Available online 17 December 2014
Herbal Medicine in the Marquesas Islands
Headings Ethnopharmacological relevance
This manuscript reports data on medicinal plants used in Marquesas Islands traditional medicine. The subject is interesting due to the extreme geographical isolation of this archipelago and the scarcity of data on this subject. The hypothesis of the authors was that traditional knowledge in this area should be consequently largely preserved.
The usual ethnobotanical collection of use/symptom was completed by an additional quantitative ethnobotany analysis providing two indices : the relative frequency of plant uses for a given affliction (RF) and the Informant consensus factor (ICF)
Materials and Methods
Our ethnopharmacological study was carried out between 2009 and 2012 in several parts of the archipelago by collecting the accurate names of the medicinal plants, their uses, the methods of preparation of the remedies and the associated traditional nosology. Two methods were applied: ex situ focus groups with scientists and local association partners, using fresh plant specimens, dried specimens, and photographs, guided by an outline of simple questions, and in situ semi-structured interviews of informants during walk in the woods or homegarden sampling.
Results and Conclusions
96 plant species were pointed out as medicine for which we collected 1774 use reports; 77 of these species cited by more than 1 informant are listed with their frequency of use
Three species account for one third of use reports: Cocos nucifera (coconut), Gardenia taitensis (tiare Tahiti) and Microsorum grossum.
Native species (either indigenous or endemic) represent only one quarter of all used species. The Polynesian introductions (plants introduced during Polynesian migrations) represent 42% of the Marquesan medicinal plants. On the other hand, one third are modern introductions, introduced, for most of them, less than 200 years ago.
Diseases are analysed according to Marquesan concepts ; . In the present study, a special attention was focused on the descriptions of the local diseases. Their translation in French were discussed an verified in focus groups involving both scientists and marquesan language specialists from the “Académie des Marquises”
40 plant species showed a high frequency of citation for a given affliction (RF >20). Despite the complex nosology the ICF to Marquesan traditional illnesses categories showed generally high ICF values, suggesting their strong coherence.
An overview of the Marquesan pharmacopoeia, linked with ethnomedicinal practices is presented in this paper. Marquesan traditional medicine survived until now despite the culture shock faced by the Marquesan population switching to numerous introduced plants commonly found in their close environment and easily gathered.
Marquesan herbal medicine appears to draw its inspiration from a common Polynesian root. However further investigations on Marquesan nosologies are necessary to appreciate the originality of the Marquesan pharmacopoeia.
Finally, the crossing of ICF and RF indices shows that 36 species have at least one significant use (frequencies >20%) with high ICF value (>0.5). This suggests that some key phytochemical ingredients may be present in these plants which require further phytopharmacological studies to a better knowledge of their medicinal properties.
- Marquesas archipelago Marquesan islands Medicinal plants Traditional medicine French;
- Polynesia endemism informant consensus factor ICF
Despite important economic and cultural changes during the last decades, the practice of Polynesian herbal medicine is still alive in most Polynesian islands. Several ethnobotanical surveys on various archipelagos have been published: Hawaii (Abbott, Shimazu (1985); ‘Ohukani‘ōhi’a Gon, 2008), Pohnpei –Micronesia (Balik, 2009) Samoa (Cox, 1993), Tonga (Whistler, 1985), Cook (Whistler, 1985 and Whistler, 1991). However there are very few recent ethnobotanical studies on French Polynesia.
The oldest observations regarding the Marquesas Islands are found in the narratives of the first explorers, for example the « Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas », published by James Cook in 1773 after his first Pacific voyage in the company of botanist Joseph Banks. During the French colonial period, Jardin (1858) and Jouan (1858), two naval officers who stayed in the Marquesas Islands for a few years, published some observations on the traditional use of plants. In the 20th century, many species described by Brown (1931, 1935) during his expeditions in several archipelagos of French Polynesia can be found in the Bishop Museum of Hawaii, often accompanied by numerous indications on their uses.
More recent works deal with plant uses in Polynesian traditional medicine (Grépin & Grépin., 1980; Grand, 2007; Lemaître, 1985, 1989). Butaud & al. (2008) supply numerous indications on the uses of Polynesian trees. Pétard (1986) remains the only recent reference for French Polynesian medicinal plants; however this book contains few references to the Marquesas Islands.
Our ethnopharmacological study was carried out between 2009 and 2012 in the Marquesas Islands (Fig. 1) by collecting the marquesan names of the medicinal plants, their uses, the methods of preparation of the remedies and the associated traditional nosology. The Marquesas archipelago is the most remote archipelago in the world, located more than 5,000 km from the nearest continent and lying about 1,300 km northeast of Tahiti. Our hypothesis was that traditional knowledge remains largely preserved there due to the extreme remoteness of the islands and isolated valleys.
In order to prioritize plants species for their therapeutic interest or for further pharmacological investigations, we completed the usual ethnobotanical collection of use/symptom by an additional quantitative ethnobotany analysis. This approach reduces researcher subjectivity and intrusiveness by providing indices about the use value and the cultural value of the medicinal plants, the impact of current practices on the resources and the validity of our interpretation of the registered uses.
2. Material and methods
2.1. Geographic coverage
The Marquesas archipelago is one of the five administrative divisions of French Polynesia.
The ethnopharmacological study was carried out in the six major inhabited volcanic Islands: Nuku Hiva, Ua Huka and Ua Pou (NM: Northern Marquesas), Hiva Oa, Fatu Hiva and Tahuata (SM: Southern Marquesas).
Fig. 1 map of Marquesas
2.2. Fields methods
Two methods were applied:
- in situ semi-structured interviews of informants during walks in the woods or homegarden sampling. The semi-structured interviews followed the one used for TRAMIL surveys ( Boulogne et al., 2011), but were adapted to local conditions.
- Several ex situ focus groups were organized with multidisciplinary scientists (botanists, ethnobotanists, pharmacists…) and local associations. Fresh or dried plant specimens, and photographs were showed to local partners to collectively verify or confirm the marquesan name of plant and use of plants collected during field work, guided by a simple questionnaire highlighting the local name, the therapeutic indication, the mode of application or prevalence as follows: “Do you know this plant?” “What is its Marquesan vernacular name?”; “Do you use this plant? How do you proceed for that use? When did you last use it?”
Translations of disease names in terms of the modern biomedical model were collectively validated during focus groups with scientists and local association partners.
The information obtained from the survey was compared with the already existing literature.
2.3. Plants collection
The collected plants except common food plants were pressed and dried for the herbaria collection. They were first identified by JF Butaud, a botanist among our group, and for some taxa, by the taxonomist Jacques Florence from MNHN-Paris, by comparison to vouchers taking into account recent taxonomic revisions (Lorence & Wagner 2011). The voucher specimens are deposited in the French Polynesian Herbarium (PAP; http://www.herbier-tahiti.pf) located in the “Musée de Tahiti et des îles”, Punaauia, Tahiti.
