Forests and Native Indians Knowledges

by Liliana Usvat

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)

TEK emphasizes the idea that individual plants and animals exist on their own terms. This sense of place and concern for individuals leads to two basic TEK concepts:

  1. all things are connected, which is conceptually related to Western community ecology, and
  2. all things are related, which changes the emphasis from the human to the ecological community as the focus of theories concerning nature.

The Kayapó Indians of Brazil

The Kayapó Indians of Brazil’s Amazon Basin are described as effective managers of tropical forest, utilizing an extensive inventory of useful native plants that are concentrated by human activity in special forest areas (resource islands, forest fields, forest openings, tuber gardens, agricultural plots, old fields, and trailsides). Long-term transplanting and selection of plants suggest semi-domestication of many species.

Indigenous knowledge is extremely important in developing new strategies for forest and campo/cerrado conservation, while improving productiveness of these ecological systems. Such knowledge is not only applicable for Amazônian Indians, but also has far-reaching implications for human populations throughout the humid tropics.

Knowledge of medicinal plants among the Caiçaras (rural inhabitants of the Atlantic Forest coast, Brazil)  -Data collected  at 12 Caiçara communities (Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo coastal sites) include citations of 249 plants and identification of 227 species.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of indigenous peoples of North America. Although spiritually oriented, TEK converges on Western scientific approaches.

TEK is based on close observation of nature and natural phenomena; however, it is combined with a concept of community membership that differs from that of Western political and social thought.

TEK is strongly tied to specific physical localities; therefore, all aspects of the physical space can be considered part of the community, including animals, plants, and landforms. As a consequence, native worldviews can be considered to be spatially oriented, in contrast to the temporal orientation of Western political and historical thought.

Connectedness and relatedness are involved in the clan systems of many indigenous peoples, where nonhuman organisms are recognized as relatives whom the humans are obliged to treat with respect and honor.

Convergence of TEK and Western science suggests that there may be areas in which TEK can contribute insights, or possibly even new concepts, to Western science.

TEK is inherently multidisciplinary in that it links the human and the nonhuman, and is the basis not only for indigenous concepts of nature, but also for concepts of indigenous politics and ethics. This multidisciplinary aspect suggests that TEK may be useful in resolving conflicts involving a variety of stakeholders and interest groups in controversies over natural resource use, animal rights, and conservation.

TEK may also have implications for human behavior and obligations toward other forms of life that are often unrecognized, or at least not emphasized, in Western science.

Understanding of TEK may be useful in helping scientists respond to the changing public perceptions of science, and new cultural pressures in our society.

Blog 45-365


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