Indigenous Heritage 2020: Traditional uses of cotton

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Indigenous peoples are skilled in the art of creating many different handicrafts from a variety of materials. These skills, as is the case with most other traditional customs, are passed from the elders to younger generations. Some handicraft skills are customarily practiced by the men while others are specific to women. For example, males are more known to engage in handicraft skills associated with woodcraft, such as totem poles and making of traditional weapons – bows and arrows and spears. Indigenous women, on the other hand, are engaged in the weaving of hammocks, making of beaded necklaces and other traditional attire accessories.

While today, much of handicraft making by Indigenous communities is associated with a source of livelihood, it speaks greatly to the cultural heritage of Indigenous people. Not only does it represent their unquestionable knowledge of the environment in the way they make use of these resources – having knowledge of specific tree species, seasons for harvesting and locations for gathering – but also in the interconnectivity of such knowledge and skills to other aspects of traditional life. For example, the knowledge of weaving a fan or the matapee, is essential to the continuity of the processing of the bitter cassava, which is used to make several traditional foods. Also, the making of bows and arrows maintains the ability of communities to continue to hunt in a sustainable manner. A challenge faced by most Indigenous peoples today is the preservation of some handicraft-making skills, and is an area of traditional knowledge where more emphasis must be placed, both at the community and national level.

As part of the Darwin Initiative Traditional Knowledge in Conservation project, the video being featured today comes to you from the community of Maruranau in the South Rupununi. It showcases the beautiful skill of cotton spinning and some of the cotton products being produced thereafter by local Indigenous woman. It certainly highlights a unique contribution to the diverse culture of the Wapishan nation.

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Deirdre Jafferally
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Deirdre Jafferally has 17 years’ experience working in community based wildlife management and conservation. Deirdre first started working at the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development, Guyana in the area of environmental monitoring. Recently, Deirdre has focused her interest in community resource management and Indigenous knowledge in the pursuit of a PhD exploring the implications of socio-ecological changes on Indigenous knowledge and practices, and its impact on forest conservation. She holds a BSc in Biology and MES in Sustainable Development and Ecological Monitoring.