Ongoing translation of“Tractado des las** drogas y Medicinas de lasIndiasOrientalis,”

As part of the Historical Resources aspect of our work, we are translating from Spanish to English the 16th  C. book by the Spanish physician Christobal Acosta,“Tractado De las Drogas, y medicinas de las Indias Orientales, con sus Plantas de buxadas al bivo ..,.”,Burgos: Martín de Victoria, 1578 [Treatise on the Drugs and Medicines of the East Indies, with the plants drawn from life…,]. Acosta’s work was published in Spain during the second half of the 16th century when exotic plants with medicinal properties from Asia and the Americas were becoming widely available to European physicians, as a result of Portuguese expansion into Asia and the Americas. It is the earliest work exclusively devoted toIndian medical therapies published outside India. Acosta work was based on direct observation and study of medical practices he learned during his work at the Royal Hospital in Cochin. The woodcuts illustrations he included in the book for the benefit of European physicians and apothecaries are earliest illustrations of several Indian medicinal plants.

As his name Christobal Acosta Africanus indicates, he had traveled widely by the time he came to Goa with the Portuguese Viceroy. His experiences with African and Arab medicine are cross-referenced with what he found in South India and he gives us glimpses of trade, travel and exchange of materials and medical knowledge in the Indian Ocean world in the middle of the 16th C. The book also reflects the cultural and social barriers that often cloud interpretation of Indian traditions by European authors of the period.

The translation work we have done so far (with Dr. Lee Wright, a scholar of Castilian Spanish) tells us that Acosta undertook the work to satisfy his own interest in Indian medical knowledge, “in several regions and provinces learned and curious men from whom I could daily learn something new; and to see the diversity of plants God has created for human health and that I encountered in Oriental India” and to rectify errors in classical Greek medical works on Indian medicines “to take care of some oversights and mistakes that have been present amongst Greeks, Arabs, and Latins, regarding the knowledge of plants and drugs, in part because of lack of curiosity of these Ancients also in part because they were not able to see these plants in the regions were they originated.” He actively sought out popular folk remedies and explored the culture of healing in South India and provide vivid images of rituals and the use of “Magic” therapies (psychopharmacology?) in 16th century South India.

Carcapuli-Garciniacambogia (indica) C. Acosta, “Tractado de las Drogas y Medicinas de las Indias Orientalis”, Burgos, Spain 1578.

The powder of this fruit is very much in use by midwives who give it to women who have just given birth to [help them] expel the placenta and to produce milk, and before labor to ease the process for which they (the peasants) say it has a great effect [it’s very effective].” (Excerpt of translation of the text by A. Spudich and L. Wright.)

This book and the earlier work by Garcia Orta, published in Goa, are valuable addition to the folk medical traditions and culture of healing in Southwest India in the pre-colonial period. Our goal is to translate this small volume (345 pages) into English, with annotations, updating the botanical, historical and cultural references for contemporary scholarly use.