Traditional Ecological Knowledge Loss Amongst Indigenous Amazonians
In a study analyzing the relation between traditional ecological knowledge of the Tsimane’ Amerindians in the Bolivian Amazon and cultural change, the authors wrote that “traditional ecological knowledge has been defined as a cumulative body of knowledge, practice, and belief, evolving by adaptive processes and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relation of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment” (Reyes-García et. al 2014). Within this case study, data was obtained by engaging in a one hour interview with 484 Tsimane’ people living in 47 communities (Reyes-García et.
al 2014). From analyzing their results, the researchers concluded that “both the individual level of detachment to traditional values and the village level of agreement in detachment to traditional values are negatively associated with individual levels of plant use knowledge” (Reyes-García et. al 2014). Therefore, shifts or separations from cultural values could be linked to the loss of traditional ecological knowledge.
This association of loss of cultural values and loss of traditional ecological knowledge is imperative to note because both have previously been shown to be related to environmental degradation or loss of biodiversity in alternate studies.
These findings were corroborated in another study titled “Evidence of Traditional Knowledge Loss Among a Contemporary Indigenous Society”, that examined the “changes in cultural traits associated to the traditional knowledge of wild plant uses among an Amazonian Indigenous society”. Researchers reported a net decrease in the plant usage between 2000 and 2009 “equivalent to 1 to 3% per year” (Reyes-García et.
al 2013). These changes were reported as “not the result of randomness” and “The Tsimane’ could be abandoning their traditional knowledge as they perceive that this form of knowledge does not equip them well to deal with the new socio-economic and cultural conditions they face nowadays” (Reyes-García et. al 2013). Although within this study Amazon deforestation was not cited as the single causation of the loss of traditional ecological knowledge amongst the Tsimane’ Amerindians, it is proposed that the apparent decrease in plant usage and increase in forest disturbance could be related to Tsimane’ adoption of new economic, social, political, and environmental practices (Pérez-Llorente 2013; Reyes-García et. al 2013). Loss of biodiversity through deforestation, coupled with the worsening effects of climate change which is aggravated through deforestation, are likely to create stressful environmental conditions for the local Indigenous people.
Additionally, a research article titled “The Importance of Indigenous Knowledge in Curbing the Loss of Language and Biodiversity” argues that the protection of Indigenous knowledge itself is important in preventing or slowing the loss of biodiversity in the areas Indigenous peoples inhabit. The researchers state “with the accelerating losses of biodiversity, habitats, and native languages, Indigenous knowledge—including the study of traditional ecological knowledge of species and landscapes maintained by native nations—has become ever more significant” (Wilder et. al 2016). The authors go on to state that currently, Indigenous ecological knowledge is rapidly changing and eroding (Wilder et. al 2016). Communities suffering from declining use of their languages are suffering more rapid losses of traditional knowledge, and efforts to curb this loss are time sensitive (Pérez-Llorente 2013; Wilder et. al 2016). Although efforts to “restore habitats of declining species and resuscitate lost practices and knowledge” are growing, there is an immediate need to assist Indigenous peoples in efforts to “maintain their traditional livelihoods based on local natural resources” (Wilder et. al 2016). The research article strives to analyze research which proposed relation between biodiversity loss and cultural shifts or traditional ecological knowledge loss. The article concludes that Indigenous knowledge is “a bountiful repository of understanding crafted over the millennia that is rapidly diminishing in scope and detail” and by failing to appreciate the potential worth of Indigenous scientific knowledge, scientific and academic institutions are at risk of losing the opportunity to learn from the great plethora of Indigenous knowledge (Wilder et. al 2016).