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Economic Botany

, Volume 72, Issue 1, pp 81–93 | Cite as

Research Methods Leading to a Perception of Knowledge Loss—One Century of Plant Use Documentation Among the Chácobo in Bolivia

  • Rainer W. BussmannEmail author
  • Narel Y. Paniagua-Zambrana
  • Robbie E. Hart
  • Araceli L. Moya Huanca
  • Gere Ortiz-Soria
  • Milton Ortiz-Vaca
  • David Ortiz-Álvarez
  • Jorge SoriaMorán
  • María Soria-Morán
  • Saúl Chávez
  • Bertha Chávez-Moreno
  • Gualberto Chávez-Moreno
  • Oscar Roca
  • Erlin Siripi
Article

Abstract

The loss of traditional knowledge, concomitant with changes in livelihoods, languages, and demographics of indigenous and local groups, is a global concern. However, documenting such loss poses serious methodological challenges. Comparing the results of contemporary studies with past research is often problematic due to methodological differences. Here, comparing studies that attempted to document the traditional ethnobotanical knowledge of the Chácobo of Bolivia, we tried to examine whether knowledge loss was really occurring across more than 100 years or was only researcher’s perception. The Chácobo are a Panoan-speaking tribe of about 1000 members, first visited by researchers in 1911, and subsequently in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Each study had different foci, but all recorded ethnobotanical data. The first more detailed anthropological report exists from the late 1960s, and ecological-ethnobotanical studies were conducted in the 1980s and 1990s. Based on available literature, in particular the botanical studies of Boom (1987) and Bergeron (1998), it seemed that Chácobo plant use now centers on income generation. Both Boom (1987) and Bergeron (1998) perceived that traditional plant use related to household artifacts and medicine, as well as traditional crop varieties had almost disappeared. Here, we hypothesized that plant knowledge documented and the perception of so-called knowledge loss observed in these depended completely on the background of the interviewers and the methods employed, and that in a sufficiently comprehensive ethnobotanical study, we would be able to document all species and uses mentioned in previous studies. We tested this hypothesis by conducting a complete ethnobotanical inventory of almost the entire adult Chácobo population, with interviews and plant collection conducted directly by Chácobo counterparts. The results verify our initial hypothesis and showed that the loss of knowledge perceived in previous studies simply was an artifact of the research methods employed. Traditional crop varieties are still widely grown, most Chácobo know, and can name, traditional artifacts, and many still know the names and uses of medicinal species. However, some knowledge, including the manufacture of artifacts and proficient identification of many medicinal plants, is limited to the older generation.

Key Words

Knowledge loss research methods historic research traditional knowledge 

Resumen

La pérdida del conocimiento tradicional, los cambios en los medios de subsistencia, la pérdida de las lenguas locales, y la reducción demográfíca de los grupos indígenas y locales, es una preocupación mundial. Sin embargo, documentar dicha pérdida plantea serios desafíos metodológicos. Comparar los resultados de estudios recientes con investigaciones pasadas, no resulta fácil debido a las diferencias metodológicas. Aquí comparamos estudios que documentaron el conocimiento tradicional etnobotánico de los Chácobo en Bolivia, buscando examinar si la pérdida de conocimiento tradicional realmente ha estado sucediendo durante los últimos 100 años, o si solo era la percepción de los investigadores. Los Chácobo son una tribu Pano hablantes, actualmente conformada por aproximadamente 1000 miembros. Fueron visitados por primera vez por investigadores en 1911, y posteriormente en los años 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980 y 1990. Cada estudio tenía enfoques diferentes, pero todos registraron datos etnobotánicos. El primer informe antropológico más detallado existe desde fines de la década de 1960, y se llevaron a cabo estudios ecológico-etnobotánicos en los años ochenta y noventa. Basado en la literatura disponible, en particular los estudios botánicos de Boom (1987) y Bergeron (1998), la percepción fue que el uso de plantas por los Chácobo ahora se centraba en la generación de ingresos. Ambos autores percibieron que el uso de las plantas tradicionales relacionado con la fabricación de artefactos, la medicina tradicional, así como las variedades de cultivos tradicionales, casi habían desaparecido. Nosotros planteamos la hipótesis de que el conocimiento etnobotánico documentado y la percepción de pérdida de conocimiento observada en estudios previos, depende completamente de los antecedentes de los entrevistadores y los métodos empleados, sugiriendo que con un estudio etnobotánico suficientemente completo podríamos ser capaces de documentar todas las especies y usos mencionados en estudios previos. Probamos esta hipótesis realizando un inventario etnobotánico completo entrevistando casi la totalidad de la población adulta de los Chácobo y realizando la recolección de plantas, ambas actividades fueron desarrolladas directamente por contrapartes Chácobo. Los resultados verifican nuestra hipótesis inicial y muestran que la pérdida de conocimiento percibida en estudios previos simplemente fue un artefacto de los métodos de investigación empleados. Las variedades de cultivos tradicionales todavía se cultivan ampliamente; la mayoría de los Chácobo conocen y pueden nombrar los artefactos tradicionales, y la muchos aún conocen los nombres y los usos de las especies de plantas medicinales. Sin embargo, cierto tipo de conocimiento, incluida la fabricación de ciertos artefactos y la identificación de algunas plantas medicinales, se limitan a las generaciones más viejas.

