FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Coconut Grove, FL (January 14, 2011) - The Kampong of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) has announced it will host a scientific symposium on ethnobotany, the study of people’s relationships to plants, on the afternoon of Saturday, February 5. One of the keynote speakers will be Dr. Peter Raven, internationally known botanist and environmentalist, and the symposium will be moderated by the prominent British botanist and ecologist Professor Sir Ghillean Prance.
Entitled "Ethnobotany: a 17th-Century Vision of our 21st-Century World", the symposium has been developed around the encyclopedic Herbarium Amboinense, written by Georgius Rumphius in colonial Dutch well before biological classification was conceived. The information in the Herbal is considered a gold mine, even for today, but the lack of an English translation limited its use by modern researchers. In a project spanning many years, a translation was undertaken by E.M. Beekman, with the help of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, which will soon be published by Yale University Press in partnership with NTBG under the name The Ambonese Herbal. Already some of this text has been "bioprospected" by a team at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine for promising medicinal compounds.
The Symposium is co-sponsored by The Kampong, the Montgomery Botanical Center, and the Gifford Arboretum at the University of Miami.
Registration is currently underway and can be done online at kampongevent.ntbg.org for a nominal fee of $40. A special rate with application for students is also offered and some scholarships are available. Fellows of The Kampong are free with reservation by phone.
[Detailed information on symposium follows at the end of this release.]
What it took to write the Herbal and to translate it are both amazing stories of passion and perseverance.
The 17th-Century Writer
As an employee for the Dutch East Indies Company, Georgius Everhardus Rumphius journeyed to the Ambon archipelago in eastern Indonesia in the mid-1600s. There he collected, catalogued, described, and named plants, and prepared botanical paintings for hundreds upon hundreds of specimens.
A series of tragedies followed, starting with Rumphius going blind. Just a few years after he lost his sight, his wife and daughter perished in an earthquake and a tsunami. The manuscripts and illustrations that Rumphius had labored over so passionately were destroyed by a fire.
Not to be defeated by such events, Rumphius dictated the work over again completely from memory and gave them to the governor general of the company, who sent the originals to Holland. However, the work seemed to be cursed, as the ship carrying it to Europe was attacked and sunk, and, once again, the manuscript perished.
Fortunately the governor had made a copy of the books before having them loaded onto the ship. Rumphius used this copy to once again reconstruct, update, and add to the Herbal before he died.
The 21st-Century Translator
It seemed a natural thing that it would be Dutch-born Eric Montague "Monty" Beekman who would undertake translating the Herbal. Beekman had spent time in Indonesia and, after immigrating to the U.S., earned his doctorate from Harvard University and went on to become a professor of Dutch literature, language, and culture at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Beekman began what may well be his most arduous and yet rewarding task after having been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Over the course of a number of years, with support from the National Tropical Botanical Garden, he persevered. In a 2001 article in The Miami Herald Beekman was quoted "If Rumphius can keep going, I can too."
He lived up to his word, delivering his initial 7,000-plus pages of manuscript and supporting materials to Yale University Press in late 2007. He passed away just over one year later.
It is because of this that the NTBG will honor Beekman posthumously by awarding him the 2011 David Fairchild Medal for Plant Exploration, for Beekman’s work truly brings Rumphius’ explorations and discoveries to the world. The award will be presented at a black-tie dinner at The Kampong the evening before the scientific symposium.
This is the 13th time the Fairchild Medal will be presented. It is awarded to an individual who has demonstrated distinguished service to humanity by continuing in the legacy of Dr. David Fairchild, one of the greatest and most influential horticulturalists and plant collectors in the United States. The Kampong was his home and introduction garden, and still contains many of the heritage collections he planted there. It serves as NTBG’s mainland campus for the study of tropical botany and horticulture.
National Tropical Botanical Garden is a not-for-profit, non-governmental institution with nearly 2,000 acres of gardens and preserves in Hawai‘i and Florida. Its mission is to enrich life through discovery, scientific research, conservation, and education by perpetuating the survival of plants, ecosystems, and cultural knowledge of tropical regions. NTBG is supported primarily through donations and grants.
What: Scientific Symposium
Ethnobotany: A 17th-Century Vision of Our 21st-Century World
When: Saturday, February 5, 2011 - 12:15-5:45 p.m.
Where: The Kampong, 4013 S. Douglas Road, Coconut Grove, Florida
Moderator: Professor Sir Ghillean T. Prance, NTBG Trustee
Keynote Speakers: Dr. Peter Raven and Dr. Henk van der Werff, Missouri Botanical Garden, "The People Behind the Herbarium Amboinense: The Writer and the Translator"
Speakers: Dr. Pieter Baas, Netherlands Center for Biodiversity, "Dutch Pre-colonial Botany and Rumphius' Herbarium Amboinense"
Dr. Eric J. Buenz, Biosciential LLC, "Practical Medical Applications: The Ambonese Herbal’s Use in Ethnobotany and Drug Discovery"
Dr. Michael R. Dove, Yale University, "Co-Production of Plants in the 17th and 18th Century Imagination: The 'Poison Tree' and the 'Money Tree'"
Dr. Elizabeth A. Widjaja, Herbarium Bogoriense, "Economic Botany from the Herbarium Amboinense to the Plant Resources of Southeast Asia"
Sponsoring Institutions: The Kampong, Montgomery Botanical Center, Gifford Arboretum at the University of Miami
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