2.4. Participants and Prior Informant consent (PIC)
The ethnobotanical surveys in all of the inhabited islands of the archipelago were conducted with 102 informants, selected by peer recommendations. The cohort included 102 informants from 40 to 80 years old, 35 males and 67 females, 62 were from southern Marquesas islands and 40 informants from Northen Marqesas. All interviews were realized in the Marquesan language with the aid of an interpreter from the Académie des Marquises, specialist of the Marquesan language
There is currently no ABS (Access and Benefit Sharing) practice in Polynesia. So we developed and implemented our own ethical approach. Before beginning the ethnobotanical survey, the legal representatives of the municipalities were contacted and informed of the objectives of the project. A meeting was then held with the representatives of a local cultural association and project partner (“Académie des Marquises”) and of local community members to whom we presented the targets of the research project. Each informant was asked if he accepted to participate in the project and consented that the registered data could be published. In case of refusal, the registered data were conserved by the cultural association.
2.5. Application of quantitative analysis
We adapted the previously reported concept of « ethnobotanical event » used by Tardío & Pardo de Santayana (2008). The basic structure of the ethnobotanical information was defined as: “i informant mentions the use of the p part of the considered species s to treat the u ailment or disease”. The event resulting from the combination of these four variables has been defined as a use-report.
Changes of one variable of this event increment are compiled in the use-report table. The same informant can lead to multiple lines in the use-report table if several species and / or various parts of the same plant are used, or if he prepares several remedies from the same species. table 1
1. Name of health ailments: 2. Traditional description of the diseases or health ailments and associated precautionary measures: 3. When did you last prepare a medicine to treat this disease? 4 How do you prepare the medicine? What is the name of the plant? What organ or part did you use? What is the quantity (posology) and recipe of preparation? What are the dosage and treatment duration? 5. Where did you find the plant? 1 = cultivated around the house 2 = wild but around the house 3 = in the neighboring countryside 4 = wood, forest 6 = other places
The use reports table was used to calculate the following indices:
- the frequency of use given by the simplest index, i.e. the number of informants that mention a useful species.
- the relative frequency of plant uses mentioned by the interviewed groups for a given affliction is calculated with the following formula RF (%)=Ni/ Np where Ni is the number of informants that used this part of plant species to treat a particular disease; Np is the number of informants that used plants as a medicine to treat this disease (Hoffman, Gallahert (2007))
- Informant consensus factor (ICF) is one of the most popular indexes, based on the degree of agreement among the various interviewees (Trotter and Logan, 1986, Neves et al., 2009, Boulogne et al., 2011 and Andrade-Cetto et al., 2006). ICF is calculated using the following formula: ICF=Nur – NEU /Nur – 1 where Nur is the number of citations of use in each category and NEU, the number of species used. This factor indicates the homogeneity level of the informant’s knowledge on illnesses and/or their therapy.
3.1. Medicinal plants
The results of the study showed that 96 species were pointed out as medicinal, for which we collected 1774 lines or quotations of uses. The number of use-reports of a species or informants who cited the species (NI) reflects its cultural importance. The 19 Plant species obtained from a single informant are supposed of negligible cultural value, they mainly resulted from a confusion between several introduced Citrus or weedy Cyperus; one informant replace Paspalum vaginatum Sw. by the introduced P. conjugatum P.J.Bergius to prepare a purge mixture. Derris malaccensis (Benth.) Prain was cited by a Marquisan who lived in Tahiti island where this plant was well known as ichtyotoxic plant. Kalanchoe pinnata (Lam.) Pers and Opuntia cochenillifera (L.) Mill. medicinal uses reflected those reported recently in various news papers and magazines. All these species have little “cultural values” with one exception: Fagraea berteroana var. marquesensis F.R. Fosberg & M.-H. Sachet an endemic tree used by an single informant to cure stomach ulcer, but appreciated by many others only for the fragrance of its flowers used in pani or cosmetic-oil preparation.
Table 2 lists and describes the 77 medicinal plants which were cited by more than one informant together with their vernacular names, the islands where these names are used and the relative frequency of plant use for a given affliction.
Scientific name Family NI (1) Origin (2) Part of plant ( 3) “Health ailments, correlation between traditional and modern medical systems” Marquesan name of disease (4) RF of plant use (5) Vernacular name Islands Achyranthes aspera L. var. aspera Amaranthaceae 9 Pol. r leucorrhoea, genital disease, girl’s intimate hygiene, vaginal discharge epa (kind of) 35,7 pu’epu, pua pipi’i Hiva Oa, Tahuata mokio, mohokio Ua Pou, Nuku Hiva Adenostemma viscosum J.R.Forst. & G.Forst. Asteraceae 10 Pol. l, s headache, vertigo, sinusitis, migraine mamae te upoko (NM), mamae te upo’o (SM) 25,0 vaianu Northern Marquesas tahatahavai All islands Ageratum conyzoides L. Asteraceae 15 Mod. fl, ap dermocosmetic oil pani <20 putara Hiva Oa, Tahuata fl newborn and baby care <20 mei’e rore Nuku Hiva mei’e Ua Pou, Ua Huka, Fatuiva Aleurites moluccana (L.) Willd. Euphorbiaceae 33 Pol. l, s leucorrhoea, genital disease, girl’s intimate hygiene, vaginal discharge epa 28,6 ‘ama All islands l, s oral abscess, goiter, thyroid abcess, lymph infection uu’a 27,3 Alocasia macrorrhizos (L.) G. Don Araceae 4 Pol. ap abscess, boils fëfë, pu’u fëfë (MS), puku fëfë (MN) <20 kape Northern Marquesas ‘ape Southern