In Bolivian Amazon, a Yardstick for Modern Health

In Bolivian Amazon, a Yardstick for Modern Health

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There seems to be little that distinguishes the indigenous Tsimane of northern Bolivia from dozens of other native Amazonian peoples. They still live in small communities, fishing daily, hunting and relying on subsistence farming. They remain relatively isolated from the outside world. They still have large families and fall victim to parasites, worms and infectious diseases. And until a decade ago, few had contact with doctors.

Yet since 2002, when the Tsimane Health and Life History Project was founded, the Tsimane (pronounced chee-MAH-nay) have become arguably the most intensely studied indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere, and perhaps the world. More than 50 Bolivian and American researchers, doctors and students have participated in the health project, generating an array of landmark studies. The population of 13,000, which stretches along the Maniqui River, has become the scientific community’s 21st-century “traditional man.”

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