Our children don’t have time anymore to learn about our medicinal plants: How an ethnobotanical school assignment can contribute to the conservation of Saramaccan Maroon traditional knowledge.

Charlotte Van 't Klooster, Vinije Haabo, Tinde Van Andel


Background: When entering primary school, children of remote rural areas have less time to learn about traditional plant uses. In a case study conducted among Saramaccan Maroons in Suriname, we tried to find out how a biology classroom assignment conducted among primary school children could contribute to the conservation of traditional knowledge.

Methods: 73 pupils received a homework assignment for which they needed to bring one medicinal plant to school and collect ethnobotanical information about the use. We conducted a content analysis to investigate the type of knowledge generated by the pupils and examined the assignment cards on use of (different) languages.

Results: Family members (mostly mothers) shared mainly knowledge on the treatment of physical ailments such as skin fungi, headache, hypertension, stomachache, eye-infections or baby care. Plant use for baby care and women’s health seemed to be primarily shared with girls. Most of the 36 species, were herbs from the disturbed vegetation. Next to Saramaccan, plant names were provided in Sranantongo and Surinamese-Dutch, especially the cultivated species.

Conclusions: Our method generated information on physical health issues that occur regularly in the village for which they use common plant species. Spelling of vernacular names and translation of health issues from Saramaccan into Dutch was a challenge, indicating a gap between the official school curriculum (in Dutch), traditional Maroon knowledge and literacy in Saramaccan. The method could be developed further to be used at schools to safeguard traditional knowledge and enhance the intergenerational dialogue on medicinal plants.

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Ethnobotany Research and Applications (ISSN 1547-3465) is published online by the Department of Ethnobotany, Institute of Botany, Ilia State University.
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