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These indigenous women are recording videos to document their traditional knowledge before it disappears

As new people move in and generations leave, a Peru community is making sure knowledge about things like medicinal plants and edible fruits will survive.

These indigenous women are recording videos to document their traditional knowledge before it disappears
[Photo: Conservation International]

A little more than a year ago, indigenous women living on the edge of a protected forest in Shampuyacu, Peru, started learning how to make and edit videos on their phone. Their goal: to document traditional knowledge before it’s gone.

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[Photo: Conservation International]
“They want to recover what they’re losing,” says Milagros Sandoval, the regional climate change director for the area for the nonprofit Conservation International. The community, which is sliced in half by a highway, is near cities; as migrants have moved into the area, swaths of forest have been cut down to make way for rice or coffee plantations. Younger generations sometimes move away. It’s more common to speak Spanish than Awajún, the indigenous language. Awajún women wanted to ensure that knowledge commonly passed from mother to daughter–such as which plants in the forest can treat diseases, or how to use certain edible fruits–would still be available for future generations.

 

A few years ago, the women worked with Conservation International to set aside an area of forest to cultivate traditional plants. Many also speak Awajún to their young children, and some schools offer bilingual education. But the women wanted to do more. When they spoke with the nonprofit about the challenge of sharing traditional knowledge across generations, the nonprofit suggested making videos, then provided phones and training in using them as a pilot that it hopes to replicate in other parts of South America. To date, women in the community have produced around 15 videos, all of which will be available on a new website. “I still don’t know 100% about the customs of my community,” one of the women says in a new video about the project, explaining that she grew up at a time when migrants had already begun to move to the area in large numbers. “But I won’t let this happen with my daughter.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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