Ethnobotany Spring 2003 Final

The traditional ways and knowledge of the past are being lost. Knowledge of the traditional uses of plants is disappearing. Few young people today know how to make traditional foods, fewer still actually make fermented breadfruit and other culturally unique foods. Few young people have the time or discipline to learn all of the healing plants.

No successful business person nor government leader builds a house with a thatch roof. Cement houses, metal cars, and food from the store dominate our daily lives and desires. Chicken, Spam, corned beef, or turkey tail and rice are the dinner time staple foods. When we are sick we go to the clinic or hospital. When we travel to another municipality we never consider walking. And when we travel to other islands we never consider using a canoe.

The new ways must be better, otherwise why would so many people choose the new ways over the old? Cement houses last longer and are stronger than thatch roof and wood houses. Pick-up trucks and planes are faster than walking and canoes. Antibiotics can cure diseases that local medicine cannot.

There is another factor that argues against conserving traditional knowledge. Conservation requires writing down and sharing traditional knowledge, stories, and legends. Yet the knowledge, stories, and legends are often meant to be secret, not to be shared outside of a family. The very act of writing down and sharing these legends and stories violates the traditions and customs.

My wife cautioned me just the other day, "Do not talk about my culture." The very act of talking about the traditions and culture violates those same traditions and culture.

We tear down old buildings, we throw away old cars, we toss out old books, and we get rid of useless old knowledge. Maybe it is time to let go of the past. Maybe it is better to forget and in so doing join the "modern" world.

So why study the traditional use of plants? Do not simply say, "The traditional use of plants is important." Obviously the traditional use of plants is not important - everyday we are actively choosing to not use local plants. How many of you grew up in a cement house? When was the last time you made fermented or pounded breadfruit? Where do you go more often to get food, the farm or store? Or cafeteria? Did any of the off-island students choose to sail to Pohnpei in a canoe in order to attend college? If you argue for the importance of the traditional use of plants then back your argument up with good, strong reasons.

You have a choice of answering either one of two questions, answer only one in your essay. Your essay should be at least 300 to 400 words. The essay is due into my office by the end of the SC/SS 115 Ethnobotany final examination period at 4:15 on Tuesday 13 May 2003.

  1. In light of the above, why is the study of the traditional use of plants relevant, useful, and important? OR
  2. Why should we let go of the past and not study the traditional use of plants?