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close this bookRecording and Using Indigenous Knowledge: A Manual (IIRR, 1996, 211 p.)
close this folderPart 1 Indigenous knowledge and development
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentHow the manual was compiled
View the documentHow to use the manual
View the documentWhat is indigenous knowledge?
View the documentWho knows what?
View the documentCharacteristics of local systems
View the documentWhy is indigenous knowledge useful?
View the documentHelping communities conserve their IK
View the documentUsing indigenous knowledge in development
View the documentRecording IK in communities
View the documentIntellectual property rights

What is indigenous knowledge?

Indigenous knowledge is the knowledge that people in a given community have developed over time, and continue to develop. It is

- Based on experience.
- Often tested over centuries of use.
- Adapted to local culture and environment.
- Dynamic and changing.

Indigenous knowledge is not confined to tribal groups or the original inhabitants; of an area (called indigenas in Latin America). It is not even confined to rural people. Rather, any community possesses indigenous knowledge —rural and urban, settled and nomadic, original inhabitants and migrants. Other names for indigenous knowledge (or closely related concepts) are "local knowledge," "indigenous technical knowledge" and "traditional knowledge."

Indigenous vs western knowledge

Indigenous knowledge is often contrasted with "scientific," "western," "international," or "modern" knowledge—the knowledge developed by universities, research institutions and private firms using a formal scientific approach. This manual refers to this as "western knowledge" (despite the limitations of this term). See the section on Abbreviations and Definitions for a discussion on this.

In reality, there is a lot of overlap between indigenous and western knowledge, and it can be very difficult to distinguish between them. Agrawal (1995) has a critical discussion of this issue.

Because indigenous knowledge changes over time, it is sometimes difficult to decide whether a technology or practice indeed is indigenous, or adopted from outside, or a blend of local and introduced components. For a development project, however, it does not matter whether a practice is really indigenous or already mixed up with introduced knowledge. What is important is that instead of looking only for technologies and solutions from outside the community, we first look at what is in the community. We then use whichever knowledge is found to be effective. Or we combine the beat of both.

Types of indigenous knowledge
IK is more than just technologies and Practices. It includes:

Information

- Trees and plants that grow well together.

- Indicator plants (plants that show the soil salinity or that are known to flower at the beginning of the rains).


Information

Practices and technologies

- Seed treatment and storage methods.
- Bone-setting methods.
- Disease treatments.


Practices and technologies

Beliefs

Beliefs can play a fundamental role in a people's livelihood and in maintaining their health and the environment.

- Holy forests are protected for religious reasons. They also may maintain a vital watershed.

- Religious festivals can be an important source of food for people who otherwise have little to eat.


Beliefs

Tools

- Equipment for planting and harvesting.
- Cooking pots and implements.


Tools

Materials

- Housing construction materials.
- Materials for basketry and other craft industries.


Materials

Experimentation

- Farmers' integration of new tree species into existing farming systems.
- Healers' tests of new plant medicines.


Experimentation

Biological resources

- Animal breeds.
- Local crop and tree species.


Biological resources

Human resources

- Specialists such as healers and blacksmiths.

- Local organizations such as kinship groups councils of elders, or groups that share and exchange labor.


Human resources

Education

- Traditional instruction methods.
- Apprenticeships.
- Learning through observation.


Education

Communication

- Stories and messages; carved on lontar palm leaves
- Folk media.
- Traditional information exchange mechanisms.


Communication