Anthropologist Wade Davis is one of the world's great story tellers, with personal adventures to match. An Explorer-in-Residence at National Geographic, he specializes in hanging out with traditional peoples and exploring their religious practices.
He first came to public notice with his discovery of the reality of zombies in Haitian voodoo and the substance used to poison them---chronicled in his 1985 book, The Serpent and the Rainbow. He is the author of 13 books, including One River and Shadows in the Suns, and has hosted, written, and starred in numerous television specials, including "Earthguide," "Light at the Edge of the World," "Spirit of the Mask," and "Forests Forever." This talk is based on the prestigious Massey Lectures that Davis gave in Canada in 2009.
What does it mean to be human and alive?
The thousands of different cultures and languages on Earth have compellingly different answers to that question. "We are a wildly imaginative and creative species," declares Wade Davis, and then proves it with his accounts and photographs of humanity plumbing the soul of culture, of psyche, and of landscape.
The threat to cultures is often ideological, Davis notes, such as when Mao whispered in the ear of the Dalai Lama that "all religion is poison," set about destroying Tibetan culture.
The genius of culture is the ability to survive in impossible conditions, Davis concludes. We cannot afford to lose any of that variety of skills, because we are not only impoverished without it, we are vulnerable without it.
Wade Davis author of The Wayfinders at the 2009 Massey Lecture in the Convocation Hall, Toronto, October 31, 2009.