U.S. mailing address:
Depto. de Antropologia
Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientificas
P.O. Box 025322
Miami, FL 33102-5322, U.S.A.
STANFORD ZENT was awarded a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University in 1992. He has done extensive fieldwork with the Piaroa Indians of the Venezuelan Amazon and is beginning a research project with the Hoti Indians, another native group of the Venezuelan Amazon. His research interests are ethnoecology, historical ecology, traditional agroecosystems, native cultures of Lowland South America, and the factors of maintenance or loss of traditional ecological knowledge.
The issue of traditional environmental knowledge extinction/survival is explored here, using the Piaroa Indians of Venezuela as an example. Less acculturated Piaroa display exceptional knowledge of their biological environment, while such knowledge appears to be declining among more acculturated Piaroa. Knowledge loss was investigated through a systematic study of the variation of ethnobotanical knowledge among male residents of the Piaroa community of Gavilan. Using mathematical consensus and linear regression analysis, it was determined that there is a pattern of drastic decline of ethnobotanical knowledge with age among individuals below the age of 30. The social variables of bilingual ability and formal education were also observed as negatively affecting ethnobotanical knowledge.
The position of the Venezuelan state in this process of ethnobotanical loss is seen as contradictory. The government actively seeks to integrate and effect cultural change among its Indian populations while at the same time it strongly supports programs in biodiversity research and conservation. It is suggested that a biocultural approach to conservation would offer a more consistent and probably more successful alternative.
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