Marquesas Aloe barbadensis Mill. Aloaceae 5 Mod. l cancer fe’e (NM), feke ( SM) <20 aroe, aroeroe, aloe All islands l hair care, shampoo <20 Amaranthus viridis L. Amaranthaceae 13 Pol. l, k child restlessness with fever and convulsions ira (sensu lato) 28,6 upokotiki Northern Marquesas upo’oti’i Southern Marquesas pokotiki Nuku Hiva Amorphophallus paeoniifolius var. campanulatus (Blume ex Decne.) Sivad. Araceae 5 Pol. l zona, filariasis, elephantiasis mariri fe’efe’e 21,4 teve All islands Ananas comosus (L.) Merr. Bromeliaceae 6 Mod. fr postpartum care, postnatal antisepsis, prevention of puerperal infection parari 25,0 ha’a ho’a Northern Marquesas fa’a hoka Southern Marquesas Angiopteris evecta (J.G. Forst.) Hoffm. Marattiaceae 5 Ind. l dermocosmetic oil pani <20 puhei Nuku Hiva pa’ahei All islands except Nuku Hiva Annona muricata L. Annonaceae 11 Mod. l child restlessness with fever and convulsions ira (sensu lato) 20,0 korosoni, manini tota’a, corossol (French) All islands l osteoarthritis, rheumatism, backache ivi mo’o, ivi hao <20 l headache mamae te upoko (NM), mamae te upo’o (SM) <20 Artocarpus altilis (Parkinson ex Z) Fosb. Moraceae 25 Pol. fermented fr bewitchment, taboo transgression, medico-magic mate tapi’i <20 mei Northern Marquesas me’i Southern Marquesas fermented fr hemorrhoids, prolapsed hemorrhoids, vi’ihoa eva, vi’i hoa keo topa <20 maiore (Tahitian) All islands Barringtonia asiatica (L.) Kurz Lecythidaceae 25 Ind. s,l rheumatism ivi mo’o <20 hutu All islands r ciguatera (fish poisoning) tekeo ika <20 s ichtyotoxic <20 l dislocations, sprains and strains mokuki (SM), tohu’i (NM), mokuki (NM), related to kokeka, vaevae kokeka <20 Calophyllum inophyllum L. Calophyllaceae 18 Pol. l, s Itches, skin allergy, burns, mild wounds, mange, burns pu'ëva 23,7 temanu All islands Capsicum frutescens L. Solanaceae 16 Mod. fl, ap cancer feke (SM), fe’e (FI), heke (NM) 33,3 neva All islands fl ulcers, stomach pain with chest tightness, chest pain, gastric vi’ihoa form ulcers vi’ihoa moe, vi’ihoa tu 21,1 Carica papaya L. Caricaceae 9 Mod. l, s diabetes, gout mimi manini, omaha tihota 26,3 kiki’e, vi papai, papaye (French) All islands l, s tension, hypertension tosio 42,9 Casuarina equisetifolia L. subsp. equisetifolia Casuarinaceae 13 Pol. ap diabetes, gout mimi manini, omaha tihota 21,1 toa All islands Cenchrus echinatus L. Poaceae 4 Mod. l asthma, shortness of breath, breathing difficulty aopao, aoko’e (UH), na’eoi (NM) kaekae, henei, hekei, fenei 37,5 piripiri (Tahitian) All islands Centotheca lappacea (L.) Desv. Poaceae 20 Pol. l, ap shock, fall, fracture, haematoma fati, hati 29,2 mutie kaipeka Nuku Hiva kohekohe Hiva Oa, Tahuata ‘ofe’ofe All islands ‘ohe’ohe Northern Marquesas & Fatu Hiva Cerbera manghas L. Apocynaceae 3 Ind. s, l Headaches, awareness of its well known toxcity by all Marquesan population <20 ‘eva All islands Chamaesyce hirta (L.) Millsp. Euphorbiaceae 5 Mod. l Itchiness, skin allergy, burns, mild wounds, burns pu'ëva <20 fe’efe’eiamata, pu’u fe’efe’e Hiva Oa, Tahuata heaheamata, he’ehe’emata, heiheimata Northern Marquesas eita hi’inoke Ua Pou teita ‘epau Hiva Oa teita pu’uata’au Fatu Hiva Citrus aurantiifolia (Christm. & Panz.) Swingle Rutaceae 47 Mod. l, fr post partum care, post natal antiseptic, prevention of puerperal infection parari <20 hitoro Northern Marquesas l cold, tuberculosis, influenza, sore throat hautete, puta kama’i’i (NM), puta metoe (SM) <20 l, k hemorrhoids, prolapsed hemorrhoids, vi’ihoa eva, vi’i hoa keo topa <20 fitoro Southern Marquesas Cocos nucifera L. Arecaceae 84 Pol. s, fr Ingredient of numerous preparations as excipient <20 ehi Northern Marquesas e’ehi Southern Marquesas coco (French) All islands Coffea arabica L. Rubiaceae 4 Mod. l diabetes, gout mimi manini, mimi patai <20 kafe All islands Colubrina asiatica (L.) Brongn. var. asiatica Rhamnaceae 19 Ind. fr skin allergy, burns, warts pu'ëva <20 kivakiva, ‘au kivakiva Tahuata b dermocosmetic, shampoo <20 tutu All islands fr dislocations, sprains and strains mokuki (SM), tohu’i (NM), mokuki (NM), related to kokeka, vaevae kokeka <20 Cordia subcordata Lam. Boraginaceae 40 Ind. b leucorrhoea, genital disease, girl’s intimate hygiene, vaginal discharge epa 28,6 tou All islands l, b nasal obstruction, chest tightness in young children epa nanu 44,4 fr cough, bronchitis, pneumonia, respiratory problems hapu 30,0 b purge tiheke 35,1 l, b fr hemorrhoids, prolapsed hemorrhoids, hemorrhoidal form of epa vi’ihoa eva, vi’i hoa keo topa 37,5 b ulcers, stomach pain with chest tightness, chest pain, gastric vi’ihoa form vi’ihoa moe, vi’ihoa tu 21,1 Cordyline fruticosa (L.) A.Chev. Asparagaceae 21 Pol. fr umbilical hernia, stomach cramps, flatulence tupito, mate tupito, hu tupito 70,0 ‘outi, ‘outi fio Southern Marquesas l ( young) ulcers, stomach pain with chest tightness, chest pain, gastric vi’ihoa form vi’ihoa moe, vi’ihoa tu 31,6 ti, ‘auti All islands Curcuma longa L. Zingiberaceae 19 Pol. r dermocosmetic oil pani 21,7 ‘ena jaune, ‘ena orange, ‘ena moa, ‘ena ku’a Southern Marquesas ‘ena Southern Marquesas & Ua Huka ‘eka, ‘eka mao’i Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou re’a jaune (Tahitian) Hiva Oa ‘eka tokatoka Ua Pou Cyathula prostrata (L.) Blume Amaranthaceae 4 Pol. fr, l Abscess, boil abscess, boils puku fëfë (MS), <20 fe’efe’eiamata Southern Marquesas fr, l purge tiheke <20 he’ehe’emata Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou fe’eife’eiamata Ua Huka Cyperus javanicus Houtt. Cyperaceae 5 Pol. ap shock, fall, fracture, haematoma fati, hati <20 mouku, mouku ka’avai Northern Marquesas ap purge tiheke <20 mou’u Southern Marquesas mouku tai Nuku Hiva Emilia fosbergii Nicolson Asteraceae 4 Mod. ap haemostatic <20 kaikai rape, kaikai te rape All islands Erythrina variegata L. Fabaceae 13 Pol. l post partum care, post natal antiseptic, prevention of puerperal infection parari 41,7 anetae Southern Marquesas b ciguatera (fish poisoning) tiheke <20 kenae Nuku Hiva aretae Fatu Hiva ketae Ua Pou, Ua Huka Ficus prolixa G.Forst. var. prolixa Moraceae 32 Ind. l, r (young plant) leucorrhoea, genital disease, girl’s intimate hygiene, vaginal discharge epa 50,0 aoa, banian (French) All islands l, r (young plant) canker sores, bad breath, thrush, white tongue, oral form of “epa”, including colds kea, epa hahape 27,3 r (young plant) purge tiheke 24,3 Gardenia taitensis DC. Rubiaceae 72 Pol. fl (bud) shock, fall, fracture, haematoma fati, hati 66,0 tia’e, tia’e tahiti, tiare tahiti (Tahitian) All islands fl (bud) child restlessness with fever and convulsions ira (sensu lato) <20 fl (bud) canker sores, bad breath, thrush, white tongue, oral form of “epa”, kea, epa hahape <20 Gossypium hirsutum var. taitense (Parl.) Roberty Malvaceae 3 Ind. l Newborn and baby care pautama <20 hahaavai Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou ‘uru’uru Hiva Oa pupuru vehinehae Ua Huka Hibiscus rosa-sinensis L. Malvaceae 29 Pol. l, fl (young plant) child restlessness with fever and convulsions ira (sensu lato) 22,9 koute, koute ‘enana Northern Marquesas l, e conjunctivitis mate mata 55,6 ‘oute, ‘oute ‘enata Southern Marquesas fl (bud) postpartum care, postnatal antisepsis, prevention of puerperal infection parari 41,7 hibiscus rouge (French) All islands Hibiscus tiliaceus L. subsp. tiliaceus Malvaceae 14 Ind. b (young plant) hemorrhoids, prolapsed hemorrhoids, hemorrhoidal form of epa vi’ihoa eva, vi’i hoa keo topa <20 hau Northern Marquesas b purge tiheke <20 fau Southern Marquesas fl (bud) postpartum care, postnatal antisepsis, prevention of puerperal infection parari <20 purau (Tahitian) All islands Inocarpus fagifer (Parkinson ex Z) Fosberg Fabaceae 4 Pol. b (adult and young plant) child restlessness with fever and convulsions ira (sensu lato) <20 ihi, mape (Tahitian) All islands Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam. Convolvulaceae 3 Pol. (young plant) ulcers, stomach pain vi’ihoa moe, vi’ihoa tu <20 kuma’a Northern Marquesas ‘uma’a Southern Marquesas Kyllinga nemoralis (J.R.Forst. & G.Forst.) Dandy ex Hutch. & Dalziel Cyperaceae 29 Pol. ap asthma, shortness of breath, breathing difficulty aopao 37,5 mutie upoko maita Northern Marquesas ap shock, fall, fracture, haematoma <20 punie pokotavarire Nuku Hiva ap leucorrhoea, genital disease, girl’s intimate hygiene, vaginal discharge epa 35,7 upo’o maita Fatu Hiva ap canker sores, bad breath, thrush, white tongue, oral form of epa, including colds kea, epa hahape 27,3 mutie upo’o, mutie upo’o maita, teita upo’o maita Southern Marquesas Mangifera indica L. Anacardiaceae 4 Mod. fr ciguatera (fish poisoning) tekeo ika <20 mako All islands Mentha spicata L. Lamiaceae 3 Mod. ap, l dermocosmetic oil pani <20 mati, menthe (French) All islands mati keka’a Fatu Hiva Microsorum grossum (Langsd. & Fisch.) S.B.Andrews Polypodiaceae 61 Ind. rh, l shock, fall, fracture, haematoma fati, hati 81,3 papamo’o Southern Marquesas l headache, vertigo, sinusitis, migraine mamae te upoko (NM), mamae te upo’o (SM) 25,0 rh, l dislocations, sprains and strains mokuki (SM), tohu’i (NM), mokuki (NM), related to kokeka, vaevae kokeka 38,5 papamoko Northern Marquesas l, r purge tiheke 21,6 Morinda citrifolia L. Rubiaceae 33 Pol. l, fr osteoarthritis, rheumatism, backache, joint problem ivi mo’o , ivi hao, related topo’o’o, pororo 21,4 noni, nono (Tahitian) All islands l ulcers, stomach pain with chest tightness, chest pain, gastric vi’ihoa form vi’ihoa moe, vi’ihoa tu 21,1 fl (bud), fr (young) hemorrhoids, prolapsed hemorrhoids, hemorrhoidal form of epa vi’ihoa eva, vi’i hoa keo topa <20 fl (bud), fr (young) skin allergy, burns, warts <20 Mucuna sloanei Fawc. & Rendle var. sloanei Fabaceae 2 Ind. l taboo transgression bewitchment, taboo transgression, <20 papaniaohe, papanuiaohe Southern Marquesas ‘auto’u Nuku Hiva, Ua Huka Musa troglodytarum L. Musaceae 9 Pol. l, (young plant) zona, filariasis, elephantiasis mariri fe’efe’e 64,3 huetu, fe’i (Tahitian) All islands Musa x paradisiaca L. Musaceae 5 Pol. l, (young plant) zona, filariasis, elephantiasis mariri fe’efe’e 21,4 meika Northern Marquesas mei’a Southern Marquesas Ocimum basilicum L. Lamiaceae 20 Mod. l cold, tuberculosis, influenza, sore throat hautete, puta kama’i’i (NM), puta metoe (SM) 30,4 mine, miri (Tahitian) All islands mine ‘enata Southern Marquesas mine kaka’a Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou mine keka’a Southern Marquesas & Ua Huka l, ap dermo-cosmetic oil pani 86,0 Ocimum gratissimum L. Lamiaceae 4 Mod. l same use as Ocimum basilicum <20 mine fio Hiva Oa, Tahuata Pandanus tectorius Parkinson ex Z. var. tectorius Pandanaceae 17 Ind. fl (male) dermo-cosmetic oil pani 21,7 ha’a Northern Marquesas r ( areal part) oral abscesses, goiter, lymph infection, thyroid goiter uu’a 36,4 fa’a, fa’a ku’a Southern Marquesas Paspalum conjugatum P.J.Bergius Poaceae 3 Mod. ap white spots on children’s skin <20 mutie taravao Tahuata Passiflora foetida L. Passifloraceae 6 Mod. l, fl dermocosmetic oil pani <20 mo’ina Southern Marquesas koko’u Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou Peperomia blanda var. floribunda (Miq.) H.Hüber Piperaceae 4 Ind. ap Itchinesss, burns, mild wounds, warts, ciguatera (fish poisoning) pu'ëva <20 kava’i’i Southern Marquesas Phyllanthus amarus. Schumach. & Thonn. Phyllanthaceae 12 Mod. ap ear pain, ear infections, ear’s pus tetu’i 85,7 ‘au’iki Hiva Oa, Tahuata teita kavi’ipua’ina Fatu Hiva moemoe (Tahitian) All islands Physalis angulata L. Solanaceae 32 Pol. ? l, ap osteoarthritis, rheumatism, backache, joint problems ivi mo’o, ivi hao, related to po’o’o, pororo 21,4 konini Northern Marquesas l, ap back pain, herniated disc, low back pain ivi mo’o, ivi hao 60,0 kariri Southern Marquesas l, ap diabetes, gout mimi manini, omaha tihota 26,3 l, ap postpartum care, postnatal antiseptic, prevention of puerperal infection parari 33,3 l, ap unbalanced arterial tension, hypertension tosio 42,9 ‘au taioha’e Tahuata l, ap ulcers, stomach pain with chest tightness, chest pain, gastric vi’ihoa form vi’ihoa moe, vi’ihoa tu 31,6 Pisonia grandis R.Br. Nyctaginaceae 3 Ind. b Skin allergy, warts, pu'ëva <20 pu’atea All islands except Ua Pou b dislocation, sprain, hemorrhoids, mokuki (SM), tohu’i (NM), mokuki (NM) <20 pukatea Ua Pou Plectranthus amboinicus (Lour). Spreng. Lamiaceae 3 Mod. l dislocation, sprain, hemorrhoids, mokuki (SM), tohu’i (NM), mokuki (NM) <20 wiki kira Ua Pou Premna serratifolia L. Lamiaceae 58 Ind. l, t leucorrhoea, genital disease, girl’s intimate hygiene, vaginal discharge epa 31,6 va’ova’o All islands ap canker sores, bad breath, thrush, white tongue, oral form of epa, including colds kea, epa hahape 27,3 ap bewitchment, taboo transgression, medico magic mate tapi’i 42,9 l diabetes, gout mimi manini, omaha tihota 26,3 Psidium guajava L. Myrtaceae 12 Mod. l, b painful periods, breast cancer,prolapsed hemorrhoids, <20 tuava, goyavier (French) All islands fr haemorrhoids, prolapsed hemorrhoids, vi’ihoa eva, vi’i hoa keo topa <20 Punica granatum L. Punicaceae 6 Mod. fr ciguatera (fish poisoning) tekeo ika 20,7 remuna (Tahitian) All islands Rauvolfia nukuhivensis (Fosberg & Sachet) Lorence & Butaud Apocynaceae 7 End. Marq. b leucorrhoea, genital disease, girl’s intimate hygiene, vaginal discharge epa (kind of) 50,0 tu’eiao Nuku Hiva Rorippa sarmentosa (Sol. ex G. Forst. ex DC.) J.F.Macbr. Brassicaceae 36 Pol. ap oral mucocele, sublingual cyst e’omaka (NM), ‘e’omana (SM) areroma’a (Tahitian) 75,0 mahi Nuku Hiva ap leucorrhoea, genital disease, girl’s intimate hygiene, vaginal discharge epa (kind of) 21,4 mahimahi All islands ap nasal obstruction, chest tightness in young children epa nanu 33,3 ap child restlessness with fever and convulsions ira (sensu lato) 45,7 ap osteoarthritis, rheumatism, backache, joint problems ivi mo’o, ivi hao 21,4 Saccharum officinarum L. Poaceae 31 Pol. juce, l leucorrhoea, genital disease, girl’s intimate hygiene, vaginal discharge epa 28,6 to All islands Santalum insulare var. marchionense (Skottsb.) Skottsb. Santalaceae 19 End. Marq. w (powder) dermocosmetic oil pani 52,2 puahi All islands Sapindus saponaria L. Sapindaceae 13 Ind. s, fr newborn and baby care, cradle cap pautama 50,0 koku’u All islands l, s hair care, shampoo, soap 38,9 Senna occidentalis (L.) Link Caesalpiniaceae 2 Mod. l, r abscess, boils <20 pa’o’o tani Northern Marquesas pakoko Southern Marquesas ‘au pirika, eita tuhia Nuku Hiva Sigesbeckia orientalis L. Asteraceae 4 Pol. l, ap, fl dermocosmetic oil pani <20 ino’u Hiva Oa, Tahuata rio’u Fatu Hiva nio’u Northern Marquesas & Fatu Hiva Spondias cytherea Sonn. Anacardiaceae 17 Mod. (Pol. in Tahiti) l, b ciguatera (fish poisoning) <20 vi tahiti All islands vi farani Ua Pou l, b cold, pharyngitis <20 Stachytarpheta cayennensis (Rich.) Vahl Verbenaceae 3 Mod. l dislocations, sprains and strains <20 pua viore Hiva Oa, Tahuata Syzygium malaccense (L.) Merr. & L.M.Perry Myrtaceae 27 Pol. l, (Galls ) leucorrhoea, genital disease, girl’s intimate hygiene, vaginal discharge epa (kind of) 42,9 kehi’a Southern Marquesas & Ua Huka l, (Galls ) nasal obstruction, chest tightness in young children epa nanu 33,3 ‘ahi’a (Tahitian), pomme rouge (French) All islands l, (Galls ) canker sores, bad breath, thrush, white tongue, oral form of epa, including colds kea, epa hahape 45,5 l, (Galls ) hemorrhoids, prolapsed hemorrhoids, hemorrhoidal form of epa vi’ihoa eva, vi’i hoa keo topa 34,4 kehika, kehika pukiki Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou l, (Galls ) ulcers, stomach pain with chest tightness, chest pain, gastric vi’ihoa form vi’ihoa moe, vi’ihoa tu 21,1 kehei’a Tahuata Tephrosia purpurea (L.) Pers. var. purpurea Fabaceae 2 Pol. l, r ichtyotoxic <20 kohuhu i’a Southern Marquesas kohuhu All islands Terminalia glabrata var. brownii Fosberg & Sachet Combretaceae 3 End. Marq. l,fr measles <20 ma’i’i Northern Marquesas koua’i’i Southern Marquesas l,fr breast cancer <20 koua’iki Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou tai’e Tahuata Thespesia populnea (L.) Sol. ex Corrêa Malvaceae 34 Ind. fr (young), l eczema, fungus, ringworm, dermatophytosis ceka ceka, punä kina 75,0 mi’o All islands b cancer feke (SM), fe’e (FI), heke (NM) 25,0 b venereal sores hea paatita 75,0 fr (young), l, b itching, skin allergies, burns, minor wounds, scabies, warts pu'ëva 26,3 b purge tiheke 43,2 b umbilical hernia, stomach cramps, flatulence tupito, mate tupito, hu tupito 40,0 Vigna adenantha (G.Mey.) Maréchal, Mascherpa & Stainier Fabaceae 15 Pol. l, ap hemorrhoids, prolapsed hemorrhoids, hemorrhoidal form of epa vi’ihoa eva, vi’i hoa keo topa 28,1 papa, papa ‘enata Southern Marquesas l, ap ulcers, stomach pain with chest tightness, chest pain, gastric vi’ihoa form vi’ihoa moe, vi’ihoa tu 21,1 papa vehine All islands Wikstroemia coriacea Seem. Thymelaeaceae 3 Ind. b ichtyotoxic, purge (tiheke) <20 akatea Nuku Hiva ka’apihi Hiva Oa, Tahuata hihea Fatu Hiva haukatea Ua Pou Zingiber officinale Roscoe Zingiberaceae 2 Mod. r ulcers, stomach pain with chest tightness <20 ‘ena kina Southern Marquesas & Ua Huka r ciguatera (fish poisoning) <20 re’a ma’a (Tahitian) All islands Zingiber zerumbet (L.) Sm. Zingiberaceae 8 Pol. r hair care, shampoo, soap 22,2 ‘ena Hiva Oa, Tahuata ‘eka vao Ua Pou ‘ena vao Southern Marquesas kopuhi Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa
- (1): NI: Number of informants who cited the species ( with NI>1)
(2): End. Marq.: endemic to the Marquesas archipelago; Ind.: indigenous / native species, also known outside the archipelago; Pol.: Polynesian introduction; Mod.: Modern introduction
(3): ap: all the plant, l: leave,b: bark, r: root, fl: flower, fr: fruit, w- wood
(4): SM: Southern Marquesas; NM: Northern Marquesas; UH: Ua Huka; FH: Fatu Hiva
(5): frequency of plant uses mentioned by the interviewed informants for a given affliction: RF = Ni/ Np; with Ni = number of informants that used this plant species to treat a particular disease; and Np = number of informants that used plants as a medicine to treat this disease. RF >20%; species’ citation by at least 2 informants
Three species account for one third of the citations of uses: Cocos nucifera (coconut), Gardenia taitensis (tiare Tahiti) and Microsorum grossum. Coconut oil and coconut water are the main excipients used to prepare medicines. Coconut and, to a lesser degree, Gardenia are also indispensable ingredients used for medicinal preparations called pani (mono’i in Tahitian, monoï in French and monoi in English) used as an oily adjuvant in Polynesian medicine.
Like in the TRAMIL program, we selected the threshold of 20% as a significant relative frequency of citations for a given disease (Boulogne et al., 2011): 40 plant species showed an RF value>20 (species cited by at least 2 informants)
The high frequencies of uses for Gardenia taitensis and Microsorum grossum are related to their frequent association in the fati remedies, for which we identified a large number of quotations of use (see below).
With 58 informant citations, Premna serratifolia is one of the most cited medicinal plants (see Table 2). Nevertheless, this species is used for many different purposes or therapeutic categories, among them only four have significant uses frequencies and only one - the treatment of “epa ” disease - presents a high consensus among the Marquesan healers (ICF greater than 0.70, see Table 3).
Marquesan name of disease (1) Health ailments, correlation between Traditional and modern medical systems NUr (2) NEU (2) ICF (2) ivi mo’o, ivi hao osteoarthritis, rheumatism, backache, joint problem 33 16 0.53 tupito, mate tupito, hu tupito umbilical hernia, stomach cramps, flatulence 29 14 0.54 hapu cough, bronchitis, pneumonia, respiratory ailments 41 19 0.55 mate mata conjunctivitis 10 5 0.56 epa, hea, epa hahape, kekea canker sores, bad breath, thrush, white tongue, oral form of epa, including colds 22 16 0.57 mimi manini, omaha tioha diabetes, gout 41 18 0.58 pautama care of newborns, cradle cap 13 6 0.58 vi’ihoa eva, vi’i hoa keo topa hemorrhoids, hemorrhoidal prolapse (hemorrhoidal form of epa) 44 19 0.58 ira niho restlessness in children with fever, teething, loss of appetite, diarrhea 6 3 0.60 vi’ihoa moe, vi’ihoa tu ulcers, stomach pain with chest tightness, chest pain (gastric form of vi’ihoa) 78 31 0.61 hautete, puta kama’i’i colds, tuberculosis, flu, sore throat 50 20 0.61 e’omaka (NM), ‘e’omana (SM), areroma’a (Tahitian) oral mucocele, sublingual cyst 14 6 0.62 mokuki (SM), tohu’i (NM), mokuki (NM), related to kokeka, vaevae kokeka dislocations, sprains and strains 34 13 0.64 tekeo ika ciguatera 50 17 0.67 mariri fe’efe’e shingles, filariasis, elephantiasis 23 8 0.68 pu'ëva itching, skin allergies, burns, minor wounds, scabies, warts 92 29 0.69 epa, epa toiki, epa tae ko’a leucorrhoea, genital disease, unpleasant smell, intimate hygiene 42 18 0.72 epa (related to epa) leucorrhoea, genital disease, girl’s intimate hygiene, vaginal discharge 19 5 0.77 ira (sensu lato) restlessness in children with seizures and fever 107 23 0.79 fati, hati shock, fall, fracture, haematoma 97 20 0.80 tiheke purge 155 30 0.81 tetu’i ear pain, ear infections, pus in the ear 14 3 0.85 ira ki’iti (NM), ira patu (SM) restlessness in children with seizures and fever, breath holding spells without fever 4 1 0.98
- (1) SM: Southern Marquesas; NM: NM: Northern Marquesas;
(2) Informant consensus factor: ICF= (NUr-NEU)/(NUr-1); NUr=number of citations of use for each disease; NEU=the number of species used for each disease
The bark of the trunk and the leaf galls of Syzygium malaccense are included in the composition of the main remedies indicated to treat various forms of vi’ihoa and epa.
Galls of this species are an ingredient of various reported remedies (11 use reports) used to treat oral form of epa, corresponding to canker sores, bad breath or thrush.
Most of the species listed in the table 2 are not used as single-ingredient but are mixed with other species. Marquesans remedies – “haika” in the Northern Marquesan Islands, “apau” in the Southern Islands– are generally constituted by a mixture of plants, the average number of components we noted were 4-5, but the mixtures can contain up to 8 components.
It is interesting to note that high relative frequencies (RF %) are observed for plants with very specific uses. For example, among the 14 inhabitants who treat tetu’i disease, which is related to ear pain, ear infections and/or pus in the ear, 12 of them (86%) use exclusively Phyllanthus amarus. 75% of the informants treating the « ‘e’omakaa » disease (sublingual cyst)- use Rorippa sarmentosa, and the species Microsorum grossum is always reported for the treatment of fati or hati.
3.2. Galenical preparations and therapeutic practices: mono’i oil, massages and purge
Herbal medicine is handled by healers who could be classified according to Whistler (1985) as semi-specialists because they are not professionals and usually don’t require any payment. They are considered as healer by their own family or by the community because they possess the “mana”, a supernatural power or efficacy, or perhaps better described as having a force of nature, which is unequally distributed amongst people.
The remedies consist mainly of juices of several fresh plants obtained by expression, usually diluted in a carrier. The main administration mode is oral, frequently accompanied by massages.
