FWD 2 HerbalGram: Lloyd “Jamba” Scott 1937-2014

Issue: 106 Page: 76-78

Lloyd “Jamba” Scott

by Eugene Zampieron, ND, Ellen Kamhi, PhD

HerbalGram. 2015; American Botanical Council

Lloyd “Jamba” Scott, a Jamaican herbalist of the Maroon tradition and educator of scores of naturopathic physicians and herbalists, died in Jamaica in November 2014 of natural causes. He was 77.

Lloyd Scott was born in Penn Hill, in the Jamaican parish of St. Mary. As a young man, he was a gifted athlete and excelled in boxing and cycling, winning many championship cycling events in Jamaica. He was a talented farmer on land inherited by his family in Islington, Jamaica, where he grew commercial smilax (Smilax spp., Smilacaceae), ginger (Zingiber officinale, Zingiberaceae), and turmeric (Curcuma longa, Zingiberaceae), as well as many other herbs, for the market in the United States.

He was also a master sculptor and carver, taking the name Chamba (later, Jamba), which means “chopping up of wood” in Patois, a creole language of Jamaica. A champion fisherman, his student Mike Daum documented on film Jamba's catching barracuda with only a hand line and his machete.

He studied herbal medicine by spending time with elder family members and friends and apprenticing in the Jamaican Cockpit country on the parish of Trelawny, learning the many closely held herbal medicines used by the Maroons. Later, he served as the village bush doctor and elder in Islington, where he treated the villagers for many decades.

Jamaican Maroons are the descendants of indentured servants and slaves brought from Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone to Jamaica by the Spanish in the 1500s. (Maroon comes from the Spanish word cimarrón meaning “wild” or “untamed.”) The Maroons kept alive their Ashanti and Coromantee languages and medicine customs from Africa, combining them with native Jamaican Arawak traditions. The Maroons were continuously joined by many other fugitive slaves, and the word Maroon became synonymous with the “untamed, fugitive slave people of the hills.”

Following a 14-year struggle called the First Maroon War against British colonizers, the Maroons signed a peace treaty granting them total freedom. The Maroons of Jamaica still maintain their independence and identity as The Maroon Federation, and Maroon territory is considered a sovereign nation within the tiny island of Jamaica. One of their strongest tenets is the healing power of nature and their deep knowledge of the myriad Jamaican herbs and their uses.

As a young biology student, I (EZ) traveled with my high school classmates to the remote regions of Jamaica. There, I met and befriended Jamba Scott. While in Jamaica pursuing a graduate level course over winter recess, I fell ill with intestinal dysentery. I tried conventional medicine, which caused significant adverse effects and did not seem to be helping. Feeling weak and depleted, I approached Jamba and one of Jamba’s herbal teachers, an elder bush doctor known as Pop-A-Top, for help and advice. They suggested that “Maroon science” and herbology would bring rapid, welcomed relief where Babylon medicine” (Western medicine) would not.

For three days I received a steady diet of a strong decoction made from ferns, Jamaica allspice (Pimenta dioica, Myrtaceae), cloves (Syzygium aromaticum, Myrtaceae), guava (Psidium guajava, Myrtaceae), sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera, Polygonaceae), and many other Maroon herbs. The remedies were prepared by Jamba and Pop using their traditional “Maroon science.”

The herbal treatment quickly produced positive results that the conventional medicines did not. This experience prompted a personal conversion in me, and I began researching ethnobotany — the cultural, medical, and spiritual aspects of plant healing. I asked Jamba if I could become his apprentice, even though I was a non-Maroon. Jamba agreed; he was advised by his grandmother’s duppy (spirit) in a dream that he could trust me with this sacred knowledge and that I would be the right person to help pass his secrets on to the world as an “ethical ethnobotanist,” giving back to the community and the local people.

Jamba continued to mentor me and my students, teaching them self-sufficiency and the benefits of living as he did, a Jamaican countryman close to the earth. Many people would accompany me to Jamaica, and Jamba’s teachings radically changed the lives of many of these visitors. In addition, Jamba worked with the Jamaica Wholistic Herbal Association, leading workshops with herbalists throughout Jamaica, and was one of the first farmers in St. Mary to introduce neem (Azadirachta indica, Meliaceae) as a natural insecticide.

Jamba worked with my business partner Ellen Kamhi, PhD, RN, photographer Tom “Asher” Hammang, and me to document the Jamaican bush. Ellen and I co-authored The Natural Medicine Chest (M. Evans & Company, 1999), which includes a section, “Herbs from The Shaman’s Garden,” that chronicles Jamba’s herbal knowledge. His contributions included sections on the Maroon ethnobotany and medical uses of 20 herbs. Jamba, Ellen, and I also collaborated on several other projects, including EcoTours for Cures, an adventure travel company focusing on ethnobotanical and cultural journeys so that interested travelers could observe, work with, respect, and preserve indigenous cultures and their knowledge, chronicling it for future generations. Jamba has been featured in many international magazines, articles, and radio programs discussing the medicinal herbs of the West Indies.

Since 1990, Jamba instructed scores of naturopathic students and herbalists eager to meet and work with him and immerse themselves in field research about Jamaican botanical medicines, including noted herbal leaders such as Ric Scalzo, founder and CEO of Gaia Herbs; Geo Espinosa, ND, director of the Integrated Urology Center at New York University; and Jamaica's most esteemed herbalist, Diane Robertson.

As Mark Plotkin, PhD, a world-renowned ethnobotanist and expert on the Maroons, has stated on Ellen's and my syndicated radio program Natural Alternatives: “Every time a shaman dies, it is like a whole library of information being burnt to the ground, lost forever.”

Lindsay Chimileski, ND, who wrote her naturopathic thesis on Jamaican herbs, said of Jamba, “I am honored to have learned from and connect[ed] with Jamba. I know that his strong spirit lives on through [Dr. Zampieron] and all his students, friends, and family…but I feel a weight on my heart thinking about Jamaica without Jamba's physical presence, knowing eyes, loving smile, and one-of-a-kind dancing.”

A tribute and memorial ceremony was held for Jamba in March 2015 in Jamaica.

Eugene Zampieron, ND, RH(AHG)
—Ellen Kamhi, PhD, RN, AHG, AHN-BC