The Implications of Changing Makushi Identity and Traditional Practices for Forest Conservation in Guyana

Deirdre Jafferally

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Indigenous knowledge has been acknowledged as being useful for the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources, particularly in current debates on forest conservation for climate change mitigation. The possession of such environmental knowledge has likened Indigenous people to being conservationists. However, Indigenous societies have been changing by outside influences that affect the continued transmission of their knowledge. Using the case study of the Makushi Indigenous people of the North Rupununi, Guyana, this thesis explores the concept of Indigenous peoples as conservationists due to the possession of traditional environmental knowledge and how developmental changes are impacting the transmission of such knowledge. The research took place in five villages and at Indigenous cultural events, and used a range of qualitative methods including semi-formal interviews, focus groups, participant observations and document analysis, to collect and analyse data.
The findings reveal that historical resource use by the Makushi was not governed by active management strategies, but by cultural taboos and traditional beliefs that resulted in the sustainable use of these resources. In exploring how change was impacting traditional practices, it was shown that communities are embracing new ideas and technologies that are shifting their previously sustainable form of traditional farming to unsustainability. While there is an embrace of new ideas there is, however, juxtaposition in the perceptions between the elder generation wanting to pass on knowledge and young people wanting to learn their traditions. The findings of this research show that the steady and continued erosion of indigenous knowledge and practice would leave future generations unable to draw from this knowledge base to contribute to forest conservation. In creating new spaces for knowledge transmission future generations of Indigenous people may continue contributing to forest conservation.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Mistry, Jay, Supervisor
  • Willis, Katie, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Mar 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017


  • traditional knowledge
  • forest conservation
  • indigenous culture
  • traditional practices
  • traditional shifting cultivation
  • traditional knowledge transmission
  • Guyana
  • North Rupununi
  • Makushi

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