says as a scientist

he knew that some of the plants had medicinally useful compounds in them; some, for

example, were anti-malarial. But he also discovered that their efficiancy was enhanced

by rituals. "Ceremonies increase the power of the plants." Pordie is open

to the reasons for this phenomenon.

He also had an experience with a young traditional healer who locals say came by

her gifts through possession by spirits. He says the 17-year-old woman used a plant

called protiel for treating pregnant women during labor. Protiel is very toxic and

Pordie says he saw a person who had been given it unwittingly die after a short illness.

However in the hands of the young woman he says protiel was a useful and safe medicine.

He says she could not explain how she knew how to use it or grow it. She told Pordie

that "it just happened".

As a scientist Pordie is aware of the basis of many herbal cures but he says the

influence of magic or spirituality in the healing process needs more study.

He says his experiences with the traditional healers - their perception, skills and

forest craft - tells him his studies have not even scratched the surface of the hill

tribes' traditional medicine.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,

  • Capital-Poipet express rail project making headway

    The preliminary results of a feasibility study to upgrade the Phnom Penh-Poipet railway into Cambodia’s first express railway indicate that the project would cost more than $4 billion and would take around four years to complete. The study was carried out by China Road and

  • Thai boxers to join SEA Games’ Kun Khmer event

    The Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) – together with the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) and Khmer Boxing Federation – have achieved a “great success” by including Kun Khmer in the upcoming biennial multi-sports event on its home soil for the first time, said a senior

  • Bullets to bracelets: Siem Reap man makes waste from war wearable

    Jewellery is often made from valuable gemstones like emeralds or diamonds and precious metals like gold or silver, or valueless things like animal horns. But a man in Siem Reap has approached the manufacture of delicate pieces from a different angle. His unique form of

  • 61% of 2022 imports came from just 3 markets

    The three largest exporters to Cambodia – mainland China, Vietnam and Thailand – accounted for 60.94 per cent of the Kingdom’s total merchandise imports last year, at $18.245 billion, which was up 11.99 per cent over 2021, according to the General Department of Customs and Excise. Cambodia’s total imports