Lasting traditions: How Dao healers are custodians of indigenous knowledge and the natural environment

IFAD Asset Request Portlet

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Lasting traditions: How Dao healers are custodians of indigenous knowledge and the natural environment

المقدر للقراءة دقيقة 4

Set against a mountainside in northern Viet Nam, and overlooking a valley sown with yellow rice, is the small village of Phien Phang. About 50 indigenous families from the Dao-Que Lam community have lived here for generations. The village is over an hour away from the nearest big town, through steep, muddy roads.

Despite its remoteness, the local forest provides everything the residents need to flourish—from food to water and even the medicine that heals them. The Dao people are known for their knowledge of local herbs and forest products that treat diseases.

Mrs Triệu Thị Tàn is one of the traditional healers in this community.

Mrs. Triệu Thị Tàn's grandmother taught her to collect and process medicinal plants. © Lê Anh Tuấn

A few years ago, her daughter haemorrhaged after giving birth. Nothing seemed to be helping. That is until Mrs Tàng gave her a medicine made from plants from the forest.

The recipe had been passed down to her from her own grandmother, who taught her how to collect and process medicinal plants from the age of 12.

Custodians of the land

Collecting and processing medicinal plants requires knowledge of the surroundings and the complex forest-based ecosystems in which they grow.

Mr Chu Triều Lý, another healer, knows that some need special microclimates while others are found only near forest streams. There are climbing plants that only wrap themselves around specific species of trees. The knowledge that the Dao have built up over generations makes them the custodians of these ecosystems.

Mr. Chu Triều Lý and his wife have a deep understanding of their surroundings and ecosystems. © Lê Anh Tuấn

These medicinal plants only survive in areas where their original habitats are intact. Where harmful farming practices are used, such as excessive use of chemical fertilizers, plants cease to flourish.

Financing growth

IFAD’s Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility (IPAF) finances small grants that support Indigenous Peoples, like the Dao, to build their own culture, identity, knowledge, natural resources, intellectual property, and human rights.

Traditional healers explain how they collect herbs from the forest to us as medicine © Đặng Thị Xuân

Through the principle of free, prior and informed consent, IFAD ensures that Indigenous Peoples drive their own development and determine their own future. The Commercial Smallholder Support Project in the northern provinces of Bắc Kạn and Cao does just that. Launched in 2016, the project supports equitable ownership and efficient use of forest resources to reduce climate vulnerability.

Indigenous communities around the world have deep knowledge and understanding of the environments that have nurtured them for generations. Protecting these ecosystems is not just a matter of conserving nature, it’s about protecting the diversity of human cultures. Holders of traditional knowledge, like Mrs Tàng and Mr Lý, are custodians, passing on lifegiving wisdom to the future.