Written by: Sharada Sonaram
Second Year Environmental Studies
University of Guyana
Traditional knowledge can be said to be any knowledge, custom, innovation of indigenous, tradition-based local communities. For many years, scientists have struggled with finding information and collecting data, which indigenous people have known about for many decades. Indigenous people have a deeper understanding for their environment and its ecology, they know of the uses of plants and animals (medicines and dyes). They possess this knowledge from observation and experience, which is passed onto younger generations. Is it possible that traditional knowledge can be incorporated into modern science and be used to address many issues we face today?
We face extinction and loss of species currently. It is a rapid issue that is occurring worldwide. Both flora and fauna feel the brunt brought on by humans and our activity. Scientists today are belligerent with many ways to preserve and conserve on whatever little we have left. One way to take another step forward into conserving and practicing sustainability, is to incorporate traditional knowledge with modern science. Who better to turn to than those who have full understanding of their natural surroundings where that knowledge is continuously passed from generation to generation?
In many instances traditional knowledge was used such as the protection of biodiversity and achievement of sustainable development which was established in the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in 1992. Also, in the 1990s where an ecologist, Madhav Gadgil, urged for the “alliance between formal and folk ecological knowledge”, and for it to be integrated. Today, in order to save endangered gorillas in the Congo, primatologist Denis Ndeloh Etiendem, is utilising traditional knowledge. He is also using this knowledge to implement conservation strategies, as the animal is a means of livelihood in certain areas.
However, there are cases where traditional knowledge can be viewed as and not factual, but abstract. The difference from science and indigenous knowledge is that this sort of knowledge may not only be gained from observation but is passed down orally (in the form of stories or imitation), whereas science can be learnt by practical hands on work (seeing for yourself, trial and error). And even though they are both taught and learnt, many argue with the issue that a distinction between material fact and spiritual beliefs should be made. Many times studies are submitted but are later on dismissed since many claim it to be “myths with no basis in science”.
It is a sensitive topic to both indigenous people and scientists. Whereas many feel that their ways and practices should not be shared and kept sacred, while others wish to share it with the world. Even though some wish to share, information is being rejected, or information may be taken but with no acknowledgement.