Resumen

Pérdida de conocimiento métodos de investigación investigación histórica conocimiento tradicional 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We greatly thank Ravi Ortiz, President of the Central Indígena de la Región Amazónica de Bolivia (CIRABO), and Maro Ortiz, Capitan General of the TCO Chácobo, as well as all our Chácobo friends and counterparts, and the whole Chácobo population for all their friendship and support.

Author Contributions

NYPZ and RBU designed the study; NYPZ, RBU, ALHM, GOS, MOV, DOA, JSM, MSM, SC, BCM, GCM, and ES conducted the fieldwork; ALMH curated and identified the collections and entered the original data; NYPZ and RBU analyzed the data and NYPZ, RBU, and NPZ wrote the manuscript; REH conducted the statistical analysis; all authors read, corrected, and approved the manuscript.

Funding Information

This study was funded by the National Geographic Society (Grant 9244-13) and endowment funds of the William L. Brown Center at Missouri Botanical Garden, for which we are grateful.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Competing Interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interest.

Consent for Publication

This manuscript does not contain any individual person’s data and further consent for publication is not required.

Ethics Approval and Consent to Participate

Before conducting interviews, both the permission of CIRABO and individual prior informed consent were obtained from all participants. No further ethics approval was required. All work conducted was carried out under the stipulations of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The right to use and authorship of any traditional knowledge of all participants are maintained, and any use of this information, other than for scientific publication, does require additional prior consent of the traditional owners, as well as a consensus on access to benefits resulting from subsequent use.

Availability of Data and Materials

The raw data contain the names of all participants and cannot be shared publicly. Data without participant data can be obtained upon request after an access and benefit sharing agreement with CIRABO.

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rainer W. Bussmann
    • 1
    Email author
  • Narel Y. Paniagua-Zambrana
    • 2
  • Robbie E. Hart
    • 3
  • Araceli L. Moya Huanca
    • 1
  • Gere Ortiz-Soria
    • 4
  • Milton Ortiz-Vaca
    • 4
  • David Ortiz-Álvarez
    • 4
  • Jorge SoriaMorán
    • 4
  • María Soria-Morán
    • 5
  • Saúl Chávez
    • 5
  • Bertha Chávez-Moreno
    • 6
  • Gualberto Chávez-Moreno
    • 6
  • Oscar Roca
    • 7
  • Erlin Siripi
    • 8
  1. 1.Museo Nacional de Ciencias NaturalesLa PazBolivia
  2. 2.Herbario Nacionál de BoliviaUniversidad Mayor de San AndrésLa PazBolivia
  3. 3.William L. Brown CenterMissouri Botanical GardenSt. LouisUSA
  4. 4.Instituto Linguistico ChácoboBeniBolivia
  5. 5.Comunidad Chácobo de Alto IvónBeniBolivia
  6. 6.Comunidad Chácobo de Las LimasBeniBolivia
  7. 7.Comunidad Chácobo de FirmezaBeniBolivia
  8. 8.Comunidad Nueva UniónBeniBolivia

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