Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Some cultural and environmental rants

Wandering around the BBC website today threw up a couple of gems for me. The first was a story about a sickness in Nicaragua, the local Miskito people call it 'Grisi Siknis', it's been around since the 1850's. It manifests itself in teenagers in what they describe as a 'madness'. Giddiness followed by collapse and seizure with the sufferer seeming to have abnormal strength. Sometimes sufferers will run around and tear their clothes off. One individual described the experience: "Then, I saw something coming towards me - a kind of black man or a dragon that entered me and possessed me."

Until recently it has only afflicted the Miskito, but there has now been a case in someone of Spanish descent.

Western doctors haven't even begun to unfold the mystery of this illness, despite having taken blood tests from individuals suffering attacks, they can find nothing wrong with them clinically. Put it short, they're baffled.

The only person who isn't baffled seems to be Dona Porcela, a traditional healer. Using a combination of black magic and potions, she performs a type of ritual exorcism. After 3 or 4 days the symptoms have disappeared.

We could quibble over the nature of the disease, is it a disease at all? Is it more of a cultural 'meme' spread via some kind of religious fervour? Is it all in the head? This might explain why the ritual exorcism that the Miskito people have so much faith in solves the problem.

We don't know yet and we hate that! :o)

Personally I think it's refreshing to be reminded that there are yet things we don't understand, and hopefully even more puzzling things yet to be discovered.

Read the entire story here:


The second story that caught my eye was the following:

'Volcano Eruption Threatens the Galapagos'

The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of VOLCANIC islands. The oldest was formed between 5 and 10 million years ago, the newest are still in the process of being formed, as is shown by this eruption on one of the youngest islands, Fernandina. The Galápagos are situated above a volcanic hotspot, or a weakening in the earth crust which allows mantle through. These eruptions help to form the new islands.

Islands formed like this take a while to become colonised (in terms of wildlife), it really depends on how close they are to the nearest landmass and in what direction the wind tends to blow, but lets make a conservative estimate that the creatures living on this archipelago have been living and evolving there for at least a million years.

Methinks they have, and can still cope with a volcanic eruption or two. Perhaps journalism should be focussing on the number one threat to diversity on the Galápagos, introduced species of flora and fauna outcompeting local species. Or overfishing leading to depletion of the marine wildlife. The most recent wave of extinction is being caused by man via deforestation, pollution, poaching, introduced species, etc etc. These species have evolved to live in the environment they inhabit, volcanos and all, but they haven't had time to evolve to live with us.

Don't get me wrong, there are many endemic species on the Galápagos, and if we were to lose them due to this eruption then it would be an awful loss to global diversity. In my view though, at least we'd have lost them to nature and not to any man-made threat...

View this video at : http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7997290.stm


  1. Golly, soap box tastic.

    You know how dangerous it is when you do reading AND thinking.

    Quick lets go down the boozer where we are safe!

  2. It's important that we go to the pub RIGHT NOW!!