Indigenous Knowledge, an accumulated knowledge of the poor and marginalized for generations, transmitted orally, and carefully preserved in the cultural practices of the people, is under severe threat today. Changing environment and deep penetration of the forces of globalization and technologization into the remote areas have many a times made this knowledge obsolete. There is a growing concern that IK ingrained in people's context-specific knowledge of ensuring food security, of human and animal health, and resource management practices needs to be documented, both in situ and ex situ. This volume is a modest attempt in this direction. With 26 chapters divided into 5 sections and contributed by anthropologists, activists, botanists, computer scientists, pharmacologists, environmental scientists, and sociologists, this volume is a rich compendium of Indigenous Knowledge research in India and abroad. The sections in the volume focus on theoretical and methodological issues pertaining to Indigenous Knowledge, case studies on the knowledge of different ethnic groups, tribal ethno-medical practices, loss of Indigenous Knowledge and the role of Indigenous Knowledge in social development. The volume is a source book for Indigenous Knowledge research and will be of immense interest to anthropologists, environmental scientists, ethno-botanists, ecologists, computer scientists, sociologists, NGOs and development administrators.
Professor Kamal K. Misra is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hyderabad (India) and the former Head of the Department of Anthropology. A recipient of University Gold Medal for standing first in the M.Sc. Examination, Dr. Misra had his academic training at Utkal University, Bhubaneswar; Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; and later at the University of Kent at Canterbury, U.K. He is also the recipient of the prestigious Common-wealth Academic Staff Fellowship (1996-97) and the Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence Award (2003-04). Dr. Misra has taught at Utkal University, Bhubaneswar; University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad; and at Austin College, Texas, USA. 'He specializes in Environmental Anthropology and Ethno biology, Anthropological Linguistics, Theory in Anthropology, Culture and Gender, and South Asian Society and Culture. His publications include Recent Studies on Indian Women (2007), Indigenous Knowledge, Natural Resource Management and Development (2005), Anthropology, New Global Order and Other Essays (2005), Peoples and Environment in India (2001), Text Book of Anthropological Linguistics (2000), Tribal Elite and Social Transformation (1994), and Social Structure and Change among the Ho of Orissa (1987). He has also over 50 publications in professional journals of repute and in various anthologies. Dr. Misra is on the Board of Editors of Indian Anthropologist, International Journal of Anthropology and Ethno medicine.
I am indeed delighted to place before the scholarly readers yet another number of the series (No.5) on 'Intangible Cultural Heritage of India', sponsored by Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, Bhopal, on an issue that is as old as the humanity, but has resurfaced vigorously only in the last quarter of the 20th Century. This is the issue of Traditional Knowledge (TK) or Indigenous Knowledge ( IK).
The reasons for the re-emergence of Traditional knowledge research and eventually the debates arising out of it are many. However, the vital fact is that indigenous knowledge has always a 'critical' connection with many practical and earthly issues. I say this connection critical, because our knowledge systems, their sustainable use, and development are closely intertwined. Livelihood chances of many people in this world are the result of this interconnection. Further, indigenous knowledge systems being highly local and embedded in our culture, are inextricably linked to our family and community-based experiences and our languages that allow us to analyze and interpret our varied experiences. Once our traditional knowledge base is shaken, it is reflected in our shaken cultures by way of consequential loss of knowledge. Therefore, it is imperative to preserve and promote our heritage of local knowledge systems. Although this knowledge evolves in local cultures, it has global implications, as many environmental and developmental problems could be solved by judicious use of this knowledge.
India has a special place in traditional knowledge research because of its large number of tribal and indigenous people, whose cultures are the cradles of vast and varied knowledge systems. Their contributions to our food, garment, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries are valuable. This is not to say that such knowledge systems do not exist beyond the boundaries of tribal cultures. Our rural farmers, artisans, medicine men, religious specialists, besides common persons, are literally repositories of vast knowledge bases. However, in recent times, the forces beyond the control of our rural and tribal people are gradually wiping out these knowledge systems, which need to be preserved for posterity. With a view to promoting such precious traditional knowledge system research and documentation, Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya had partially supported a National Seminar with international participation on the 'Relevance of Local Knowledge' on February 27 and 28, 2006, organized at the Department of Anthropology, University of Hyderabad. The present volume is an outcome of that Seminar. Prof. K.K. Misra of the Department of Anthropology, University of Hyderabad, and the Convener of the Seminar, has taken the trouble of selecting and editing some of those presentations at the National Seminar for inclusion in this volume. He deserves our sincere thanks for the same.
