Silviano Camberos Sánchez 1962–2009
Physician and ethnobotanist Silviano Camberos Sánchez, MD, died from Chagas, a parasitic disease that affects the heart, on August 17, 2009, at the age of 47.
Throughout his career, Dr. Camberos displayed a perpetual interest in expanding his knowledge of natural medicine, particularly the medicine of indigenous tribes in Mexico. His deep yearning to learn from others, while also helping them, led to his becoming a medical physician and an ethnobotanist, a rare combination of professions.
Born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, Dr. Camberos’ interest in ethnobotany and medicine grew out of the moments he spent with his maternal grandmother, who was a pharmacist during the 1930s, said his brother Jorge Camberos Sánchez (e-mail, January 25, 2010). Early on, Dr. Camberos desired to work with the indigenous Huichol people of central Mexico, something that also influenced his decision to become a doctor, said Yvonne Negrin, Dr. Camberos’ long-time friend and a co-founder of the Association for the Economic Development of the Western Sierra Madre (e-mail, December 2009-February 2010). A tribe of about 15,000 living in Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains, the Huichols are thought to be the last-remaining tribe in North America to have maintained their indigenous traditions.1
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in biology, Dr. Camberos earned a medical degree with a specialty in surgery and obstetrics from the University of Guadalajara in 1991. He was always interested in an integrative approach to medicine and did not think Western medicine had all the answers, said Mark Plotkin, PhD, president of the Amazon Conservation Team and a friend of Dr. Camberos (oral communication, December 8, 2009). During medical school, he therefore further explored his interest in herbalism and ethnobotany. He completed the required 1-year social service component of his medical degree with the Huichols, and his medical thesis discussed the tribe’s shamanism and roots of traditional therapeutic medicine, said Negrin.
Dr. Camberos went on to receive his master’s degree in ethnobotany from the University of California at Berkeley (UC-B). He stayed in California, serving as ethnobotanical field investigator for Shaman Pharmaceuticals for 4 years. At Shaman, he contributed to about 6 ethnobotanical research expeditions in different parts of Latin America, said Tom Carlson, MD, a professor of integrative biology at UC-B who also worked for Shaman Pharmaceuticals at the time (e-mail, December 10, 2009).
“He always had a bright energetic smile and contagious enthusiasm about his appreciation of indigenous people throughout the world,” said Dr. Carlson. “All of Silviano’s collaborators spoke very highly of his field research methods and how respectful he was of all the people with whom he worked, especially the indigenous communities. His scientific contributions to ethnobotanical research were very valuable.”
Dr. Camberos spent about 15 years working with the Huichols, including his time as the head physician for a community clinic in San Andrés. He also worked with the Huichols through his home clinic and under several non-governmental organizations, which included treating patients before and after surgeries and those with tuberculosis and other diseases, said Negrin.
Dr. Camberos also worked alongside the indigenous Mazatec Indians in Oaxaca, Mexico.2 During these times he would spend weeks in some of the most remote regions of the country, but the lack of amenities never seemed to bother him.
“He was never motivated by luxury or modernity,” said his brother Jorge.
Dr. Camberos’ medical philosophy was “there are no illnesses; there are ill people,” and he provided free medical care for the Huichols and Mazatecs and studied with their shamans and healers in order to learn about their plants and investigate their ancestral healing techniques, said Jorge.
“The high point in his career was when he was able to integrate his breadth of medical knowledge in his practice. During his work with the Huichols and Mazatecs he fully dedicated his knowledge and his resources to them,” he continued.
“He never gave up his love for plants or people,” said Dr. Plotkin, who sometimes joined him on ethnobotanical trips, including a visit to the Trio Indian village in Suriname of the northeast Amazon. Though Dr. Camberos spoke Spanish and English fluently and understood Huichol, Mazateco, French, and some Italian and German, he did not speak the language of the Trios. But this did not prevent him from communicating.2
“Silviano made friends almost immediately and began teaching the Trio Indians songs and calls in the Huichol language,” said Dr. Plotkin. “Ten years after he last set foot in that village, they ask about him still.”
Dr. Camberos maintained strong relationships with the people, and when some of them left their villages, he helped them transition to urban areas by furthering their education, said Jorge.
In addition to learning from indigenous tribes, Dr. Camberos relentlessly broadened his knowledge of natural medicine by taking courses in institutions across Latin America. During medical school, he received an 80-credit hour diploma in ecology and environmental impact; while in San José, Costa Rica, he studied 160 hours on tropical dendrology; in Bogotá, Columbia, he took an international course on medicinal plants; and back in his home of Guadalajara he completed a workshop in natural medicine and courses in nutrition, diet and natural therapies, iridodiagnosis, and natural psychotherapy.
He obtained degrees in homeopathy, homotoxicology (the use of homeopathic remedies to remove toxins from the body), naturopathy, biomagnetic therapy, and holistic medicine. He also took courses in natural emergency medicine, natural therapeutic medicine, and Reiki and Bach flower remedies.
“His work as a physician was constant—not only did he practice medicine, he also continued researching treatments his whole life,” said Jorge. “Watching him work left me with a profound sense of service and charity.
“The influence and legacy Dr. Silviano Camberos Sánchez leaves with his collaborators and students is that of responsibility, service, dedication to furthering one’s depth of medical understanding, and never allowing one’s profession to become commercialized. He is survived by his brothers and sisters, who were his students and will follow his footsteps.”
Dr. Camberos’ siblings, Rebecca, Javier, and Jorge Camberos Sánchez, are active in furthering their own natural medicine educations and have taken over the direction of their brother’s science library, garden, and collection of rare plants. Dr. Camberos is also survived by his mother.
- The Huichol Indians. Dance of the Deer Foundation-Center for Shamanic Studies website. Available at: www.shamanism.com/Huichols/Huichol_Home.aspx. Accessed February 4, 2010.
- Plotkin M. In memory of Silviano Camberos. Why the Amazon? Blog of the Amazon Conservation Team. September 16, 2009. Available at: http://amazonconservationteam.blogspot.com/2009/09/tale-of-two-friends.html.