Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

Indigenous knowledges must be taken seriously

So far, indigenous knowledges (IKs) have not yet found a place in modern science and technology but has, in fact, been dismissed as pseudo-science, superstition, myth, and so on. In this scientifically and technologically driven global market, efforts for the recognition and revival of IKs are faced with reproach, especially from those whose interests are in maintaining and strengthening the status quo.

In his response to SciDev.Net's editorial of 27 August 2002, Rosseinsky indicates that he subscribes to the latter viewpoint. His comment reinforces the "dominant" culture's prevailing tendency to define the problems that nations like Africa face and then prescribe what the solutions should be.

It appears that Rosseinsky has misunderstood, misinterpreted or deliberately chosen to ignore Dickson's ideas. It seems to me that Dickson was trying to highlight one of the many instances where the limitations of modern science have bred problems. Rather than ignore IKs, Dickson is suggesting that the scientific community should make use of what it has to offer. This would hopefully help to deal with the shortcomings inherent in a purely scientific approach.

As an African woman born in Africa and brought up in African cultural ways, as well as being a modern science educator and a member of a spiritual church, it is natural for me to be critical of the Northern paradigm and discourse. I know that there are alternative realities to a highly technological global system, and that science is the not the only means to an end.

Rosseinsky's attitude — like that of the original colonial powers — is an undermining one. Not only does he undermine IK, but also the people who possess it. His view that "to imply that peasant farmers would know better than to clear land seems to me a false argument of the most damaging kind" suggests that the so-called "peasant" farmers have absolutely nothing to offer.

But I would like to tell Rosseinsky and his lot that — as Dickson's editorial implies — those very "peasants" are in fact experts in their own right, and in a valuable position to revive indigenous practices. Some may not consider this to be "proven" knowledge, but I would argue that we should move away from the idea that knowledge can only be based on western constructs (that have been designed without the diverse cultures around the globe in mind).

Rosseinsky ends his comment by saying "wake up to the facts please". I would invite him to work his way through the following questions: what are these facts, whose facts are they, what is the context, whose interests are served, whose culture is transmitted, and to whom?

The fact that IKs have been interrupted in their infancy does not necessarily mean that we should ignore what remnants we do have. Doing so would tie us to the dominant knowledge, which I believe has failed to address the problems of developing countries, and in some cases has actively contributed to the subordinate position of nations like Africa. A re yeng!

Eva Atlang Ratsie, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Wisconsin-Madison / Department of Mathematics and Science Education, University of Botswana, 17 December 2002