Wyndham, Felice Sea
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This dissertation investigates social-environmental factors contributing to differential ethnobotanical expertise among children in Rarámuri (Tarahumara) communities in Rejogochi, Chihuahua, Mexico. This research contributes to understanding processes of transmission and acquisition of environmental knowledge and to the development of an ecological, interactionist model of indigenous education. The first section describes an ethnography of Rarámuri childhood, focusing on children’s life stages, work, play, and family environments. Some aspects of Rarámuri epistemologies of learning are explored. Among these is the importance of relationship maintenance through ritual and thinking/behaving well. Structured interviews with Rarámuri children between the ages of 5 and 18 showed consensus as to the primary importance of mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles as teachers of plant knowledge. Secondarily, siblings, cousins and playmates were identified as teachers. The second section presents a quantitative study of children’s knowledge of a set of 40 culturally significant local plants in three use-categories: medicinal, edible, and other material utility. The social-environmental factors significant in predicting levels of plant knowledge among children were, most notably, which primary school (of two local choices) children attended and, to a lesser extent, age of the child completing the interview. Plant-name and plant-use interviews suggest that many children today are not acquiring their parents’ full repertoire of plant knowledge, but rather, exhibit knowledge of a restricted set of plants that are most salient culturally and ecologically. The discussion of results highlights the importance of understanding how knowledge distribution patterns correspond to social relationships, social roles, and individual and family interest and experience. From the ethnographic and interview data presented in this dissertation, a Rarámuri model is suggested in which the richest and most extensive plant knowledge is held and practiced by select families, based on their interest and abilities. Children raised in these families are more likely to learn and practice this knowledge, regardless of other social-environmental factors such as schooling and bilingual ability. Implications for educational and conservation applications are discussed. The research described in this dissertation was completed in Rejogochi and surrounding areas over an 18-month period, from July 2001 to December 2002.