Human Ecology

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 99–131 | Cite as

What Happens to Traditional Knowledge and Use of Natural Resources When People Migrate?

  • Ingrid NesheimEmail author
  • Shivcharn S. Dhillion
  • Kristi Anne Stølen

The study investigates traditional knowledge of forest plants in a community (La Quetzal) inhabited by people who returned to Guatemala at the end of the civil war, after 10–12 years in exile in Southern Mexico, and now are in the process of constructing a new community in the Lacandon jungle in the Petén, Guatemala. We ask if the basis of knowledge and the use of natural resources change when people migrate. The relevance of vascular plant diversity for consumption and other daily needs of the population is explored. Relatively few species are presently used, with the exception of timber species, where knowledge seems to be increasing. Traditional knowledge has been maintained in certain areas such as medicine. Nature as such is regarded as important primarily as potential monetary capital and not for its subsistence capital. We find that the refugee situation has led to the introduction of global consumption patterns. Still there continues to be a dynamic local intuitive knowledge arising directly from practical experiences. Two interlinked factors have been the driving forces altering the knowledge and the use of natural resources by the people in La Quetzal: Change in the natural environment and change in the social and economic environment.


ethnobotany forced migration resettlement traditional ecological knowledge non-timber forest products Maya Biosphere Reserve 



The authors would like to thank the organization Centro Maya, the Biology Department at the University of San Carlo, and the Consejo Nacional de Areas protegidas, CONAP, for assistance and collaboration when in Guatemala. Thanks are also due to Robin Foster at the Field Museum in Chicago, Ron Liesner at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Caroline Withford at the Natural History Museum, London, for help with the identification of the plant collection, and Renske Ek at the University of Utrecht for valuable comments and support. Above all, the authors would like to thank the people in community La Quetzal (the cooperative Union Maya Itzá) for their hospitality and assistance during fieldwork. Without their collaboration this work could not have been done. This research is part of the Management of Biodiversity research group at The Centre for Development and The Environment, SUM University of Oslo. The project is financed by the Norwegian Research Council.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ingrid Nesheim
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Shivcharn S. Dhillion
    • 1
  • Kristi Anne Stølen
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM)University of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Centre for Devlopment and the Environment (SUM)University of OsloOsloNorway

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