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Half a century onward, this essay reflects on a field project initiated in 1963 that examined the human use and vertical distribution of wild, weedy, and cultivated species between 4314 m and 700 m in the Urubamba (or Vilcanota) Valley, southern Peru. Five well-defined climatic zones from microthermal to macrothermal characterize that valley, which was inhabited by a then largely non-literate Quechua-speaking peasantry. Direct observation, interviewing, plant collecting, and mapping characterized the 18-month effort to retrieve the tacit knowledge held by rural people and to convert that information into formal knowledge for others to read. Obstacles peculiar to the period had to be surmounted and shortcomings of various kinds overcome. That first big research endeavor, an intense and intensive learning experience, imparted a sense of intellectual autonomy in selecting topics; respect for the power of intrinsic motivation; a view of fieldwork as a source of adventure; and a perspective on ethnobiology as a form of delicate empiricism that is not simply a matter of registering an objective world. Retrospection on ethnobiological fieldwork at the dissertation stage provides another way to examine the circumstances of knowledge creation and its transformative possibilities.
Gardens can be seen as an avenue of inquiry for understanding the creation and negotiation of social identity. New Orleans is well known for its beautiful gardens, which date as far back as the French colonial period. Excavations at the Rising Sun Hotel site in New Orleans have revealed unique garden contexts from the French and Spanish colonial periods (1722–1796). In this paper, we present the results of the paleoethnobotanical study of samples collected from this unique context, comparing the French and Spanish colonial gardens to each other, and to other known colonial gardens. The results provide a general reflection of the types of plants present or near the gardens, and indicate broader ecological conditions of the natural environment surrounding the city of New Orleans during the early to late eighteenth century. The early colonists lived in a fertile and disturbed landscape, one that likely encroached upon the formal gardens and spaces created by the colonists. Thus, although gardening was an important ambition in the French colonial period, the maintenance of gardens was a significant challenge and their aesthetics were not as orderly as depicted on maps of the time.
We examine the historical relationship between humans and wolves as illustrated through stories of North American Indigenous Peoples, especially the Great Plains and Intermountain West, exemplified by Cheyenne, Lakota, Blackfoot, Pawnee, and Shoshone peoples. Indigenous stories have not been employed in scholarly examinations of the origins of ‘dogs’. These tribal peoples were tough and resilient and wanted companion animals as tough and resilient as themselves. All Plains tribes examined closely have stories that describe wolves as guides, protectors, or entities that directly taught or showed humans how to hunt after humans arrived in the Americas. Indigenous stories provide insights into the process of domestication of wolves, and such stories may indicate at what stage different peoples were in their relationship with wolves. There appears to have existed a reciprocal relationship in which both species provided food for each other or shared food. This is important because it is often assumed by scholars from the Eurocentric tradition that the first wolves associated with humans scavenged or hung around camps waiting for scraps; thus, from this perspective, the process of domestication began with wolves being dominated by humans. In contrast, we argue for a coevolutionary reciprocal relationship between Homo sapiens and Canis lupus that existed from the early days of tribes until at least the nineteenth century. Our results do not mean that many tribes lacked fully domesticated dogs that were not wolflike in phenotype, but that the process of domestication may have taken a different path than is generally assumed.
We summarize results of two independent ethnobiological field studies in adjacent Zapotec towns in the Sierra de Miahuatlán, Oaxaca, Mexico. San Juan and San Pedro Mixtepec share a common language (with minor lexical variation) and occupy contiguous traditional municipal territories ranging from 1650 m to 3700 m elevation and practice a common subsistence agricultural tradition. In conjunction, our data provide a detailed account of how macro-fungi are classified, named, and used by residents of these two towns. We first consider “where fungi fit” in the local worldview as well as in the broader context of folk systematics, noting their relative neglect in ethnobiological studies to date. We document more than 30 distinct, named folk generic taxa of macro-fungi (known locally as mĕy), analyze the nomenclatural patterns characteristic of this life-form, and argue that it is best construed to be “an unaffiliated life-form” rather than an unaffiliated folk generic taxon or a kingdom on a par with that of plants or of animals. We briefly characterize the ecology and phenology of each recognized folk taxon and detail how 25 species are used as food. We note in particular how local harvesters distinguish confusingly similar toxic from edible species. We compare the Mixtepec Zapotec classification and nomenclature with that of two other Mexican Indigenous societies, the Purépecha of Michoacán, and the Tzeltal Maya of Chiapas, noting many similarities but also some intriguing contrasts.
