Motivational Speaker: Wade
Ethnographer, Writer, Photographer, Filmmaker, Motivational Speaker
Wade Davis is
an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. Named by the
NGS as one of the Explorers for the Millennium, he has been described as
“a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of
all of life’s diversity.” In recent years his work has taken him to East
Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New
Guinea, Australia, Colombia, Vanuatu, Mongolia and the high Arctic of
Nunuvut and Greenland.
An ethnographer, writer,
photographer, and filmmaker, Davis holds degrees in anthropology and biology
and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly
through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent over three years in the Amazon
and Andes as a plant explorer, living among fifteen indigenous groups in eight
Latin American nations while making some 6000 botanical collections. His work
later took him to Haiti to investigate folk preparations implicated in the
creation of zombies, an assignment that led to his writing Passage of
Darkness (1988) and The Serpent and the Rainbow (1986), an
international best seller later released by Universal as a motion picture.
His other books include
Penan: Voice for the Borneo Rain Forest (1990), Shadows in the Sun
(1993), Nomads of the Dawn (1995), One River (1996), which was
nominated for the 1997 Governor General's Literary Award for Nonfiction,
The Clouded Leopard (1998), Rainforest (1998), Light at the Edge
of the World (2001), The Lost Amazon (2004), Grand Canyon
(2008), Book of Peoples of the World (ed. 2008) and The Wayfinders:
Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, the 2009 Massey lectures.
His books have been translated into fifteen languages, including Basque,
Serbian, Korean, Mandarin, Bulgarian, Japanese and Malay, and have sold
approximately 800,000 copies worldwide.
books include: Into the Silence: The Great War,
Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, published by Knopf 2011 and
The Sacred Headwaters published by Greystone, also in 2011. In 2012 and
2013 three additional books will appear including a second book of photographs
covering Davis’s work 2000-2010. Davis will edit the journals of Oliver
Wheeler, and also produce a work of literary nonfiction on the Grand Canyon of
the Colorado. Sheets of Distant Rain will follow in 2014.
Davis is the
recipient of numerous awards including: The Explorers Medal, the highest award
of the Explorers Club (2011), the Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian
Geographical Society (2009), the 2002 Lowell Thomas Medal (The Explorer’s
Club) and the 2002 Lannan Foundation $125,000 prize for literary non-fiction.
He has been granted Honorary Degrees (Doctorate of Sciences) from University
of Victoria (2003), University of Guelph (2008), and Colorado College (2010),
and (Doctorate of Laws) from the University of Northern British Columbia
(2010) and the National College of Natural Medicine (2011). In 2004 he was
made an Honorary Member of the Explorer’s Club, one of twenty. In 2012 he
received the David Fairchild Medal, the most prestigious award for botanical
A native of
British Columbia, Davis, a licensed river guide, has worked as park ranger,
forestry engineer, and conducted ethnographic fieldwork among several
indigenous societies of northern Canada. He has published 195 scientific and
popular articles on subjects ranging from Haitian vodoun and Amazonian myth
and religion to the global biodiversity crisis, the traditional use of
psychotropic drugs, and the ethnobotany of South American Indians. Davis has
written for National Geographic, Newsweek, Premiere, Outside, Omni,
Harpers, Fortune, Men's Journal, Condé Nast Traveler, Natural History,
Scientific American, National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times, Wall
Street Journal, Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, and numerous other
have appeared in some 20 books and more than 80 magazines, journals and
newspapers, including National Geographic, Time, Geo, People, Men’s
Journal, Outside, and National Geographic Adventure. They have been
exhibited at the International Center of Photography (I.C.P.), the Marsha
Ralls Gallery, Washington, D.C., the United Nations (Cultures on the Edge
exhibition 2004), the Carpenter Center of Harvard University, and the Utama
Center, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Select images are part of the permanent
collection of the U.S. State Department, Africa and Latin America Bureaus.