Massages are provided to both children and adults using vegetable oils: mono’i (Tahitian name) or pani (Marquesan name). The pani is used in application to the body or hair. Plants are used fresh (except for vetiver - Chrysopogon zizanioides whose roots are dried). The floral composition usually includes mine (basilic – Ocimum basilicum) which reduces the strong odor of locally made coconut oil. This traditional oil can be replaced by refined coconut oil from Tahiti called “coco fine”. Mine is mixed with other plants like va’ova’o (Premna serratifolia), moto’i (Cananga odorata), taretare (Anethum graveolens), pitate (Jasminum grandiflorum), mati (Mentha spp.), pa’ahei (Angiopteris evecta), fa’a hoka (Ananas comosus), puahi (Santalum insulare var. marchionense), mou’u (Chrysopogon zizanioides) ‘ena (Curcuma longa), pua ho’ovai (Fagraea berteroana), tia’e (Gardenia taitensis), hinano (Pandanus tectorius), fa’a (Pandanus tectorius fruit) nio’u (Sigesbeckia orientalis), and mei’e (Ageratum conyzoides). Locally made coconut oil and the dried kernel of Calophyllum inophyllum are ingredients of specific pani, like pani temanu, which is used in the treatment of certain disorders.
Purges (tiheke) are very popular in Marquesan traditional medicine treatment. There are general and specific purges, and in some cases the purge is considered as the treatment itself. For children, tiheke are often incorporated in the original recipe. Purges have an important place in the protocols of traditional medicines: If the preparation is dark, it is a sign of prohibitions or transgression by the patient, or a sign that the patient suffers from a serious illness. The frequent practice of purging may be related to the small number of traditional anti-diarrheal medicines.
The traditional Marquesan medicine is also surrounded by many tapu or, “taboo”. These restrictions or prohibitions can last from 3 days to 3 months, and apply to food and sexual matters. Raw fruits or vegetables, offshore fishes, alcohol, fried meat and sweet drinks are prohibited during the treatment, and so are sexual intercourses. But, as tapu are considered particularly difficult to respect, some informants consider that it is not necessary to comply with certain tapu, particularly those related with sexual intercourses, more than two weeks after taking the medicine.
Some variability of medicinal uses may exist depending on the healers, but in general the healing process follows a specific protocol: 3 days of herbal medicine followed by a purge. The sequence is repeated if necessary at the new moon period following the 6th day of the first administration of the medicine.
3.3. Traditional medical concepts and their ICF values
The Informant Consensus Factor values (ICF) are calculated for each ailment or health problem. The ICF values reflect the consistency of the Marquesan informants in the selection of plants to treat a specific illness category (see Table No. 3). A value close to 0 means that the informants do not agree in the choice of the used medicinal plant species attributed to an illness category. On the contrary, a value of 0.98 reflects a general agreement between the chosen species and the treated disease.
The higest ICF levels are observed for ira ki’iti or ira patu (0.98), related to restlessness in children with seizures and fever, tetu’i (0.85) related to ear infections, most of the time treated with Phyllanthus amarus, and hati or fati (0.80), related to shocks, fractures or hematoma, mainly treated with Microsorum grossum. Ira ki’iti and ira patu are two different names of the same illness used in Northern and Southern Marquesas, respectively, and so are hati and fati.
Some remedies were found to treat ailments or health problems which can be described as “cultural diseases “
Women’s vaginal secretions are subject to special care. Even if this physiological function is not considered as a disease itself - we did not record any name to designate it - The Marquesans consider that it is necessary to treat these secretions and associated odors preventively in early childhood. It is common to apply herbal preparations directly to girls’ vulva, from an early age, the mode of preparation depending on the island and/or on the plant used. In Ua Pou, they mostly use mohokio (Achyranthes aspera var. aspera), whole plant, in Nuku Hiva, they use the trunk bark of the endemic tueiao (Rauvolfia nukuhivensis), while green and immature coconuts, locally called koi’e, are used all over the different islands. These applications of plant preparations, which can take several months or years, can also be applied again in adulthood if necessary. This traditional practice is still widespread in the Marquesas Islands and shows one of the highest ICF values (0.80). It is likely that the applied herbal preparations inhibit the glandular secretion responsible of the lubrication of the vagina. In the long run, it is also possible that the process lead to the atrophy of the glands responsible for secretion, but this point remains to be demonstrated.
3.4. Biogeographical status of medicinal plants
Native species (either indigenous or endemic) constitute a minority fraction of the Marquesan medicinal plants as they only represent one quarter of all used species (20 species out of 77), all the others being introduced ones. More striking is the very low number of Marquesan endemic species used as medicinal plant with only 3 taxa listed from which 2 of them are just botanical varieties of endemic species from Eastern Polynesia.
Regarding the introduced plants, it is possible to distinguish between Polynesian introductions (plants introduced during Polynesian migrations) and modern introduction (plants introduced more recently with the arrival of Europeans by the end of the 18th century). The Polynesian introductions represent 42% (i.e. 32 species) of the Marquesan medicinal plants. Many of them were intentional introductions (as food plants or for other useful species), others were unintentional. The significant presence of Polynesian weeds in the current Marquesan pharmacopoeia suggests that many of the species of this category are not unintentional introductions, but were truly brought for medicinal purposes. This is the case for major local medicinal plants like Achyranthes aspera var. aspera, Centotheca lappacea, Cyathula prostrata, Kyllinga nemoralis, Sigesbeckia orientalis and Vigna adenantha, and also for Laportea interrupta and Oxalis corniculata, which are of minor medicinal importance today. These later species introduced by the first Marquesans probably more than 1,000 years ago, are considered today as “local” species, belonging to the biological patrimony of the archipelago similarly to the endemic species.
On the other hand, one third (i.e. 25 species) of the Marquesan medicinal plants are modern introductions, introduced, for most of them, less than 200 years ago. Their integration in the Marquesan traditional medicine shows the innovative and adaptive capabilities of the Marquesan healers to face new diseases and to use new plants.
Most of the medicinal plants are collected around the villages or in homegardens, and are accordingly not threatened or vulnerable to extinction. But three endemic medicinal plants are considered rare or very rare species: Santalum insulare var. marchionense (sandalwood or puahi), Terminalia glabrata var. brownii (Polynesian tree almond or koua’i’i) and Rauvolfia nukuhivensis (tu’eiao), all restricted to the islands of Nuku Hiva and Ua Huka. The latter taxon result from a recent taxonomic combination ( Lorence & Butaud 2011) of this threatened species whose bark is a component of a still popular remedy for feminine intimate care (see below).
The other rare species are Polynesian introductions: Sigesbeckia orientalis and Tephrosia purpurea var. purpurea. Beside that, we observed that the Marquesan name kohuhu which refers to T. purpurea, a plant used as an ichthyotoxic in almost all the Pacific area, is now frequently transferred to the common and similarly weedy species Indigofera suffruticosa.
The cumulative number of healers who reported a medicinal use for each plant is a reasonable indice for their biological and/or cultural importance; “cultural” is used here in the sense of shared knowledge. Howether medicinal plant knowledge often belongs to the specialty domain of a limited number of individuals in the community and may be kept secretive for these purposes. Vandebroek (2010) distinguish between cultural and idiosyncratic knowledge that is more or less restricted to an individual or a few individuals and has not(yet) been widely distributed. In our study some medicinals plants cited only by 2-3 informants seem to have disappeared from the collective memory of Marquesan people with the exception of some individuals who still know their use: it is the case for the shrublet Tephrosia purpurea (L.) Pers. var. purpurea which became very rare according to our own observations, Wikstroemia coriacea Seem, these two species formerly used as ichtyotoxic. The toxicity of Cerbera manghas L. is still well known but its medicinal use is now restricted to some traditional practitioners. Some recently introduced species with a number of use-reports NI≤3 (see table N°2) could be also interpreted as an idiosyncratic knowledge implemented by some traditional healers.