One thing marks out clearly from this volume is the range of issues on traditional knowledge research, which is quite extensive, varied and culture-specific. The issues in this volume encompass both generalized discourses on concepts and methodologies, medicine and pharmacology, loss of knowledge base, developmental implications, etc. along with many specific case studies on indigenous knowledge on agriculture and irrigation, toddy-tapping and snake-charming, disaster forecasting, forest mapping and so on. It is heartening to see that scholars from different academic backgrounds including anthropology, botany, environmental and computer sciences, management, literature, sociology, etc. and persons closely involved in NGO sectuis with a common interest in the study of indigenous knowledge systems, have made this volume rich by their contributions. Perhaps the strong point of this volume is the ethnographic base of all the contributions.
It is sincerely hoped that the present volume would be useful for researches, administrators and connoisseurs of traditional knowledge systems.
In spite of lack of unanimity regarding the usage of the terms 'indigenous', 'traditional' or 'local' knowledge in academia as well as by the development agencies, the fact remains that with the passage of time, this knowledge is either getting distorted or extinct due to many extraneous forces like globalization or endogenous compulsions of the communities in the process of their adaptation to the changing environments. Because of this, the wisdom once reflected in their water harvesting techniques, indigenously developed irrigation channels, construction of cane bridges in hilly and mountainous terrains, adaptation to desert life, utilization of forest species like herbs for medicinal purposes, meteorological assessment, etc. are under severe threat today. The extinction of such knowledge has a direct bearing on the livelihood patterns of many poor and marginalized communities in the developing countries, which is evidenced from a plethora of literature on Indigenous Knowledge (IK) available today.
About two decades ago, there was very little research that focused on IK, and even fewer examples of successful IK-based interventions, although classical anthropological monographs almost routinely elaborated on IK as a part of the cultural repertoire of the communities under study. But since the early 1990s, IK has been a fertile ground for research, exploring the ways in which it is stored in peoples' memories and activities, and is expressed in stories, songs, folklore, proverbs, dances, myths, cultural values, beliefs, rituals, community laws, local language and taxonomy, agricultural practices, equipment, materials, plant species and animal breeds, etc. Attention is also being paid to how it is shared and communicated orally with specific examples and through culturally accepted ways of communication. It is now realized that indigenous forms of communication and organization are vital to local-level decision-making processes and to the preservation, development and spread of IK.
Perhaps the most important outcome of the research on IK is to document the best practices and to replicate them in other places and communities. But there are many inherent problems in this exercise in this age of patenting, bio-piracy and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). However, there are many experiments in India and elsewhere in making people the major stakeholders of benefits, whose knowledge. is being utilized by national and multinational corporations. Although there is a modest beginning with the case of the Kani tribe of Kerala, which has received a part of the benefit of royalty and license fee for the people's knowledge of the anti-fatigue properties of the wild plant, Trichopus zeylanicus, very little has been done in this regard.
Because of the erosion of this culturally embedded IK, there is a sense of disillusion among the people. Zweifel writes that an elderly woman in Northern India was selecting seeds for storage while being interviewed by a researcher about the impacts of modern agriculture. She commented, "It takes a sharp eye, a sensitive hand, and a lot of patience to tell the difference between these seeds. These are not the things that are honored any more." An old African proverb, "when a knowledgeable old person dies, a whole library disappears", perhaps rightly depicts the situation. Therefore, there is an urgent need for making an inventory of IK locally and look for its application in a larger context.
The study of indigenous knowledge systems in the developing countries, including India, assumes importance because of two interrelated reasons. Firstly, when the natural resources are dwindling rapidly almost every single day, it is imperative to understand how the forest and other communities utilize their indigenous knowledge to ensure livelihood. It is revealed from the census and many empirical studies that permanent migration of the forest people is not very significant compared to other rural agricultural communities, which implies that they somehow manage their subsistence in their habitat by optimum utilization of their indigenous knowledge. It is no wonder that these communities constantly experiment with their existing knowledge, and if necessary, import knowledge for the sake of subsistence. They are neither averse to innovation nor to adoption, if something has a sustainable value. My experience with the Konda Reddi of Andhra Pradesh reveals that the cultivation of cashew and faram dumpa (a tuber) is a recent addition to their agricultural practices. Secondly, studying IK is important because of the current controversy that the forest related people are seen as over-exploiting some of the forest resources, while at the same time under-utilizing the bounty of nature. Throwing light on unexplored and little exploited resources as a part of the IK research would certainly enhance the life chances of the poor people by providing them with more choices for livelihood.
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