Davis is the co-curator of The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of
Richard Evans Schultes, first exhibited at the National Museum of Natural
History, Smithsonian Institution, and currently touring Latin America. In 2012
he will serve as curator of The Wayfinders, an exhibit scheduled for
November 2012 at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles. A first
collection of Davis’ photographs, Light at the Edge of the World,
appeared in 2001 published by National Geographic Books, Bloomsbury and
Douglas & McIntyre. A second collection is under contract for fall 2013
publication with Douglas & McIntyre.
has been the subject of more than 900 media reports and interviews in Europe,
North and South America and the Far East, and has inspired numerous
documentary films as well as three episodes of the television series, The
speaker for over twenty-five years, Davis has lectured at the American Museum
of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, California Academy of Sciences,
Missouri Botanical Garden, Field Museum of Natural History, New York Botanical
Garden, National Geographic Society, Royal Ontario Museum, the Explorer's
Club, the Royal Geographical Society, the Oriental Institute, Musée du Quai
Branly, Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango, the Chattaugua Institute, the World
Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank as well as some 150 universities,
including Harvard, M.I.T., Oxford, Yale, Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, Duke,
Vanderbilt, University of Pennsylvania, Tulane and Georgetown.
He has spoken at
the Aspen Institute, Bohemian Grove and on numerous occasions for the Young
President’s Organization. He has spoken four times at the TED Conference, and
appeared as well at numerous offsite TEDx conferences. His clients have
included amongst others Microsoft, Shell, Hallmark, Fidelity Investments,
International Baccalaureate, Bank of Nova Scotia, MacKenzie Financials,
Healthcare Association of Southern California, National Science Teachers
Association, Promega, NDMA (Non-prescriptive Drug Manufacturers Association),
International Baccalaureate, European Council of International Schools,
Canadian Association of Petroleum Geologists, Canadian Association of
Exploration Geophysicists, American Trial Lawyer’s Association, American
Judges Association, American Bankers Association, Centaur Technology, Canadian
Association of Actuaries, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, as well as
several leading pharmaceutical companies including Warner-Lambert, Bayer,
Miles, Bristol-Myers, and Abbott Laboratories.
An Honorary Research Associate of the Institute of Economic Botany of the New
York Botanical Garden, he is a Fellow of the Linnean Society, Fellow of the
Explorer's Club, and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Fellow of
the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Davis was a founding board member of
the David Suzuki Foundation and he recently completed a six-year term on the
board of the Banff Centre, Canada’s leading institution for the arts. He
currently serves on the board of the Amazon Conservation Association. In 2009
he delivered the CBC Massey lectures,
Canada’s most prestigious
public intellectual forum.
Davis was the
series creator, host and co-writer of Light at the Edge of the World, a
four-hour ethnographic documentary series, shot in Rapa Nui, Tahiti, the
Marquesas, Nunuvut, Greenland, Nepal and Peru, which is currently airing in
165 countries on the National Geographic Channel and in the USA on the
Smithsonian Network. He is a principal character in Grand Canyon Adventure,
a 3D IMAX film, released by MacGillivray Freeman in 2008. Currently playing in
55 theatres worldwide, the film has grossed $30 million. Other television
credits include the award winning documentaries, Spirit of the Mask,
Cry of the Forgotten People, Forests Forever, and Earthguide,
a 13 part television series on the environment, which aired on the Discovery
Channel in 1990. Davis has recently completed a new four-hour series for the
National Geographic, Ancient Voices/Modern World, which was shot in
Australia, Mongolia, and Colombia. It is currently airing worldwide on the
National Geographic Channel as the second season of Light at the Edge of
When not in the
field, Davis and his wife Gail Percy divides their time between Washington,
D.C., Vancouver and the Stikine Valley of northern British Columbia. They have
two daughters, Tara 23, and Raina 20.
A professional speaker for more than twenty years, Davis has presented to
diverse and distinguished audiences, including delivering the 2009 CBC Massey
lectures, Canada's most prestigious public intellectual forum. He has lectured
at the American Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, California
Academy of Sciences, Missouri Botanical Garden, Field Museum of Natural
History, New York Botanical Garden, National Geographic Society, Royal Ontario
Museum, the Explorer's Club, the Royal Geographical Society, the Oriental
Institute, the Chattaugua Institute, the World Bank, the Inter-American
Development Bank as well as some 200 universities, including Harvard, M.I.T.,
Oxford, Yale, Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, Duke, Vanderbilt, University of
Pennsylvania, Tulane and Georgetown.
