, Volume 39, Issue 5, pp 673-682
Date: 06 Aug 2011

The Role of Habitus in the Maintenance of Traditional Noongar Plant Knowledge in Southwest Western Australia

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Abstract

We examine the role that habitus, an individual’s or group’s dispositions, has played in the retention of traditional ecological knowledge among the Noongar people of south-western Australia. We sought to determine if current plant knowledge reflects Noongar habitus or, alternatively, the use of fall-back species that were important due to the intermittency of agricultural employment and the social exclusion of Aboriginal people up until at least the 1960s in Western Australia. We compared the seasonal availability of Noongar food plant resources currently known by Noongar Elders to those described at the time of European settlement. We used non-metric Multidimensional Scaling (nMDS) and multivariate statistics to compare the seasonal availability of plant resources with the seasonal availability of work prior to the introduction of civil rights for Aboriginal Australians in the 1960s. We show that the seasonal pattern of plant knowledge has changed little since settlement and that there was no significant relationship between the seasonal availability of work and plant knowledge. This result suggests that prior to 1960 Noongars maintained a reasonably traditional round of seasonal activities involving traditional plant use. We suggest that Noongar habitus guided their response to the colonising culture and helped preserve traditional ecological knowledge.