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Saurashtra University 

     Re – Accredited Grade ‘B’ by NAAC 

     (CGPA 2.93) 

 

 

 



 

Odedra,  Nathabhai K.,  2009,  “Ethnobotany of Maher Tribe In Porbandar 



District, Gujarat, India

 thesis PhD, Saurashtra University 



 

 

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1

CHAPTER   I   INTRODUCTION

1.1 General

 

The decade beginning from January 1, 1995 was observed as the



international Decade for the World’s Indigenous People.

 

About 300 million people one in every 20 on earth belong to indigenous



cultures. The original inhabitants of their lands, they uniquely know how to live in

harmony with nature. Indigenous people are scattered over the face of earth in

around 70 countries. Among them well over 150 million live in Asia, two thirds in

China and India. There are at least 30 million in Central and South America and a

significant number in Australia. Many of the indigenous societies are highly

primitive and still live in ‘Stone Age Culture’ virtually cut off from the modern

civilization. The Dani tribe of Indonesia, the Onges and Jarawas of India till

recently almost lived naked in the Stone Age Culture and did not know what a

wheel was.

 

The Agenda 21 of the Rio Earth Summit (1992) stated that indigenous



people and their communities, and other local communities, have a vital role in

environment management and development because of their knowledge and

traditional practices. States should recognise and duly support their identity,

culture and interests and enable their effective participation in the achievement of

sustainable development.

 

Indigenous and ethnic people learn to live in the most hostile environment



from the pole to the equator, from the desert to the rain forest and they have

evolved a host of sophisticated strategies for doing so. The world’s remaining

areas of high biodiversity are often found on indigenous community’s lands and in

their water bodies. All over world political conflicts are arising over

conservationist’s efforts to remove indigenous people from their native lands.

1.2

Origin of Ethnobotanic Study

 

Ethnobotany came into being when the earliest man observed the animals



mostly the apes and monkeys eating certain plant often to satisfy his hunger and at

2

other times to heal his wound and to get rid from pains and sufferings. The

observations on apes and monkeys (which were very close to human beings in

morphology and also in anatomy and physiology) eating certain plant parts - roots,

stems, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds and the beneficial effects on their body

gave a food for thought to these early men and it started the genesis of basic

thoughts in human brain. An analysis of such observations provoked them to use

plants for maintenance of life and alleviation of diseases. In this way, it helped

them in formulating the basic concepts of science of life which were evaluated

rationally later on over a period of time. Thus, on the basis of the uses of plants

first by animals and later by human beings to give birth of ethnobotany.

 

Ethnobotany has assumed new significance and a new dimension today



when the modern civilization realized that all those plant products they are using

today either as a food or as a medicine are the gift of those early men who used

those plants to satisfy their hunger and heal their wounds and to know and

evaluate the utility of those plants often experimented on their own body.



1.3

Basic Notion of Ethnobotanic Study

 

Basic to any ethnobotanic study is the “recognition that humans form



biological populations and are dependent on culture” (Ford, 1978). Human ability

to use symbols and thus communicate with one another promotes this culture. This

enables them to interact with name and use the plants and other things in a given

situation. In ethnobotanic terms, it includes the classification of plants and the

human psychological disposition towards them. These will then determine how the

vegetation will be manipulated and what the consequence of human utilization

will be “cultural beliefs determine the conditions of human existence and the

biological properties of human population define the quantity of plants that must

be obtained. Together they form the human ecology of ethnobotany” (Ford, 1978).

1.4

Ethnobotany – A Multi disciplinary Natural Science

 

The term ethnobotany first coined by Harshberger (1895), encompasses



entire studies concerning plants which describe local people’s interaction with the

3

natural environment (Martin, 1995). This interaction has been classified by Jain

(1996), father of Indian Ethnobotany, into two categories (1) Abstract and (2)

Concrete. The former aspect includes taboos, avoidance, sacred plants, worship

and folklore, while the latter deals mainly with the material use and the acts of

domestication, conservation, improvement or destruction of plants. More

importantly, this study of the plant in relation to people includes both wild and

domesticated plants (Heiser, 1995). Of late, the subject of ethnobotany has been

recognised as a rapidly expanding multidisciplinary natural science throughout the

world, with many workers becoming involved in the practical application of its

data in areas such as biodiversity prospecting and conservation biology.

1.5

Importance of Ethnobotanical Studies

 

The importance of ethnobotanical studies is manifold, as these provide



valuable data on (i) life support species (ii) new uses not recorded in literature (iii)

new local names (iv) distributional area of new plant drugs (v) conservation of

natural resources (vi) germplasm stocks of our cultures. In addition, these help in

understanding plant human relationships.



