Is traditional culture a tool for medicinal plant conservation with the Antanosy of Madagascar? Linda Lyon, Ph.D. Candidate Department of Natural Resources Washington State University [email protected] RESEARCH PROBLEM This research will investigate the role of cultural evolution within the Antanosy and whether cultural evolution fosters conservation of forests as well as culture itself. My previous research with the Antanosy showed that particular forest products, specifically medicinal plants, are integral for the survival of the traditional culture. In terms of natural resource conservation, villagers explained that forested land was becoming scarce due to its conversion for agriculture resulting from population increase. Villagers also saw a decrease in particular forest products, such as trees used for construction purposes. However, villagers did not perceive medicinal plants as becoming scarce. I propose that the Antanosy are preventing the loss of medicinal plants in order to preserve their link between medicinal plants and their traditional beliefs. In order to understand this process and aid in local conservation of medicinal plants, I will conduct an ethnobotanical investigation to review the effects of land tenure politics, gender, kinship, local conservation practices, and shamanism on medicinal plant use and conservation. HYPOTHESIS All cultures are evolving (Bodley 2000). Yet some domestic-scale cultures use specific techniques, such as population control, to keep from becoming a larger society (Bodley 1979). If the Antanosy culture is evolving to a global-scale, then scarcity of medicinal plants may not be important and might go unnoticed. If, however, the culture were maintaining itself at a domestic-scale, with traditional beliefs, then other reasons might explain why culturally important medicinal plants were not perceived as becoming scarce. If this is the case, there might also be an interest of the local people to protect medicinal plants. My hypothesis asserts that the Antanosy are part of an evolving culture yet are preventing the loss of medicinal plants to maintain a link to their traditional customs. This hypothesis emerges from my understanding of the Antanosy to be a culture whose future is firmly embedded in their past. This is evidenced by their continued beliefs in the effectiveness of shamanism, tributes that must be made to their ancestors, and use of traditional agricultural systems, such as slash and burn agriculture. Yet according to Flannery (1972), the Antanosy have many characteristics that label them as evolving in complexity to a political-scale society. Finally, if the Antanosy have an interest in preserving their cultural identity, then the elements for conserving medicinal plants are already in place. SIGNIFICANCE OF RESEARCH The impact of cultural change on conservation is almost completely missing from ethnobotanical research. Within the study of traditional cultures there are two schools of thought. Development agents often see cultural change as progress, whereas anthropologists maintain that much cultural change results from the impact of globalization on indigenous cultures. The impact of cultural change needs to be identified in terms of how the local people themselves perceive themselves and what they want for their future. Without a clear understanding of this perspective, integrated conservation and development projects, resource management projects, and ethnobotanical studies are severely limited. This research offers academia, researchers, and development agents information and a research model for understanding a group of people, the Antanosy, who are crucial to providing an environmentally sound buffer zone to one of the countrys few national parks. This research is an imperative source of information derived through a descriptive cultural ethnology of the Antanosy with quantifiable results. Given the important implications of this study, it will offer a new future to community-based conservation schemes. This research will provide a complete floristic inventory of forest products used by the Antanosy with a description of medicinal plant remedies. This research and plant inventory is part of a collaboration between the University of Tulear in Madagascar, National Malagasy Forest Service (Eaux et Foret) and its results will be made available internationally via the Global Ethnomedicinal Information Retrieval System (GEIRS). In addition this research will provide 1) an evaluation of the status of globalization of the Antanosy culture in terms of interest in preserving traditional culture, 2) an appraisal of interest in medicinal plant conservation that statisticlly demonstrates the most effctive group of villagers for a particular project, 3) a documentation of traditional beliefs, tenure systems, gender, and kinship patterns that affect the use and management of medicinal plants, and 4) the financial support and training of an Antanosy student throughout all aspects of ethnobotanical field research in his native region to enable him to use this research towards his own academic goals.