The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of how indigenous communities perceive and relate to the bio-ecological contexts of which they are part and on which they depend. The main message is that there is much more to learn from them than information about plant resources or methods to enhance Western-style conservation management. The forest is only one such context and it is possible to discern principles that also apply in others. There are two possible approaches to take in this article. The Ã¯Â¬Ârst is to compare and contrast particular beliefs, values, and meanings that different peoples ascribe to their surroundings. This is analogous to drawing up inventories of species or habitat types that can then be used as resources to further existing purposes - be they commercial or for conservation - and management methods. However, this approach does little to challenge underlying assumptions or encourage learning from primary cultural perspectives. Einstein once said that problems cannot be solved through the same type of thinking as caused them in the Ã¯Â¬Ârst place. He was referring not to a need to accumulate greater quantities of information but to the need to see and analyze the situation in a qualitatively different way. This entails bringing different meanings, values, beliefs, and theoretical perspectives to bear on the problem rather than assuming that more data applied in essentially the same ways will resolve it.
[...] By contrast, the scale of ecological problems precipitated by Western industrial society suggests such a degree of dissonance between our culturally mediated behavior and sustainability of ecological necessities that we are now feeling its consequences at a global level. This global predicament is, of course, the cumulative result of the smaller-scale activities of individuals, collectives, and professions of all sorts. Dissonances between physical laws on which humans depend and the maps of meaning that we live by inevitably give rise to behavior that, in the long term, is damaging both to those physical systems and to ourselves. [...]
[...] Human existence comes to be seen and experienced not only in a self-interested way but also in the context of a ‘wider scheme of things.' This may extend to experiencing being part of this larger whole of a sense of place and of having a role to play within it. Homo sapiens becomes just one species amongst many, all of which have their place within the larger ‘being.' Individuals feel a belongingness, connectedness, and purpose within their various contexts family, community, society, and nation, forest and nature in general and, beyond that, the biggest possible context that is described in terms of sacred Ancestor Spirits, the Divine Creator and Sustainer, and other abstract concepts. The Islamic prayer, ‘Allah-u-akbar' gives a ﬂavor of this, when translated as is Big'. [...]
[...] The suggestion in this article is that, by entering empathically into the logic of other cultures, improving our understanding of them and comparing their logics with our own, Western natural scientists could interpret the data they collect in a more meaningful, contextualized way, and potentially learn new ways of perceiving ourselves and our purposes that are more adaptive in relation to howwe engage with our own and others' environments. Type 1 Meaning: Distinction and Classiﬁcation The ﬁrst type of meaning emphasizes the need to make distinctions between one thing and another. [...]
[...] It is also the type that provokes the most skepticism in Western society, although it is recognized by psychoanalysts and the mystical traditions of Western religions. All these may be reasons why it is so rarely written about even in the literature on indigenous culture. It cannot, however, be ignored because, ﬁrst, it is a feature of most, if not all, primary cultures. Second, those who experience it carry a great deal of legitimizing weight in the cultures concerned. In this sense, it constitutes the strongest evidence for the truth or validity of the type 2 world-views that inform attitudes and behavior in the cultures concerned. [...]
[...] Individual and group insistence that they see a particular external situation in the ‘truest' possible way results in conﬂicts with others who are equally convinced of their versions of the situation, their ‘realities.' This has less to do with the facts of the situation than their interpretation by interested parties. It can be painful to admit that others' perspectives on a situation are as valid as one's own. Yet it is impossible to enter into the logic of other outlooks, such as those of indigenous cultures, without doing so. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee