Wade Davis in conversation with Broughton Coburn


Wade Davis: anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author, and photographer, was named by the National Geographical Society as one of the ‘Explorers for the Millennium’. Davis, who has spent his life focused on worldwide indigenous cultures is in conversation with travel writer, academic, and conservationist Broughton Coburn. Davis speaks of the intense pleasures of travel, the delights of ethnographic research, and his studies of cultures at the far edge of the world.

Wade Davis’ first book The Serpent and the Rainbow is a journey into the secret societies of Haitian voodoo, zombies and magic, and was the beginning of what would become a lifelong love affair with indigenous cultures around the world. His recent book, The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World is a thrilling journey into the world of indigenous cultures and attempts to answer the question: What does it mean to be human and alive?

When asked about his book One River, Davis says it is a story of redemption and hope, and touches upon the idea of national identity and the power of books. It’s what he refers to as ‘a simple account of travel and a legendary professor’ and he calls the book an ‘antidote to darkness and a map of dreams to Colombians who couldn’t travel’.

‘The Rio de Magdelana is the Mississippi of Colombia. I’m working at the highest levels of government to send a message about Colombia; 50 years of wars, 7 million displaced, 250,000 dead, all of which occurred in a country of 48 million. One out of four were forced to flee their homes. What if 77 million Americans were forced to flee their country? The fuel of the war was always cocaine,’ explains Davis.

‘The blood of Colombia is on the hands of all cocaine distributors. Despite all of Colombia’s agonies, the country has greened its cities, created millions of acres of national parks, sought more meaningful restitution with indigenous nations and paved the way for a renaissance in the Americas. The world may be falling apart, but Colombia is falling together. It deserves our support and it does not deserve its agonies,’ says Davis.

When asked how much hope he has for some countries which seem to be suffering deprivation after deprivation, Davis replied ‘It’s what the Buddhists say … that evil exists in the universe.’ He further added, ‘Even Krishna said there is evil in the universe to thicken the plot. The minute you think you’re going to vanquish evil, you’ll end up disillusioned.’

‘We share an idealism that hasn’t been quelled by all that we’ve seen. People always ask me if I’m an optimist. Pessimism is an indulgence. In my lifetime, everything has changed. Terms like “biodiversity” weren’t known back then—just getting people not to throw garbage out of the car window was a living victory,’ laughs Davis.

‘We are cut from the same genetic cloth. We are all descendants of the people who walked out of Africa. If we’re cut from the same cloth, we share the same genus. How that genus is expressed is simply choice. Every culture has something to be said. None has a monopoly on the route to the divine,’ espouses Davis