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The road to biocultural ethics

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The road to biocultural ethics
  246 ©The Ecological Society of America The road to biocultural ethics W  et-wet, chukao, pütriu-pütriu . I have never forgottenthese words uttered by the lonko , or chief, of the indige-nous Mapuche community, who live in the forests of the highChilean Andes. I was 5 years old when, in 1965, I accompa-nied my grandfather on one of his medical visits to indigenouscommunities in southern Chile. Before sunrise, our old Chevytruck had reached the end of the dirt road that winds its wayup the lower slopes of the Lonquimay volcano. We hiked allday through the dense evergreen rainforests, listening to theloud bird calls that came from the forest interior, while mygrandfather taught me the names and natural history of thebirds. At sunset, we reached the high Andean zone. The land-scape opened, and I was amazed by the view of the patches of 50-m-tall monkey-puzzle trees (  Araucaria araucana ), whichresembled umbrellas in the middle of the lava soils aroundLake Galletue, on the shores of which a community of Mapuche lived (Figure 1).My grandfather explained to me that this particular Mapuchegroup called themselves Pewenche, “people ( che ) of the mon-key-puzzle (  pewen ) tree”, and that their language is called Mapudungun , the “language ( dungun ) of the land ( mapu )”,which imitates the local sounds of the forest. The monkey-puz-zle trees were covered by flocks of loud parrots ( Enicognathus lep-thorhynchus ). Like the Mapuche, these birds eat the ngilliu , thelarge megagametophytes of the  pewen cones. At night, huddledaround the fire inside their huts, we ate toasted ngilliu . Some of the Mapuche drank a cider-like alcoholic drink distilled from ngilliu . I learned that the  pewen cones were a vital food for theMapuche, allowing them to survive the rigorous high Andeanwinters. While I listened to the conversations with the lonko , Iwas fascinated by the musicality of the spoken words and theremarkable similarity that the names of the birds had with thecalls we had heard while crossing the forests. The affinity thatthis community had with the flora and fauna of the surroundingforest left a deep and lasting impression on me.Thirty years later, in 1995, my wife – Francisca Massardo,a plant physiologist who collaborated with the TraditionalMedicine Division of the Chilean Ministry of Health – andI participated in a scientific panel established by the Chilean National Commission of the Environment to evaluate theenvironmental impact assessment (EIA) of a dam that wasgoing to be built across the Bio-Bio River (the largest riverin Chile), the headwaters of which srcinate from LakeGalletue. The EIA included statements from communitiesin the Pewenche territory who demanded that the dam bebuilt below the  pewen forests, because these trees were criti-cal to the life and health of their people. As part of the EIAevaluation, Francisca and I analyzed the nutritional value of the megagametophytes of the  pewen cones, and discoveredthat they were rich not only in starch but also in two essen-tial amino acids, methionine and cysteine.Our finding provided strong scientific support for the tra-ditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of the Pewenche.From a medical perspective, the high amounts of methion-ine and cysteine in the megagametophytes represent a func-tional explanation for the Pewenche’s TEK, because the  pewen trees provide a primary source of essential amino acidsto the fauna that inhabit the volcanic ecosystems of the highAndes. From a biogeochemical perspective, given thatmethionine and cysteine are peculiar amino acids that con-tain sulfur, our analyses led to a scientific appreciation of theprofound meaning of the names Mapuche and Pewenche:this culture knows that the mapu (the land, including thevolcanoes) provides the nutrients (eg sulfur) for the treesand the people (Rozzi et al . 2008).As an undergraduate student, I lamented that the TEK of the Mapuche and other Amerindian peoples was not incor-porated into the ecology programs taught at Chilean univer-sities. This motivated me to study philosophy, which helpedme to understand “pluriverse” epistemologies and diverseforms of ecological knowledge, in contrast to the “universal”approach of science teaching that prevailed within Chileanacademia in the 1980s. Under the dictatorship of GeneralAugusto Pinochet, the teaching of philosophy – includingthe philosophy of science – was completely suppressedbetween 1973 and 1981, and was only rudimentarily reintro-duced in Chilean universities later during the 1980s. For thisreason, when I applied to do graduate work at the Universityof Connecticut, I proposed to combine my PhD in ecology  Figure 1. In southern South America, the monkey-puzzle treeand the Magellanic woodpecker co-inhabit the land with thePewenche and Yahgan communities, respectively.  