Like in other places of the world, the loss of traditional knowledge is a reality in the Marquesas Islands, and the cultural and demographic trauma that the Marquesan people have experienced in recent history, mixed with the loss of economic and social functions of medicinal practices, have accelerated this process.
However, despite economic and cultural changes, the practice of herbal medicine continues today throughout French Polynesia. Indeed, the therapeutical approach of the healers, tuhuka haika(NM) or tuhuna apau (SM), and their social functions, survived until now despite the culture shock faced by the Marquesan population. They have pursued their healing activities by switching to numerous introduced plants commonly found in their close environment and easily gathered. The predilection given to modern introductions may be interpreted as an innovative process implemented by traditional healers. Moreover, several native or introduced Tahitian medicinal plants have been recently introduced in the Marquesas Islands for their healing reputation. It is the case of the native fern Davallia solida var. solida and the Polynesian herbs Leucas decemdentata and Lindernia crustacea. These facts demonstrate the innovative ability of Marquesan healers and their capacity to integrate new plants species in the Marquesan pharmacopoeia.
The high proportion of modern introductions could strengthen the hypothesis which considers the pre-European Polynesian phytotherapy as relatively poor, linked with healing conceptions that are not built on empirical observations of the human body functions, with the exception of traumatic accidents (Nina and Brien 1993). Whistler (1985) noted that in the Cook Islands, the widespread use of herbs to heal ailments is mostly a result of contact with the Western world
However, as mentioned above, several plants were intentionally introduced for their medicinal virtues, suggesting the existence of a corpus of medicinal plants with sufficient efficacy to be transported during the lengthy travels of migrations throughout the Pacific Ocean. To support this idea, a bibliographic review written by Zepernick (1972) shows that 66% of the 427 plants used in the Polynesian medicine are considered medicinal only in Polynesia.
The complexity of the Marquesan nosologies and the large number of synonyms collected for the same diseases are also contradictory to the assumptions on the relative poverty of the pre-European Polynesian phytomedicine.
The Marquesan traditional medicine as practised today may result from successive contributions since the time of first contact. Remedies showing a weak consensus among the Marquesan healers were probably recently introduced in the Marquesas Islands medicine, as it is the case of some remedies indicated to treat cancers, which showed low ICF values (<0.5). The word fe’e from Fatu Hiva and Tahiti, feke in the other islands of the Southern Marquesas and heke in the Northern Marquesas which mean “octopus or squid” refer to a symbolic representation of an invisible illness “as the tentacles of an octopus invading the body.” The term kavekave, name of the peduncle of the inflorescence of the coconut which looks like an octopus tentacle, is also used for the same purpose.
Until now, the Polynesian nosologies or conceptions of sickness did not receive much attention. Whistler, 1985 and Whistler, 1991 gathered at the end of its papers a short list of ailments he translated himself from Tongan and Cook herbal medicine. In the present study, a special attention was focused on the descriptions of the local diseases. They were obtained from interviews of several informants, and their translation in French were discussed an verified in focus groups involving both scientists and marquesan language specialists from the “Académie des Marquises” (see methods)
Despite the complex nosology, the ICF related to the medicinal plants used to treat the Marquesan diseases could be calculated and showed generally high ICF values, suggesting a strong coherence in the Marquesan ailments. Moreover, in the marquesan medicinal system, diseases are linked to complex etiologies based on the observation of sharp clinical signs associated with gestures and behavior. During the interviews, they were frequently associated with the influence of the tupapa’u – vehinehae, the pagan ancestors, considered as « bad dead», and excluded from the current lineage of the patients ( Gérard 1986). The Maori concept of illness has a much broader basis than the Western concept ( Nina and Brien 1993). It encompasses not just physical health care, but all social interactions as well.
Marquesan herbal medicine appears to draw its inspiration from a common Polynesian root. Most of the medicinal plants used in Marquesas islands are also commonly used in many of the Polynesian and Pacific region, and correspond to plants brought by Polynesian along with their migrations trough the Pacific.
The use of a combination of numerous plants as ingredients (at least two components) for each medicinal recipe is also common in Pacific region, as well the use of fresh plants and purges.
However further investigations on Marquesan nosologies are necessary to appreciate the originality of the Marquesan pharmacopoeia by comparison of ethnobotanical data from available literature. Not enough attention was carried on in these studies on the ailment translation process and some misunderstandings between healers, interpreters and investigators might have led to errors when it was asked to translate in English or French the names of the ailments, with their associated symptoms. In that way, we tried to reduce researchers subjectivity during focus group with Marquesan academicians specialists of the language.
As previously observed in other Polynesian societies, Marquesan traditional diseases are associated with complex symptoms (Lemaître, 1989). However it remains difficult to identify a design that could encompass the Polynesian diseases categories in a consistent corpus of concept As previously observed by Cox & Banack (1991), we can only assume the existence of a proto-classification of diseases, which disappeared from the collective memory
The same authors noted that if correspondence between Polynesian and botanical taxonomy can be easily established, it is however more difficult to translate the Polynesian disease categories in terms of Western medicine. In consequence, it appeared difficult for the ethnopharmacologist to correlate the traditional use of plants with their therapeutic or chemical properties. In the Marquesan Islands, this difficulty is compounded by the complexity of remedies, which often contain several plants, generally between 4 and 7 different ones, and sometimes even more. The same species are found in several remedies, treating several diseases. The healers cannot give any specififc effects that can be attributed to the numerous components of the haika, except to some herbs or plant substances used as purges. Despite this difficulty, it was possible to identify using statistical data 41 plant species with a significant high relative frequency of citations for a given disease (RF>20, table 2). Finally, the crossing of ICF and RF indices shows that 36 species have at least one significant use (frequencies>20%) with high ICF value (> 0.5). This suggests that some key phytochemical ingredients may be present in these plants which require further phytopharmacological studies to a better knowledge of their medicinal properties.
We are grateful to the ⪡ Académie des Marquises”, our project partner and particularly to Mr. Georges Toti Teikiehuupoko, its president, and Mr Joseph Kaiha, Mayor of Ua Pou and Previous Minister of Culture of the government of French Polynesia, who facilitated the field work and the interviews, and also participated in all stages of the study.
We express our thanks to all the Marquesan population who were willing to share with us their knowledge about medicinal plants This work aims to constitute a record of the Marquesan traditional knowledge, to contribute to the recognition of their biological and cultural heritage and to protect the Marquesan collective intellectual property.
Special thanks to Fred Jacq for the map
This work has been supported by the French and Polynesian governments, IRD and the University of French Polynesia.
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