Wade Davis

Wade Davis

Edmund Wade Davis (born December 14 1953) is a noted Canadian anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author and photographer whose work has focused on worldwide indigenous cultures, especially in North and South America and particularly involving the traditional uses and beliefs associated with psychoactive plants. Davis came to prominence with his 1985 best-selling book "The Serpent and the Rainbow" about the zombies of Haiti.

Davis has published popular articles in "Outside", "National Geographic", "Fortune" and "Condé Nast Traveler".


Davis was born in West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and grew up in Pointe Claire, Quebec. He attended Lower Canada College and later, when his family moved back to British Columbia, Brentwood College School. He received degrees in Biology and Anthropology as well as a Ph.D. in Ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent more than three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among 15 indigenous groups in eight Latin American nations while making some 6,000 botanical collections. Davis's work later took him to Haiti to investigate folk preparations implicated in the creation of zombies, an assignment that led to his writing "The Serpent and the Rainbow" (1985), and "Passage of Darkness" (1988). The first was an international best-seller, which appeared in 10 languages and was later adapted by Universal Studios into a 1988 horror film that Davis despises [http://www.ed.psu.edu/icik/2004Proceedings/section7-davis.pdf] . The second reprints material from the first, and is primarily about the theories of how zombies are made, while the first is the story of the investigation. He is author of eight other books, including "One River", in which he follows in the footsteps of his mentor, Harvard ethnobotanist Dr. Richard Evans Schultes.

Davis is a citizen of Canada, Ireland and the United States. He has worked as a guide, park ranger and forestry engineer. He has conducted ethnographic fieldwork among several indigenous societies of northern Canada. He has published scientific and popular articles on subjects ranging from Haitian Vodou and Amazonian myth and religion to the global biodiversity crisis, the traditional use of psychotropic drugs, and the ethnobotany of South American indigenous peoples. His discussions of drugs such as the Amazonian entheogenic tea ayahuasca reveal how some human uses of psychoactive substances can be profound and culturally enriching.

A research associate of the Institute of Economic Botany of the New York Botanical Garden, Davis is also a board member of the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecotrust, Future Generations, and Cultural Survival—-all NGOs dedicated to conservation-based development and the protection of cultural and biological diversity. Recently his work has taken him to Peru, Borneo, Tibet, the high Arctic, the Orinoco Delta of Venezuela and northern Kenya. Davis's television credits include Earthguide, a 13-part television series on the environment, which he hosted and co-wrote. He hosted the National Geographic and History Television series "Light at The Edge of The World". [ [http://www.nationalgeographic.ca/features/light_edge_highlights.asp Light at The Edge of The World at nationalgeographic.ca] ] He also wrote for the documentaries "Spirit of the Mask", "Cry of the Forgotten People", and "Forests Forever".

Davis is an outspoken conservationist and belongs to many non-governmental organizations that work to preserve biological and cultural diversity.


In 1983, Davis first advanced his hypothesis that tetrodotoxin (TTX) poisoning could explain the existence of Haitian zombies [Davis, Wade (1983), “The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie”, "Journal of Ethnopharmacology", 9: 85-104.] . This idea has been controversial and his popular 1985 follow up book ("The Serpent and the Rainbow") elaborating upon this claim has been criticized for a number of scientific inaccuracies [Hines, Terrence (2008), “Zombies and Tetrodotoxin”, "Skeptical Inquirer", Volume 32, Issue 3 (May/June), pp 60-62.] . One of these is the unlikely suggestion that Haitian witchdoctors can keep “zombies” in a state of pharmacologically induced trance for many years [Booth, W. (1988), “Voodoo Science”, "Science", 240: 274-277.] . (Davis backed off somewhat from that claim when challenged.) As part of his Haitian investigations, Davis commissioned a grave robbery of a recently buried child [Davis, Wade (1985), "The Serpent and the Rainbow", New York: Simon & Schuster, pp 92-95] [Davis, Wade (1988), "Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie", University of North Carolina Press, pp 115-116.] . (Dead human tissue is supposed to be a part of the “zombie powder” used by witchdoctors to produce zombies.) Unsurprisingly, this breach of ethics has been criticized in the professional literature [Booth, "Op. cit."] [Anderson, W.H. (1988), “Tetrodotoxin and the Zombie Phenomenon”, "Journal of Ethnopharmacology", 23: 121-126.] . The strictly scientific criticism of Davis’ zombie project has focused on the claims about the chemical composition of the “zombie powder”. Several samples of the powder were analyzed for TTX levels by experts in 1986. They reported [Kao, C.Y. and T. Yasumoto (1986), “Tetrodotoxin and the Haitian Zombie”, "Toxicon", 24: 747-749.] that only “insignificant traces of tetrodotoxin [were found] in the samples of ‘zombie powder’ which were supplied for analysis by Davis” and that “it can be concluded that the widely circulated claim in the lay press to the effect that tetrodotoxin is the causal agent in the initial zombification process is without factual foundation”. Davis’ claims were subsequently defended by other scientists doing further analyses [Benedek, C. and L. Rivier (1989), “Evidence for the presence of tetrodotoxin in a powder used in Haiti for zombification”, "Toxicon", 27: 473-480] and these findings were criticized in turn for poor methodology and technique by the original skeptics [Kao, C.Y. and T. Yasumoto (1990), “Tetrodotoxin in 'Zombie Powder'”, "Toxicon", 28: 129-132.] . Aside from the question of whether or not “zombie powder” contains significant amounts of TTX, the underlying concept of “tetrodotoxin zombification” has also been questioned more directly on a physiological basis [Hines, "Op. cit.", pg 62.] . TTX, which blocks sodium channels on the neural membrane, produces numbness, slurred speech, and possibly paralysis or even respiratory failure and death in severe cases. It is not known to produce the trance-like or “mental slave” state typical of zombies in Haitian mythology, Hollywood movies or Davis’ descriptions.

