Economic Botany

, Volume 70, Issue 1, pp 1–14 | Cite as

Oral History Reveals Landscape Ecology in Ecuadorian Amazonia: Time Categories and Ethnobotany among Waorani People1

  • María Gabriela Zurita-BenavidesEmail author
  • Pablo Jarrín–V
  • Montserrat Rios

Oral History Reveals Landscape Ecology in Ecuadorian Amazonia: Time Categories and Ethnobotany among Waorani People. Waorani oral history in Ecuadorian Amazonia reveals that traditional ecological knowledge contributes to the understanding of the natural environment of this human group. When the Waorani interpret the landscape, they identify certain elements that stand out for their cultural and practical value, as these are products of past and present settlements. The oral history and management practices, by two family clusters settled at the riverbanks of the Nushiño River, contributed to assembling an analytical tool called “Waorani time categories.” These four time categories were analyzed with floristic composition based on a matrix formed by 522 plant species collected at 12 forest patches, which either had or lacked social history. The aim of this research was to examine how Waorani oral history records the ecological dynamics of some Amazonian forest patches. The use of multivariate statistical methods made establishing differences in plant diversity, evenness, and richness between managed and unmanaged forests plots possible, thus revealing human impact at specific places in Amazonia. This research confirms that it is important to intertwine social history and landscape ecology in ethnobotany with quantitative statistical interpretation, because it permits the association of a human group with a particular forest.

Key Words

Waorani people oral history human management time category quantitative ethnobotany forest plots Amazonian landscape 

La historia oral revela la ecología del paisaje en la Amazonía ecuatoriana: categorías de tiempo y etnobotánica Waorani. La historia oral de los Waorani en la Amazonía del Ecuador revela que su conocimiento tradicional ecológico aporta a la comprensión de su entorno natural. Los Waorani cuando leen el paisaje identifican ciertos elementos que sobresalen por su valor cultural y uso, porque son producto de asentamientos de ayer y hoy. La historia oral y las prácticas de manejo de dos grupos de familias indígenas asentadas en el río Nushiño contribuyeron para construir una herramienta analítica denominada “categorías de tiempo Waorani”. Las cuatro categorías se evaluaron con un análisis de composición florística a partir de una matriz de 522 especies de plantas recolectadas en 12 parcelas de bosque con y sin historia social. El objetivo de esta investigación fue examinar la manera que la historia oral Waorani registra las dinámicas ecológicas de algunas parcelas del bosque amazónico. La utilización de métodos estadísticos multivariados permitió establecer las diferencias que existen en diversidad, equitabilidad y riqueza vegetal entre bosques manejados y no manejados, evidenciando la influencia del impacto humano en ciertos lugares de la Amazonía. La investigación confirma que en etnobotánica es importante imbricar historia social y ecología del paisaje con estadística cuantitativa, porque permite vincular un grupo humano con un determinado bosque.



The first author was supported by a doctoral fellowship of the “Institut de Recherche pour le Développment (IRD-ARTS)” and a grant from the “Society des Amis du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle of France.” We are grateful to: the Waorani people who shared their traditional knowledge with us; the staff at the Herbarium of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (QCA) for their taxonomical advice, especially to Hugo Romero-Saltos, Alvaro Peréz-Castañeda, and Germán Toasa; William Balée, Laura Rival, Manuel Arroyo-Kalin, and Alejandro Casas for their insightful comments to this manuscript; and Kimberly Chamberlain, Emilia Gracia, John White, Craig S. Noles, Daniela Robles, and Daniel Horlacher who provided valuable editorial contributions. In addition, we thank the useful comments from anonymous referees and the editor who helped to improve the manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • María Gabriela Zurita-Benavides
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Pablo Jarrín–V
    • 2
  • Montserrat Rios
    • 3
  1. 1.Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Département Hommes, Natures, Sociétés, UMR 208 – IRD/MNHN – Patrimoines Locaux et GouvernanceParisFrance
  2. 2.Universidad Regional Amazónica IKIAMTenaEcuador
  3. 3.Institute for Tropical Ecology and ConservationUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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