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In the footsteps of Rumphius: history and ethnobotanical entanglements in the Spice Islands

October 10, 2017, 5:00pm BST - 6:00pm
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

Lady Lisa Sainsbury Lecture Theatre
Jodrell Laboratory Gate, Kew Road TW9 3DS
United Kingdom

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In the footsteps of Rumphius: history and ethnobotanical entanglements in the Spice Islands

Speaker: Professor Roy Ellen FBA (University of Kent) 

Anyone embarking on the ethnobotanical study of the Moluccan islands (the spice islands) of eastern Indonesia will encounter the names and reputations of three naturalists: Alfred Russell Wallace, Henry Forbes and Georg Rumphius. The third of these, Rumphius, has been a kind of intellectual partner in my own research over a period of almost 50 years.

In this lecture I want to show how Rumphius was not only an important figure in the history of botany - a precursor to Linnaeus, but also how an examination of his work sheds light on both the historical ethnobotany of the seventeenth century Ambonese people he lived and worked with, and how Rumphius himself makes an intriguing subject for a study of European natural history at a crucial moment in its transition from a kind of ethnobotany to what we would today understand as biological science.

Rumphius' insights have impacted my own investigation of the plant knowledge practices of the Nuaulu people of Seram in numerous and sometimes surprising ways. The lecture will discuss some examples of the productive engagement between puzzles in Nuaulu ethnobotany, my own attempts to interpret them, and the observations of Rumphius.

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