25.01.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Reinforcing the transmission of Mayangna culture, knowledge and language

© Menuka Scetbon-DidiMayangna man bow-fishing (Nicaragua)

Like many other indigenous peoples, the Mayangna people of the BOSAWAS Biosphere Reserve, Nicaragua are concerned about the erosion of their culture, language and knowledge. Around the world, indigenous people are experiencing rapid social, cultural and environmental change. While this change may offer new opportunities, it may also put at risk their rich cultural heritage by disrupting the processes by which indigenous culture, language and knowledge are transmitted.

In recent decades, recognition of the intimate relationship between people and places has grown so that cultural diversity is acknowledged as a crucial factor in maintaining the world’s biodiversity. Indigenous and local communities play a key role in biodiversity conservation. Their territories are among the most biologically diverse on the planet. Traditional indigenous territories are estimated to cover up to 24% of the world’s land surface and contain 80% of the Earth’s remaining healthy ecosystems. This remarkable spatial convergence is due in part to indigenous peoples actively managing the biodiversity of their lands, and protecting them from outside exploitation. It is essential that such culture and knowledge continue to be dynamic and integrated elements of community life and that their transmission is maintained and even reinforced.

The Mayangna therefore requested the support of UNESCO’s Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) programme to help them reinforce their transmission in today’s social context. The first step of the project was to compile and document Mayangna names, knowledge and know how on natural history, harvesting techniques and use, as well as legends and myths, in Mayangna and Spanish. The resulting book, Conocimientos del pueblo Mayangna sobre la convivencia del hombre y la naturaleza: peces y tortugas, demonstrates the depth and breadth of local knowledge of the natural milieu, including behaviour, habitat, reproduction and migration patterns, and the introduction of new and invasive species. However, Mayangna leaders told us that the objective of reinforcing culture, knowledge and language transmission across and within the generations cannot be met by simply publishing and disseminating the book without any further support to facilitate its use. Mayangna representatives particularly emphasized the need for support to integrate the book into the Mayangna formal education system.

During the past twenty years, the Nicaraguan education system has taken important strides towards ensuring that formal education accommodates the unique needs of indigenous children through its new curriculum which allows for locally appropriate adjustments and additions to be made. However, much work remains before Mayangna language, knowledge and culture is fully integrated into this system; appropriate pedagogical content and tools are needed.

To this end, the Ministry of Education and the UNESCO-LINKS programme worked alongside Mayangna education professionals to develop materials. Thanks to generous support from the Royal Embassy of Norway, they developed a pilot programme, complete with a teacher’s guide and a textbook.

The material was introduced with a workshop in Nicaragua on 24-28 January 2012 that marked the launch of the pilot phase. The test phase will be followed by a revision, training, production and distribution phase, and then a final implementation and monitoring phase. A team of technical advisors from the Ministry of Education, UNESCO and UNICEF support and monitor the project, while the main work is carried out by a team of Mayangna school supervisors.

The final output will be the roll out of a complete set of trialled, pedagogical materials; training of teachers in the use of the materials; and a monitoring of the impact of the project as well as on-going support for teachers. These materials are for use in the third grade in two subject areas: Person, Culture and Nature and Language and Communication (Mother Tongue). During the course of the project, UNESCO-LINKS will work to facilitate the insertion of the book, and in this manner Mayangna culture, knowledge and language, into the new curriculum as part of the regional or national education programme.

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