Indigenous storytelling is a new asset for biocultural conservation

September 4, 2017, University of Helsinki
The Maasai indigenous peoples of the Kenyan Rift Valley have a rich tradition of oral storytelling as a way of passing indigenous environmental knowledge across generations. Credit: Joan de la Malla

Some of the areas hosting most of the world's biodiversity are those inhabited by indigenous peoples. In the same way that biodiversity is being eroded, so is the world's cultural diversity. As a result, there have been several calls to promote biocultural conservation approaches that sustain both biodiversity and indigenous cultures.

Researchers Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares and Mar Cabeza from the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland, are inviting practitioners to tap into the art of storytelling to revitalise the biocultural heritage of indigenous peoples.

"While listening to stories, conservation practitioners may become more aware of indigenous worldviews, so the act of storytelling may facilitate dialogue. By promoting such encounters, the tradition of storytelling is then revitalised, helping to maintain intergenerational exchanges and the transmission of local environmental knowledge," Fernández-Llamazares explains.

By integrating knowledge with feelings, indigenous stories offer an ideal platform for establishing emotional connections with landscapes and their wildlife, ultimately fostering a sense of place.

"Listening to indigenous stories is a humbling experience, which implies actively learning from the wisdom of indigenous peoples," Cabeza says.

Indigenous peoples have repeatedly said that humility – from both conservation scientists and practitioners − is a critical trait needed to work jointly for conservation. It is crucial to respect the of , as well as the customary mechanisms of control, ownership and transmission of indigenous stories.

Storytelling projects in conservation contexts have included a local radio programme using storytelling to encourage lemur conservation in Madagascar, a mobile storybooth documenting community efforts to conserve nature in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of the United States or a project assisting indigenous youth to document traditional wildlife stories from their elders in North Kenya.

"These original initiatives bridge the gap between cultural revitalisation and nature conservation and hold promise for opening new frontiers in biocultural conservation," Fernández-Llamazares says.

Explore further: Biodiversity conservation policies in tropical forests threaten the livelihood of indigenous peoples

More information: Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares et al. Rediscovering the Potential of Indigenous Storytelling for Conservation Practice, Conservation Letters (2017). DOI: 10.1111/conl.12398

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not rated yet Sep 14, 2017
Our experience in Cambodia confirms yours that indigenous people, especially elders through story-telling do indeed retain and convey enormous knowledge on many subjects including conservation. We first encountered this when finding that their traditional knowledge of health was proved as effective and complimentary, not incompatible with modern science. Indeed all aspects of their traditional lives and livelihoods are compatible with modernity, except to those interested only in exploitation. From health plans and treatment regimes, we started recording other aspects of knowledge including story-telling. We use audio and video-recording due to spoken-only languages. These are translated for accompanying mainstream languages and English. Unfortunately we have never been able to secure funds to carry out a full program (for equipment and support costs, not salaries as we rely on youth volunteers) to capture all stories before today's elders die.

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