Academic journal article Human Organization

Participatory Mapping of Community Lands and Hunting Yields among the Bugle of Western Panama

Academic journal article Human Organization

Participatory Mapping of Community Lands and Hunting Yields among the Bugle of Western Panama

Article excerpt

Indigenous peoples living in the rain forest regions of Central America have detailed mental maps of streams, topography, and land cover of large areas surrounding their villages. They also have the skills to make important contributions to geographic research that can help them manage their natural resources and defend their historic rights to their lands. Participatory research among the Bugle of western Panama incorporated several local investigators who, among other tasks, facilitated community mapping sessions and administered weekly questionnaires on hunting activities in their respective communities. Part of their work consisted of drawing sketch maps showing the locations where game animals were captured. Local investigators and the author together plotted these hunting kill sites onto 1:50,000 topographic base maps. Over 1,500 questionnaires were administered and roughly 1,300 kill sites were documented, showing the spatial distribution of hunting yields of 59 households over a period of eight months. Although the participatory methods were not free from difficulties, the research process made it possible to produce detailed maps of game extraction over a considerable area-maps that would have otherwise been impossible to create. The local investigators were thus active participants in the production of information that will help explain the relationships between indigenous peoples and their environment and provide new understanding of the impacts of subsistence hunting on wildlife populations.

Key words: participatory mapping, indigenous peoples, hunting, rain forests, Bugle, Panama

To say that indigenous peoples in the Americas have suffered many defeats in their struggle to maintain access to their lands is an obvious understatement. Maps have served as the handmaiden in the process of territorial expropriation. Official government maps have been used to portray vast areas remote from regions dominated by nonindigenous society as large forest reserves, as state property, or simply as unoccupied hinterlands. At times the exclusion or minimization of indigenous occupation and land use from official maps has been deliberate; at other times it has been in part a natural outcome of ignorance-a lack of even the most basic information on their settlements and land use practices. Even today, outsiders continue to impose conservation regulations on indigenous lands with little regard for their resident populations.

In recent years growing concern over the loss of biodiversity has led to a fierce debate about the relationships between indigenous peoples and conservation. This issue is of particular concern in neotropical rain forest regions that contain much of the world's biodiversity and which are at the same time home to a diversity of indigenous peoples who maintain a distinct way of life (Alcorn 1993; Herlihy 1997: 231-240; Redford 1990; Redford and Stearman 1993). Indigenous peoples who have seen their territories contract over the years are now faced with the establishment of national parks, forest reserves, and other protected areas on their lands, as well as legislation that limits their use of natural resources, with the ostensible objective of ensuring the "rational" use of natural resources. Maps again have been important tools in this process, most obviously in the delimitation of conservation units. In all but a few cases, however, the definition and establishment of protected areas has been done without any consultation with local communities that will be affected most, nor has it taken into account their use of large forested areas to provide for many of their basic needs. Indeed, much of the discussion about the relationships between indigenous peoples and conservation has been framed as if indigenous peoples are passive agents of change, when in fact they are knowledgeable resource managers. That is not to say, however, that indigenous peoples are always in perfect harmony with their environment. …

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