ee also

* Terence McKenna
* "The Serpent and the Rainbow", the fictionalized horror movie based on Davis's master's thesis.


As author

*cite book | last = Davis | first = Wade | year = 1985 | title = The Serpent and the Rainbow | publisher = Simon & Schuster | location = New York | id = ISBN 0-671-50247-6 (1997 edition retitled: "The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist's Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis, and Magic".)
*cite book | last = Davis | first = Wade | year = 1988 | title = Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie | others = Robert F. Thompson, Richard E. Schultes
publisher = University of North Carolina Press | id= ISBN 0807817767

*Davis, Wade and Thom Henley (1990), "Penan Voice for the Borneo Rain Forest", Western Canada Wilderness.
*Davis, Wade (1991), "The Art of Shamanic Healing", Cross Cultural Shamanism Network.
*cite book | last = Davis | first = Wade | year = 1996 | title = One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest | publisher = Simon & Schuster | location = New York | id = ISBN 0-684-80886-2
*cite book | last = Davis | first = Wade | year = 1998 | title = Shadows in the Sun: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire | id=ISBN 1559633549 (Published in Canada as "The Clouded Leopard: A Book of Travels", Douglas & McIntyre, 1998.)

Photography books

*Davis, Wade, Ian MacKenzie, and Shane Kennedy (1995), "Nomads of the Dawn: The Penan of the Borneo Rain Forest".
*Osborne, Graham (Photographs) and Wade Davis (Text) (1998), "Rainforest: Ancient Realm of the Pacific Northwest" White River Junction, Vermont, Chelsea Green Publishing Company.
*cite book | last = Davis | first = Wade | year = 2001 | title = Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing | publisher = National Geographic | id = ISBN 0-792-26474-6
*Davis, Wade (2004), "The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes", Chronicle Books (Intro by Andrew Weil).

As editor

*"Book of Peoples of the World: A Guide to Cultures", National Geographic, 2nd edition 2008.

Provided introduction, forward or afterword

*Ranier, Chris (2004), "Ancient Marks: The Sacred Art of Tattooing and Body Marking", Media 27, Inc.
*Price, Travis (2006), "Archaeology of Tomorrow", Earth Aware.
*Semeniuk, Robert (2007), "Among the Inuit", Raincoast Books.
*"Grand Canyon: A River at Risk" (2008), Earth Aware Editions.


External links

* [http://www.nationalgeographic.com/council/eir/bio_davis.html Biography from National Geographic]
* [http://www.massivechange.com/mcradio/Wade%20Davis.mp3 Interview on Massive Change Radio]
* Watch or download a Wade Davis lecture on [http://www.ted.com/tedtalks/tedtalksplayer.cfm?key=w_davis Preserving the Ethnosphere] at the TED Conference 2003
* [http://www.cbc.ca/thehour/video.php?id=1403 Wade Davis Interview]
* [http://ascentmagazine.com/articles.aspx?articleID=59&page=read&subpage=past&issueID=19 Tales From the Ethnosphere] an interview with ascent magazine.
* [http://wotu.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=189077 Wade Davis Interview Podcast]
* Watch or download Wade David on The worldwide web of belief and ritual at TED Conference 2008 [http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/273]

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