Lampman, Aaron Michael
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The Tzeltal Maya of Highland Chiapas have extensive knowledge of wild mushrooms in the local ecosystem. This dissertation examines the totality of Tzeltal ethnomycological knowledge through an analysis of patterns of nomenclature and classification, knowledge of mushroom ecology, and beliefs about mushroom nutritional, medicinal, and toxic properties. Research was conducted in communities in the municipalities of Oxchuc and Tenejapa. Methods included mycological collection, semistructured interviews, pile sorts, triad tests, sentence substitution surveys and participant observation. The explanatory approach is ethnoecological, with a focus on the interaction between human cognition and domain features and how this interaction influences behavior. A total of 72 species were identified and are described herein. Of these, 30 species are utilized for food and medicine. The mushroom domain is perceived as a third kingdom that is independent of the plant and animal kingdoms. The kingdom includes two life-forms that are further subdivided into 4 covert complexes, and 51 folk genera, 4 of which are polytypic and include between 2 and 5 folk species. These categories are based on morphological similarities and dissimilarities, supporting the universal principles of folk classification as proposed by Berlin (1992). However, unique features of the mushroom domain such as small size, morphological similarity and toxicity make the use of mushrooms potentially dangerous. The Tzeltal deal with these features through the recognition of two special purpose folk categories based on utility that overlap and interact with the general purpose system of folk classification. Detailed ethnomycological knowledge is limited to species that are considered useful. Edible mushroom development is associated with the rainy season, a time when staple food supplies are low. Knowledge of the habitats, substrate preferences and tree associations of culturally important species is widespread. Linguistic designations are consistent only for useful species, and mushroom nomenclature is non-arbitrary, incorporating morphological features such as color, size, shape, and substrate preference. The strict separation of useful and useless species of mushrooms within the folk classification system provides guidelines for the safe use of macrofungi as biological resources, and influences the structure and substance of knowledge that is associated with each special purpose category.