Enset (Ensete ventricosum) is the traditional staple food of Sidama people who live in Rift Valley lowlands to highlands in southwest Ethiopia. Enset is drought resistant, but it matures slowly, requires substantial manure inputs from cattle, and intensive processing. Maize, introduced to Sidamaland in the mid-twentieth century, is common in midlands and lowlands. Maize matures rapidly and provides more kcal/kg than enset, but it is prone to failure in dry years and requires chemical fertilizer, which is subject to global market price fluctuations. We compare cultural ecology, productivity, failure, and resilience of enset and maize in 410 farms across four Sidama ecological zones. The risks and benefits of enset and maize are complexly associated with variable local environments. Enset offers drought-resistant produce that, with sufficient manure inputs, is adequate for subsistence in the wet highlands, but its performance is more variable elsewhere. Fertilized, maize yields larger harvests than enset, but vulnerability to rainfall and global processes create special challenges. Maize and enset appear to be in different adaptive cycle phases: maize grows quickly and maize farms rebounded from crop loss within four years. Only half of enset farms recovered within six years after crop failure, complicating farming decisions in an environment with tremendous localized variation. In general, the Sidama zone shows a pattern of regional diversity with local specialization for maize only, enset only, or mixed maize and enset cultivation. In some areas maize has become a preferred crop and food for younger people.
Indigenous groups offer alternative knowledge and perspectives based on their own locally developed practices of resource use. Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) was thus acquired on the basis of the long-term observation and use of natural systems. Some proponents endorse the use of TEK in scientific research, although the methodology for integrating this knowledge into ecological models is not straightforward. We propose the use of a Bayesian framework integrating TEK as priors for the analysis. We applied TEK in this manner to analyze the seasonality of marine turtles in French Guiana, showing that it can resolve certain situations where the parameter fit is not suitable. However, as TEK can be biased, it is more reliable to use data with sufficient information so as to prevent this bias when estimating the posteriors. The construction of ecological models to be used with TEK is also discussed.
Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, is not new in many countries, including Madagascar, where insects have long been part of culinary traditions. Promoting this practice would help in enhancing food security as insects are nutritious and affordable for the majority of the population. Because eating insects is also associated with rural life, we conducted a survey in rural communities of Madagascar from April to June 2013. Diversity of edible, non-crustacean arthropods was assessed for each site using the number of times names of arthropods consumed were mentioned by each household. Approximately 65 morpho-species from seven orders of insects, including Hemiptera, Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, Orthoptera, Hymenoptera, Odonata, and Mantodea, and two orders of arachnids, including Araneae and Ixodida, were recorded as the most frequently consumed arthropods during the survey. Preference rankings differed among sites, possibly depending on the availability of the edible species; information on seasonal availability was also recorded from the informants. When comparing factors influencing food security in rural areas, most of the edible species were found between October and March, a time associated with the lean season and elevated food prices. This pattern demonstrates the importance of entomophagy in food security as Malagasy farmers rely heavily on their subsistence crops for their living. Rearing selected edible insects at a marketable level, combined with other insect-based activities such as sericulture, would further improve food security. Promoting the importance of ethnoentomology would be ultimately leading to more effective sustainability of edible insects and conservation of forests in Madagascar.
Variation in folk knowledge of biological kinds among members of a single ethno-linguistic community has long been a focus of ethnobiological attention and interest. Concentrating on variable local understandings of animal names, this paper discusses three forms of binary names applied to animal categories among the Nage of Flores Island, eastern Indonesia. It is shown that while some people, the "lumpers," regard such names as unproductive binomials designating terminal taxa (folk-generics or folk-specifics), others, the "splitters," construe the same names as composite terms comprising separate names of two distinct subtaxa. In two of the three cases evidence from the animal nomenclatures of related languages supports the splitters. Also discussed are factors possibly accounting for this variation, including age, gender, and variable familiarity with local fauna bound up with ecological change.
Genetically modified (GM) crops may threaten agrobiodiversity because: (1) genetic material could escape into and subsequently alter non-GM species; and (2) GM crops encourage farmers along an agronomic feedback loop encouraging input-intensive monocultures. However, in the Warangal district of Telangana, India, GM cotton farms also contain nearly 100 semi-managed vegetables, trees, and wild plants belonging to 39 botanical families. While farmers continue to plant poorly understood, deceptively labeled Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis Berliner) cotton seeds in their fields, they also maintain an average of 17 other plants on the same farms for home economic needs. This paper draws on surveys, field interviews, and ethnography conducted among randomly sampled Bt cotton farmers to show the full range of economic plants cultivated on Warangal GM farms. In doing so, I argue that some farmers have been able to preserve agrobiodiversity despite the pressures of GM cotton cash cropping. That agrobiodiversity has potential benefits for Indigenous knowledge and drawbacks for environmental and health concerns.