Environments of learning: Rarámuri children's plant knowledge and experience of schooling, family, and landscapes in the Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico

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This paper investigates social-environmental factors contributing to differential ethnobotanical expertise among children in Rarámuri (Tarahumara) communities in Chihuahua, Mexico, to explore processes of indigenous ecological education and epistemologies of research. One hundred and four children from two schools (one with a Ráramuri knowledge curriculum and one without) were interviewed about their knowledge of 40 useful plants. Overall, children showed less ethnobotanical expertise than expected and a great deal of variability by age, though most shared knowledge of a core set of culturally and ecologically salient plants. No significant difference was found between girls' and boys' knowledge. The overall use knowledge scores were almost twice as high as naming scores (mean of 40% vs. 24.4%). This supports the conclusion that use-context is more culturally relevant, salient or easier for children to remember than names. The social-environmental factors significant in predicting levels of plant knowledge among children were whether a child attended a Rarámuri or Spanish-instruction school, and, to a lesser extent, age. However, these effects were not strong, and individual variability in expertise is best interpreted using ethnographic knowledge of each child's family and personal history, leading to a model of ethnobotanical education that foregrounds experiential learning and personal and family interest in useful plants. Though overall plant knowledge may be lower among children today compared to previous generations, a community knowledge structure seems to be reproduced in which a few individuals in each age cohort show great proficiency, and children make the same kinds of mistakes and share specialized names for plants.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Children's local knowledge
  • Cultural transmission
  • Ethnobotany
  • Experiential knowledge
  • Northern Mexico
  • Rarámuri

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  • Felice S. Wyndham

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