The Plant Name-Giver

Words and artworks by Abel Rodríguez / Mogaje Guihu

Translated by Laura Strang Steel

With an introduction by Beatriz López

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This article is part of Issue #12

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Mogaje Guihu is a sage of the Nonuya people who possesses the ancestral knowledge of medicinal plants and the ecological systems of the Amazon basin. He comes from a territory known as The Savanna, situated between the Cahuinarí River and the upper part of the Igara Paraná River in Colombia.

Since his early years, Mogaje Guihu was designated to be the ‘plant name-giver’, a term that identifies someone who knows about and handles the vegetal species of the tropical rainforest; this implies the mastery of hundreds of flora species, their anatomical features, their architecture, the type and distribution of branches and leaves, their bark type, their flowers and fruits, as well as the ecological relations with different animal species. One of the most precise and appreciated aspects of the plant name-givers are their knowledge of the medicinal properties of each plant and the production of remedies.

In the 1990s, running away from the Colombian armed conflict, Mogaje Guihu’s family left their native territory, eventually ending up in the capital city Bogotá. He began using his Spanish name, Abel Rodríguez, and in order to preserve his legacy, started documenting his knowledge through drawings, seeking to transmit his cosmovision - not only about the forest, but also about the human condition.

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