He has spoken at the Aspen Institute, Bohemian Grove and on numerous
occasions for the Young President’s Organization and at the TED Conference.
His clients have included Microsoft, Shell, Hallmark, Fidelity Investments,
Bank of Nova Scotia, MacKenzie Financials, Healthcare Association of Southern
California, National Science Teachers Association, NDMA (Non-prescriptive Drug
Manufacturers Association), International Baccalaureate, European Council of
International Schools, Canadian Association of Petroleum Geologists, Canadian
Association of Exploration Geophysicists, American Trial Lawyer’s Association,
American Judges Association, American Bankers Association, Centaur Technology,
Canadian Association of Actuaries, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, as
well as several leading pharmaceutical companies, including Warner-Lambert,
Bayer, Miles, Bristol-Myers, and Abbott Laboratories.
Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey
through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures
One of the intense pleasures of travel is the
opportunity to live among peoples who have not forgotten the old ways, who
still feel the past in the wind, touch it in stones polished by rain,
recognize its taste in the bitter leaves of plants. Just to know that nomadic
hunters exist, that jaguar shaman yet journey beyond the Milky Way, that the
myths of Athabaskan elders still resonate with meaning, is to remember that
our world does not exist in some absolute sense but rather is just one model
of reality. The Penan in the forests of Borneo, the Vodoun acolytes in Haiti,
the wandering holy men of the Sahara teach us that there are other options,
other possibilities, other ways of thinking and interacting with the Earth.
This lecture moves throughout the world, from Borneo to
Tibet, from the high Arctic to the Amazon, as Davis shares his experiences as
an anthropologist and plant explorer. For three years he traveled in the Andes
and Amazon, living among a dozen or more tribes as he searched for new sources
of medicines and studied coca, the most sacred plant of the Inca and the
notorious source of cocaine. Collecting some 6000 botanical specimens, working
with traditional healers and shamans, Davis traversed the Andean Cordillera at
fourteen points and twice descended the Amazon from source to mouth. In 1982,
his research took him to Haiti to study zombies, the living dead of Vodoun
folklore, and investigate the first medically documented case. Working among
the secret societies, he identified a folk preparation that contained a
powerful nerve poison capable of inducing a state of apparent death so
profound that victims could actually be misdiagnosed as dead. This study, the
basis of his dissertation research at Harvard, led to two books, Passage of
Darkness and The Serpent and the Rainbow. From Haiti Davis moved to Borneo
where he lived among the Penan, a nomadic people of the rain forest whose way
of life has within the last twenty years been compromised by the highest rate
of deforestation in the tropics. He later chronicled their plight in Nomads
of the Dawn and Penan: Voice for the Borneo Rainforest. More
recently his research has taken him to the high Arctic, Tibet and the Orinoco
delta in Venezuela, research expeditions which are chronicled in his most
recent books One River, Shadows in the Sun, The Clouded
Leopard, and Rainforest.
If there is one lesson to be drawn from these travels, it is that cultural and
biological diversity are far more than the foundation of stability, they are
an article of faith, a fundamental truth that indicates the way things are
supposed to be. If diversity is a source of wonder, its opposite- the
ubiquitous condensation to some blandly amorphous and singularly generic
modern culture witnessed in all parts of the world- is a source of dismay.
There is a fire burning over the Earth, taking with it plants and animals,
cultures, languages, ancient skills and visionary wisdom. Quelling this flame
and reinventing the poetry of diversity is the most important challenge of our
One River: The Life and Times of Richard Evans
illustrated by archival footage and photographs, follows the life and
adventures, the tragedies and discoveries of Richard Evans Schultes, the
greatest Amazonian plant explorer of the 20th century. In 1941, having studied
the peyote cult of the Kiowa and journeyed into the mountains of Oaxaca to
solve the mystery of teonanacatl and ololiuqui, the long lost sacred
hallucinogens of the Aztec, Richard Evans Schultes took a leave of absence
from Harvard and disappeared into the Northwest Amazon. Twelve years later he
returned from South America having gone places no white man had ever been,
mapping uncharted rivers and living among two dozen Indian tribes while
collecting 25,000 botanical specimens, including 300 species new to science
and over 2000 plants used as medicines, poisons and hallucinogens by the
Indians. Author of 10 books and over 496 scientific articles, he has been
called by HRH Prince Philip" The Father of Ethnobotany". The world authority
on hallucinogenic plants and rubber, Director Emeritus of the Harvard
Botanical Museum, recipient of numerous awards including the Cross of Boyacá,
Colombia's highest decoration, he is a living link to the great natural
historians of the 19th century and to a distant era when the rainforests stood
immense, inviolable, a green mantle stretching across an entire continent.
