Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 17–30 | Cite as

Redemptive communities: Indigenous knowledge, colonist farming systems, and conservation of tropical forests

  • John O. Browder


This essay critically examines the emerging view among some ethnologists that replicable models of sustainable management of tropical forests may be found within the knowledge systems of contemporary indigenous peoples. As idealized epistemological types, several characteristics distinguishing “indigenous” from “modern” knowledge systems are described. Two culturally distinctive land use systems in Latin America are compared, one developed by an indigenous group, the Huastec Maya, and the other characteristic of colonist farms in Rondonia, Brazil. While each of these systems reflects a different cultural-historical tradition, I argue that the process of knowledge formation and cultural adaptation is coevolutionary and continuous in both cases. The very concept of “indigenous” as a discrete analytic category is questioned; indigenicity alone cannot explain local adaptation of farming systems. Rather than dichotomize indigenous and colonist knowledge as inherently different categories, differences in land use patterns between such social groups may be more accurately viewed as reflecting different points on a single epistemological continuum.


Veterinary Medicine Tropical Forest Indigenous People Farming System Local Adaptation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

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  • John O. Browder

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