INTEGRATING INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE OF BIRDS INTO CONSERVATION PLANNING IN NEW GUINEA
Authors: William H. Thomas
Abstract: It has been difficult to integrate indigenous knowledge into conservation planning. Although indigenous naturalists have accumulated generations of observations concerning their environments, stereotypes concerning their relationship to nature have frustrated attempts to involve indigenous societies in conservation. However, unencumbered by western philosophy, indigenous naturalists have been developing a dynamic view of nature that incorporates connectedness, disturbance and recovery as a normal course of events in the natural world. This non-linear view of nature has only recently emerged as scientific consensus. In this article, I argue that communication between conservationists and indigenous people can be facilitated by using indigenous knowledge of birds to identify the impacts of tradition on biodiversity. Birds are a commonly acknowledged indicator of biodiversity. Because indigenous people have long-range perspective on the effects of human activity on avian diversity, they can provide a perspective vital to conservation planning. Drawing on ethno-ecological fieldwork with the Hewa of Papua New Guinea, this paper presents an indigenous perspective on the effects of traditional activities on birds. The Hewa describe their traditions as shaping the environment by creating a mosaic of habitats of varying diversity. I argue that the while the current lifestyle of the Hewa may not necessarily be a template for future sustainability, the Hewa view of the natural world provides insights into the potential of indigenous people to conserve their resources.