This lecture, based on the book, One River: Explorations and Discoveries in
the Amazon Rain Forest, is an eloquent and vivid account of Schultes'
explorations, a celebration of the perseverance and wisdom of Indian peoples,
and a lament for the terrible rate of destruction of landscape, culture and
spirit that time has wrought throughout the Americas.
Serpent and the Rainbow: An Exploration of Haitian Vodoun, Secret Societies
According to popular Haitian belief, zombies are the living dead,
individuals raised in a trance from their graves by malevolent sorcerers and
led away to face a life of terror and uncertainty. In early 1982 a team of
prominent physicians and psychiatrists approached the Harvard Botanical Museum
with an astonishing report of the discovery of the first medically documented
case of zombification. Professor Richard Evans Schultes, then Director of the
Museum, assigned Wade Davis the task of traveling to Haiti to search for the
formula of the folk preparation reputedly employed by Vodoun sorcerers to
induce a state of apparent death so profound that victims could actually be
misdiagnosed as dead. This lecture recounts the discovery of that toxin- a
powder containing an extremely potent nerve poison 160,000 times stronger than
cocaine which drastically reduces metabolism and brings on total peripheral
paralysis, even though consciousness is retained.
In searching for the poison, Davis was propelled into a world beyond his
imaginings, a world of spirit possession and animal sacrifice, of sorcerers
and priests, secret societies and Tonton Macoute, the dreaded militia of the
Duvalier regime. Davis discovered that zombification is but one thread woven
through the fabric of an extraordinarily rich culture. He came to realize that
the Vodoun religion itself is not a black magic cult but, on the contrary, a
complex metaphysical worldview that is but the distillation of profound
religious ideas that have their origins in the ancient civilizations of West
Africa. In becoming the first outsider ever to have been initiated into the
Bizango secret societies, he was able to meet actual zombies, study their
past, and explore the reasons for their demise. Based on unprecedented access
to the inner workings of these societies, he concluded that zombification as
both a magical and physical phenomenon is a form of social sanction, a form of
punishment for individuals who transgress the established codes of the
traditional society. In providing a material basis and sociological rationale
for zombification, this presentation attempts to demystify one of the most
misunderstood and exploited of folk beliefs, one that has been used unjustly
to denigrate an entire people and their remarkable religion.
This study became the basis of his dissertation research at Harvard and led to
his writing two books Passage of Darkness and The Serpent and the Rainbow, an
international bestseller that appeared in twelve languages and was later made
into a feature film by Universal Studios.
name came to my attention while I was planning the final dinner event of the
year of centennial celebration of the Boone & Crockett Club to be held in the
Hall of North American Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History. When
I had an opportunity to read his curriculum vitae, I was fascinated, but after
having spent several hours with him and heard him speak, I was moved to a deep
sense of respect… Even though this was a tired group of men who had worked
hard and enjoyed a bit of libation and gastronomic delights, they gave him a
standing ovation at the conclusion of his presentation. In my experience, that
has never occurred at any other time. I can state personally that I have never
been more fascinated with an individual. I can assure you that I would
recommend him to any potential audience as one of the most entertaining,
instructive and thought provoking men that I have ever heard.
- James "Red" Duke, M.D. Professor, Department of Surgery, Medical School, The
University of Texas.
Not in my many years as head of the Heely Lectures have we had quite the
success accorded to Wade's visit. Apart from his charm, wit and intellect, his
eagerness to participate in classes and be available for students and faculty
alike gave everyone he met a thrill of excitement. Here was a man who had, as
they say, done it all and could communicate with verve and depth the meaning
of his experiences both in the wilds of the jungle and the university. His
lecture was accorded a standing ovation. I could have expected nothing better.
