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Social structure and knowledge sharing networks in hunter-gatherers: A case study on the plant knowledge of the Mbendjele BaYaka Pygmies

Salali, GD; (2017) Social structure and knowledge sharing networks in hunter-gatherers: A case study on the plant knowledge of the Mbendjele BaYaka Pygmies. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Hunters and gatherers occupied 95% of the human history. Despite the forces of globalization, current-day hunter-gatherers can shed light on how we adapted to different environments and generated complex cultural traits. Their changing ways of life, on the other hand, may let us understand cultural change. In this thesis, I explore the cultural evolution of plant knowledge in an extant hunter-gatherer population, the Mbendjele BaYaka Pygmies from the Northern Republic of Congo. In Chapter 4, I show that the Mbendjele use wild plants for various reasons from treating digestive system disorders to punishing norm violators. In Chapter 5, I investigate whether there are adaptive benefits to the use of certain medicinal plants and explore the common uses of medicinal plants across different Pygmy populations and great apes. I also explore the known bioactive compounds, and test the effects of mothers’ use of certain medicinal plants on their children’s body- mass-index. In Chapter 6, I investigate how the Mbendjele have evolved such a rich plant use repertoire by exploring sharing of medicinal and non-medicinal plant knowledge with respect to features of social structure. I argue that the long-term pair bonds, marital ties and cooperative breeding have allowed the Mbendjele to combine and accumulate rich medicinal plant uses. Additionally, co-residence of multiple families provides a context for the sharing and accumulation of plant uses that concern cooperative foraging and social norms. In Chapter 7, I explore the socioeconomic transitions in the Mbendjele that live in a logging town and examine how plant knowledge declines with their changing life-style. I argue that change in subsistence activities, emerging inequalities and decreased mobility hinder the transmission of traditional knowledge. Nevertheless, I argue that adoption of new cultural traits may be inevitable and beneficial for the resilience of modern day hunter-gatherers.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Social structure and knowledge sharing networks in hunter-gatherers: A case study on the plant knowledge of the Mbendjele BaYaka Pygmies
Event: UCL
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Third party copyright material has been removed from ethesis.
Keywords: Hunter-gatherers, African Pygmies, Cultural Evolution, Mbendjele, BaYaka, Ethnobotany, Cumulative culture, Evolutionary anthropology, Medicinal plants, Human Behaviour and Evolution, Future discounting, Traditional knowledge, Social structure
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1542180
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