The Influence of Cultural Tradition
and Geographic Location on the Level of Medicinal Plant Knowledge Held by
Various Cultural Groups in Laos
Amey Libman1, Bounhong Southavong**, Kongmany Sydara**, Somsanith Bouamanivong**, Charlotte Gyllenhaal*, Mary Riley*, Doel Soejarto*.
*Program for Collaborative Research in the Pharmaceutical Sciences (PCRPS), College of Pharmacy, University of Illinois at Chicago, 833 S. Wood St., Chicago, IL 60612
**Traditional Medicine Research Center, Ministry of Health, Vientiane, Lao People's Democratic Republic
The tradition of using plants as medicine is something that is passed down from generation to generation within a culture. The country of Laos is inhabited by approximately 5 million people who are defined by an extremely varied cultural makeup. The government classifies its citizens into three major cultural groups based mainly on geographic location; the Lao Loum, the Lao Theung, and the Lao Sung, which are then broken down further into 47 ethnic subgroups. From an ethnolinguistic point of view, however, the people of Laos can be categorized into anywhere from 120 to 200 different ethnic subgroups. The tradition of using plants to treat common diseases continues to be widely practiced in Laos due to the fact that many communities have little or no access to the most contemporary and technologically advanced forms of medicine. Different cultural groups may possess different traditions for the usage of plants as medicine. Since 1998, an International Collaborative Biodiversity Group (ICBG) Project, with consortium members in Vietnam and Laos, has been working in collaboration with the Lao Ministry of Health through its Traditional Medicine Research Center. One question this project is currently investigating is whether geographic location or cultural heritage has the greatest influence on levels of medicinal plant knowledge. Results from this study are expected to demonstrate whether cultures living in similar regions of the country possess similar levels of medicinal plant knowledge or if cultural traditions, rather than geographic location, determine how much medicinal plant knowledge a culture possesses.