When elders pass away, often their knowledge goes with them. We decided to create a booklet as a way to keep traditional information alive. We set out to make a collaborative record of Ha plant use (ethnobotany), in the village of Bubango, located in western Tanzania.
Through community meetings, stemming from one of the author’s relationship with the community for over a decade, they wrote a letter of invitation for us to come and work with their community on this ethnobotanical project. We worked for three months daily with the village, and completed the booklet and presented the finished product at the end of this time period. The booklet itself is solely for the villagers and locals in the surrounding area. As the information is theirs, any further sharing of the product is at the locals’ discretion. The authors chose Bubango for this initial project, because this community had expressed interest over the years, and because of their proximity to important natural resources that would benefit from the community’s conservation awareness. The village borders the miombo woodland of Gombe Stream National Park and Lake Tanganyika. Gombe is a valuable strip of chimpanzee habitat made famous by the behavioral research program of Jane Goodall. Lake Tanganyika is a fresh body of water which supports abundant life and upon which many villages depend. As with any community living in forests, deforestation is almost always an issue. Although these villagers are conscious not to over cut for planting or to overhunt, forest loss is still a significant issue. When biodiversity declines, the ethnobotanical knowledge of the ecosystem drops as well. This reality seems to be affecting nearly all rural communities.This distancing diminishes peoples’ connection to the natural world, and thus their impetus to protect their environment. When people understand how to use their plants, the value of those particular species rises. Thus, when they value the plants, they also come to value the entire ecosystem, and place a greater emphasis on conservation.
Compiling a booklet describing people’s plant knowledge as a method of sustaining their knowledge and thus motivating conservation, begs the question…will it work? A written record now exists, so the ethnobotanical information will not be lost. The book is aesthetically pleasing, and is accessible even to those who are illiterate. Having the first language in the book written in their tribal language, Kiha, turned out to be even more important that we imagined at the outset. We also learned that having the process be so public drew more people into participating. In the short term, the project definitely achieved the intended goals of stimulating cultural knowledge and ecosystem awareness. Follow up studies such as plant list checks, age of villagers in reference to plant knowledge, and looking at the number of people in the village with general and specific ethnobotanical knowledge, will determine whether this sort of undertaking will translate in the longer term into conservation drivers.
We would like to thank the people of Bubango, especially the Village Chairperson, Village Executive Officer
and the individuals who shared their knowledge. We also want to thank the National Geographic Genographic
Legacy Fund, the National Geographic Emerging Explorers Program and the Jane Goodall Institute; special
thanks also go to Kate Detwiler for helping to facilitate this collaboration, Frank Mbago of the herbarium
of University of Dar es Salaam and Roy Gereau of Missouri Botanical Garden for helping in the identification
of certain specimens, Joseph Nyirenda for editing the Swahili version and Martin Gobbo for his book graphics.
Maria Fadiman, Associate Professor at Florida Atlantic University in the Geosciences.
Grace Gobbo, Consultant with the Tanzania Botanical Research and Conservation Program.