As a child, Ricardo Rozzi visited indigenous communities in the high Andes with his grandfather and was enchantedby their close relationship with the natural world. Later, he and his wife would return to the region to explore thetraditional ecological knowledge of the world’s southernmost indigenous people. TRAILS AND TRIBULATIONS TRAILS AND TRIBULATIONS Lake GalletueOmora Park  Magellan StraitBeagle Channel    R    R  o  z  z   i   J   P   l  a  n  a  with an MA in philosophy, and to focus my research on theornithological knowledge of the world’s southernmostindigenous people: the Fuegian Yahgans.Together with our academic advisors and a group of researchers and students, Francisca and I travelled to CapeHorn to meet “the grandmothers”, Úrsula and CristinaCalderón, the last two Yahgan who spoke their native lan-guage fluently (Figure 2). We were amazed by the region’sexuberant evergreen forests – we expected to find tundra atthe southern end of the Americas – and by the detailedknowledge and familiar relationship that Úrsula and Cristinahad with the local birds in their everyday life, both materiallyand symbolically. Úrsula’s favorite bird was lana , the giantMagellanic woodpecker ( Campephilus magellanicus ; Figure 1),a close relative of the North American ivory-billed wood-pecker. She explained to us that, in Yahgan, “ lan ” means“tongue”, and the bird’s name alludes to the long tongue withwhich it skillfully extracts larvae from trees. The scientificname also highlights these attributes: Campephilus means“caterpillar-lover”. These birds are so specialized in theirhabitat requirements that they feed and nest solely in old-growth southern beech trees (  Nothofagus spp).The Mapuche and Yahgan TEK demonstrates, as much asdoes our scientific ecological knowledge, a clear understand-ing that the well-being of humans and other species goeshand in hand. A similar understanding can also be found inthe early beginnings of Western science and ethics. Indeed,the English word “ethics” srcinates from the Greek term“ ethos ”, which, in its more archaic form, meant a “den” (thedwelling of an animal; Rozzi et al . 2008). Our field experi-ence in Cape Horn extended the central question of ethics –about the concept of the good life and how we should live –into the broader biocultural question of how to co-inhabit with human and other-than-human beings.This biocultural understanding stimulated us to furtherinvestigate the ancient Amerindian, Western philosophical,and contemporary concepts of ecological knowledge andethics, and to take action to contribute to the conservationof this precious biological, linguistic, and cultural diversity. Along with a group of scientists, artists, philosophers, andother professionals, both Chilean and foreign, we initiated aprogram of field environmental philosophy and bioculturalconservation that led to the creation of the OmoraEthnobotanical Park in 1999. In the Yahgan language,“ omora ” is the name of the firecrown hummingbird( Sephanoides sephaniodes ), and in the ancient narratives it ispresented as a powerful small man and spirit who maintainsboth ecological and social order. Omora became a flagshipspecies, and with members of the indigenous community,the regional government, researchers, and students, welaunched a research, education, and conservation programthat resulted in the creation of the UNESCO Cape HornBiosphere Reserve in June 2005 (Rozzi et al . 2006). TheOmora Ethnobotanical Park became the transdisciplinaryresearch center of the new biosphere reserve, and in 2005 weinaugurated the Sub-Antarctic Biocultural ConservationProgram, in partnership with the University of Magallanes, 247 © The Ecological Society of America Ricardo Rozzi and Francisca Massardo Trails and Tribulationsthe Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity, and the Universityof North Texas ( In current times, human-driven global change demandsnot only more scientific knowledge but also a sense of envi-ronmental ethics. Diverse forms of ecological knowledgeand ethics inform one another; they do not constituteautonomous facts and values (Rozzi 1999). The bioculturalunderstanding of ancient Western philosophy, AmerindianTEK, and ecological sciences offers a viable conceptualplatform to orient ethically and scientifically informedanswers to the call for Earth stewardship proposed by theEcological Society of America in its forthcoming 96thAnnual Meeting in 2011 (Chapin et al . 2010). A greaterappreciation of the biocultural mosaic within global educa-tional, administrative, and economic systems that currentlyprevail can foster policies that favor the continuity of regional sustainable cultures, and could also provide a foun-dation for a global, heterogeneous meta-culture of sustain-able co-inhabitation. 󰁮 References Chapin FS, Power M, Pickett STA, et al . 2010. Earth stewardship: aframework to transform the trajectory of society’s relationship tothe biosphere. Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Scienceswhite paper 9. Ecological Society of America. Viewed 29Mar 2011.Rozzi R, Arango X, Massardo F, et al . 2008. Field environmental phi-losophy and biocultural conservation: the Omora EthnobotanicalPark Educational Program. Environ Ethics  30 : 325–36.Rozzi R, Massardo F, Anderson C, et al . 2006. Ten principles for bio-cultural conservation at the southern tip of the Americas: theapproach of the Omora Ethnobotanical Park. Ecol Soc  11 : Viewed 29 Mar 2011.Rozzi R. 1999. The reciprocal links between evolutionary–ecologi-cal sciences and environmental ethics. BioScience  49 : 911–21. Ricardo Rozzi 1,2,3* and Francisca Massardo 2,3 1 Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies, Universityof North Texas, Denton, TX; 2 Institute of Ecology andBiodiversity and the University of Magallanes, Chile * (; 3 Omora Ethnobotanical Park, PuertoWilliams, Antarctic Province, Chile    J   S  c   h  w  e  n   k    Figure 2. Úrsula Calderón and Ricardo Rozzi during a recording session on Cape Horn.
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