Law for Country: The Structure and Application of Warlpiri Ecological Knowledge

Miles Holmes (2010). Law for Country: The Structure and Application of Warlpiri Ecological Knowledge PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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s33146652_phd_abstract.pdf Phd Abstract application/pdf 1.54MB 5
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Author Miles Holmes
Thesis Title Law for Country: The Structure and Application of Warlpiri Ecological Knowledge
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2010-10
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Mary Laughren
Nancy Williams
John Bradley
Peter Gresshoff
Total pages 374
Total colour pages 44
Total black and white pages 330
Subjects 20 Language, Communication and Culture
Abstract/Summary This thesis is an anthropological study of Warlpiri Indigenous Ecological Knowledge (IEK). It is based on long term ethnographic research and collaboration with the residents of Lajamanu, a Warlpiri community in the Northern Territory of Australia. Throughout the thesis selected animal and plant species and in particular those in the genus Acacia are used as examples and case studies. The rationale for the research stems from the ongoing difficulties of mainstream engagement with culturally embedded models of IEK. This thesis discusses why the linkages between biological and socio-cultural dimensions of IEK continue to be undervalued in the public domain and the issues this raises for research and applied IEK projects. This research relies on theory from environmental and social anthropology, resilience studies, and the philosophy of science as well as original ethnography and a review of community development projects created as part of the PhD project. These projects include the establishment of a commercial acacia seed harvesting project and the development and trial of an IEK revitalisation country visit project. The results show that Warlpiri environmental knowledge is a linked social-ecological construct based on a contextual but consistent cultural logic. In collaboration with Warlpiri people, a model called ngurra-kurlu was developed which clearly demonstrates the interconnections between biological and socio-cultural aspects of Warlpiri IEK. A Warlpiri perspective is achieved by understanding the relationships between the five ngurra-kurlu elements with respect to a particular organism (or phenomena such as the weather). That is, the Language of the organism, the Law for the organism, the Ceremonies for the organism, its Skin (Kinship) relationships, and the Country or ecology of the organism. Furthermore, the study shows that Warlpiri IEK is not a discrete body of knowledge about the environment. Rather, IEK is a process which creates good naturalists but which also creates good Warlpiri citizens because country and environmental knowledge is inherently connected with the social institutions of Warlpiri culture. These findings have significant implications for IEK studies and on ground IEK projects. The contextual and complex nature of IEK means that in situ conservation and revitalisation will be more successful than ex situ storage in databases or books. For example, analysis of the acacia seed collecting enterprise showed that there is a subtle and tactile aspect to IEK which can only be learnt through direct experience and instruction. As IEK is embedded in a cultural context much information is contained in cultural systems which are often overlooked in projects that are based on the precepts of ecology or botany. For example, analysis of Warlpiri songs revealed very specific and detailed environmental knowledge. On this basis, it is argued that specific strategies are required for revitalisation and intergenerational transfer of knowledge that work with cultural contexts. In consultation with elders, ‘country visits’ or ‘country camps’ based on a ngurra-kurlu framework were identified as an appropriate mechanism. Country visits have often been viewed by mainstream practitioners as ‘picnics’ with little value beyond recreation. The thesis provides the first analysis, that I am aware of, of a Warlpiri country visit to show how (and what) environmental knowledge is taught through cultural processes. The research is innovative in its ability to demonstrate the linkages between social and ecological systems that are inherent in Warlpiri IEK. It therefore provides opportunities for bridging the divide between mainstream and indigenous epistemologies and between the methodologies of the natural and social sciences.
Keyword Warlpiri
Indigenous ecological knowledge
indigenous knowledge
indigenous knowledge systems
Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Environmental Anthropology
Cultural Natural Land Management
Indigenous Australian studies
Additional Notes 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 89, 122, 130, 154, 155, 156, 159, 160, 161, 163, 164, 177, 179, 185, 186, 195, 208, 218, 219, 222, 232, 233, 240, 269, 270, 273, 274, 275, 277, 279, 293, 295, 296, 297, 299, 302, 307, 314, 322

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Created: Tue, 05 Apr 2011, 10:07:08 EST by Mr Miles Holmes on behalf of Library - Information Access Service