-Ed Robbins, Director of Activities, The Lawrenceville School
like to extend my sincere thanks for your visit to speak on behalf of
Maplewood Mall to the more than 2000 children of the White Bear and Maplewood
school districts. Your presentation was informative and enlightening; but even
more it was exciting and filed with passion. The group from Maplewood totaled
over 1000 children, all grade 4s. I could not believe how some of them had
been sitting on the gym floor for up to 30 minutes before your presentation
and hardly moved during the show!
-Jeff Carver, Marketing Director, Maplewood Mall
at least twenty lecturers come in to SIU in the last two years. Never has any
one of them been so cooperative or so flexible. He did four lectures in one
day! The students, faculty even the high school students that were visiting
were thrilled with his presentations. He enchanted everyone with his easy
manner, quick wit and genuine friendliness. And, of course, he is positively
brilliant. He's a student programmer's dream come true.
- Yvonne Hawk, Chair, Student Programming Council, Southern Illinois
University at Carbondale
lecture was spellbinding, not only because of its content and accompanying
slides, but because Dr. Davis' ability to weave together elements of history,
biology, anthropology and psychology into a fascinating story. The audience
was kept on the edge of their chairs for the entire hour and a half that he
spoke. Campus faculty, staff and student responses to his lectures and talks
were unanimously overwhelming. Consensus had it that his visit to the Campus
was not only the best of the four lecturers of the Series, but that Wade Davis
was one of the best speakers that the Campus has ever had.
-Christopher Migliaccio, Director, Department of Continuing Education,
Miami-Dade Community College
lecture was a tremendous success and will be talked about for a long time. You
cannot imagine how rewarding it was to go to my 9 am International Studies
class Friday morning and feel the almost palpable energy and enthusiasm from
30 students. And this after your Wednesday night lecture! These are students
who usually need some time to wake up and who are often quiet and reserved.
Yet on Friday they were still as excited as they had been on Wednesday night
after your talk. They had never heard anyone speak with such power, style and
sensitivity. Spellbinding is an understatement. You, your books, and your
lecture have left a permanent impression on many of us and we cannot thank you
enough for enriching our lives.
-Annette Sampon-Nicolas, Director, International Studies, Hollins University
keynote address had something in it for just about everybody. Feedback from
both faculty and students has been overwhelmingly positive. An estimated 400
people- twice the usual turnout for this event- came to hear your morning
lecture. Your name keeps popping up in class discussions and student essays.
The ripples are still spreading from your having jumped into our little pond.
-Linda Van Blerkom, Department of Anthropology, Drew University
you once again for joining us during the college's 25th anniversary
celebration. What a memorable impact you had on our college community! Hardly
a day passes without several people telling me how impressed they were with
you and your presentation. Yes, I know we paid you, but you gave us so much
that money can never buy. For that, we will always be grateful.
-Vern Loland, President, Spokane Falls Community College
visit was an outstanding experience for those who had the privilege of hearing
your lectures, visiting with you informally, or listening to your class
presentations. It is a rare occurrence for an individual to have the
communication skills and knowledge to deliver a scholarly lecture filed with
facts and information in such a captivating manner so as to generate serious
thinking and actually change attitudes and values. You were able to do this!
You are a master story-teller. Many students wrote reaction papers to your
evening lecture and I would like to include several of their comments.
· I was enthralled. He had me hanging on every word.
· When I left, I wasn't ready to leave
· Listening to Dr. Davis was an experience I will never forget.
· Dr. Davis was awesome! His lecture was incredible! He is a genius!
· I have never listened to a speaker as interesting as Dr. Davis. He
has opened my mind and changed my life.
· Dr. Davis was an ambassador of the human spirit. I loved his lecture
and learned so much in such a short period of time.
· I couldn't believe he had lectured for an hour and a half. The time
· Every word made you want to hear more
· I wish it would have lasted longer
· I was so enthralled by the presentation that I found it hard to take
Most of these comments are from college freshmen, and I think it is very clear
that you have had a profound effect on these individuals. This is exactly what
I had hoped would happen.
-Audrey Gabel, Emeritus Professor of Biology, Black Hills State University
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