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seahorse "Living World"

The Living World:In this chapter, the community’s understanding of the natural world unfolds through a series of discussions.  In Indigenous cultures, the relationship between the human world and the natural world is generally more complex and interconnected.  What Western science sees as “species” might be understood as “nations” or races of beings with whom human society has relationships and responsibilities.  This can extend to trees, rocks, streams and landforms, even to the earth itself.  There are species of particular importance—for food, for medicine, for spiritual role or power, and other reasons.  

At the same time, each community describes and explains its environments within its own framework of understanding, pointing out differences and nuances that might be unclear to outsiders.  This chapter gives an introduction to the wealth of environmental knowledge and understanding of Native communities.

Areas seeks to understand how, within that culture, the land is conceptually divided into different environmental zones. In some cases, particularly high islands, very complex systems of environmental classification may exist. In other cases, the divisions may focus more on cultural factors such as clan ownership. Generally, some sense of the environment in Western scientific terms is also portrayed in this page.

Seasons looks at the annual cycle of the locale. If possible, the indigenous calendar is reproduced and discussed, with seasons and month names explained. Cycles of wind and rain, and their names or descriptive terms, are also sought. It is these cycles that produce the vegetation, precipitation, flowering of plants and trees, fish spawning, gathering times, and so forth. From these, sustenance will be drawn (subject of the next chapter).

The Forest results from the combination of topography and rainfall. And in many places, respect for the forest is of utmost importance. “Forest” here is used as the general term for the Native vegetation and its zones.  While in some places native vegetation has been heavily disturbed or even replaced, it is important to understand what they used to be: what where the names and associated species and human uses of different zones. This page looks at cultural uses and traditions regarding the forest, and may explore particular "forest" resources such as medicinal plants.

Ocean takes us offshore to understand the different zones and creatures of the sea. As a continuation of the land into the sea, the Ocean too is divided culturally into different zones.  What are these zones, and what are/were their associated species and human uses?  How is the Ocean understood from within the cultural-linguistic framework? It moves from the beach, to the reef (or shallow, near-shore area in lack of a reef) and out to the deeper sea. Here again, we will look for place names, stories and linguistic clues to understanding these areas from local perspectives, as well as cultural control and management of these areas.

The Sky looks at the bird life and other flying beings of this place. The heavens are also uniquely understood and discussed within native cultural systems, and the denizens of the sky play important roles in traditional cultures. Birds can be categorized by where they nest (e.g. shoreline, inland, upper elevations, etc) or what roles they play in the culture. In some cases there are also bats, or important flying insects.

While this chapter is broken into these separate pages for discussion, it should be emphasized that these factors are all interrelated: topography and latitude affects the kinds of winds, hence kinds of rainfall, that are found in any location. These in turn strongly affect the types of vegetation that are found here, and how they are differentiated into different forest zones in both traditional and contemporary terminology. Water availability and terrain also affect agriculture. These physical factors manifest culturally in classification systems, names, stories, and how the land and sea have been utilized by its inhabitants.

The Language page is particularly important to this chapter, because it reveals, through the varieties and types of terms, how the marine environment and its uses are coded within that culture's understanding.

Having looked at the natural environment, the next chapter considers how the community utilizes the natural world to feed itself: Sustenance.



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