1.6

Indigenous People

 

Indigenous people (rural communities/tribals/ethnic societies) are an



invaluable bank of knowledge, which is passed on verbally from one generation to

another. As it is a way of life, these people live harmoniously with nature. It is a

fact realized every where in the world that indigenous cultures are under the

danger of extinction due to the advent of modern civilization and changes in

sustenance economy. Both indigenous culture and biodiversity are inseparable, as

with its decimation, biodiversity is also disappearing. Often, the world’s remaining

areas of high biodiversity are found on indigenous people’s lands and in their

waters (Alcorn, 1996). In this regard, Schultes & Swain (1976) state: “Peoples

whom we have chosen to consider members of less advanced societies have

consistently looked to the plant kingdom… for betterment of life. Should we as

chemists, pharmacologists and botanists with so many and varied means at our


4

disposal not take a lesson from them?” Due to the fact that plant - based

derivatives are safer than the costly modern medicines, about 80% of the world

population has taken recourse to traditional medicines for their primary healthcare

needs (Tyler, 1986, Wambebe, 1990). Interestingly, of the 2, 50,000 to 3, 00,000

plant species on earth, only 7% of the vascular flora have been exploited for their

medical potential (Iversen, 1988), whereas the number of plants utilized by man

for food hardly exceeds 30 (Swaminathan, 1993, Khoshoo, 1995).



1.7

India – A Gene rich Bank

 

There could be no two opinions regarding the ethnic, floristic and



agricultural diversity of India, possessing over 45,000 Spp. (including 15,000 SPP

of flowering plants of which almost one third are endemic), where the people

worship the various elements of mother nature to express their indebtedness for

sustaining them. At present about 1500 plant Spp. are being used in the ancient

Indian system of medicine, i.e., Ayurveda (Bhatnagar, 1997) from which plant

drugs worth Rs.3400 million per annum are utilized for its various preparations

(Gupta, 1986)

 

It is an established fact that this ancient science of human health had its



origin in the state of Gujarat – the land of “Rishies’ and ‘Munies’, which with a

geographical extent of 196024 sq km ranging from 0 -1,117 m elevation falls

under the latitudes 20

0

-1’ to 24



0

-7’ N and longitude 68

0

-4’ to 74



0

-4 E. The Gujarat

is a rich repository of medicinal and aromatic plants, diverse cultures and tradition.

For their sustenance, the various inhabitants of Gujarat region use various plant

species as subsidiary food, fibre, multi purpose socio-economically important and

medicinal plants.  Unfortunately; much of this wealth is alarmingly depleted.

 

It has been estimated that an average of 1 in 10 of the spp of vascular plants



on this earth are endangered due to unplanned human activities (Lucas & Synge,

1978). Therefore, sincere efforts need to be made by one and all to conserve the

rich Gujarat biological and cultural diversity.


5

1.8

Indigenous ansd Ethnic Community of World

 

There are an estimated 300 million indigenous people all over the world.



Nearly half of them living in Asia (most in India and China). In India there are

about 68 million in indigenous people called ‘tribes’ belonging to some 573 tribal

groups.

Table 1.1 Ethnic an Indigenous People of World

Country/Continent

Indigenous Culture/Community

1. Western/Central Africa

2. Mali

3. Niger


4. Central Africa

5. Kenya


6. Botswana

7. Namibia

8. Bangladesh

9. Thailand

10. Malaysia

11. Philippines

12. India

13. New Caledonia

14. Mexico

15. Guatemala

16. Nicaragua

17. Costa Rica

18. Panama

19. Colombia

20. Peru

21. Brazil

Pygmy culture

Tuareg Nomad

Tuareg Nomad

Bororo people

Maasai and samburu people

Bushmen (san)

Bushmen (san)

Hill tribes

Karen people

Kenyah, Punah, Kayan

Manobo, Bangsa Moro people

Scheduled tribes

Kanak people

Lacondon Maya Indians

Mayan Indians

Miskito Indians

Indians

Guaymi Indians, Kune Indians



Paez and Guambiano Indians, Kogi

Yagua Indians, Amuesha Indians

Yanomami people, Apinaye Indians


6

22. Paraguay

23. Chile

24. Australia

25. Spain

26. Indonesia

27. New Zealand

28. Sweden

29. Greenland

30. Artic nations

31. Ecuador

Ache Indians

Mapuche Indians

Aborigines

Carib Indians

Kenyah


Maoris

Lapps


Inuits (Eskimos)

Inuits (Eskimos)

Amerindians

Source: ‘Atlas of Environment’ WWF.pub.Oxford, 1992.

 

There are 250,000 indigenous people in Australia called ‘’Aborigines’,



300,000 in New Zealand called Maoris’ and some 10000 in Arctic countries called

‘Eskimos’ or ‘Inuits’. In Sweden the indigenous people called ‘Lapps’ make up

less than 0.1 percent of the population and ‘Amazonian Indians’ comprise the

same proportion of the Brazil. The indigenous societies of Greenland also called

‘Inuits’ make up 90 percent of its population and the Indians make up two-thirds

of the people of Bolivia. The aborigines of Guatemala called ‘Mayan Indians’

makes up the majority of Guatemala’s population. Cultural diversity exist with

biological diversity every where in world and the two are intimately inter

dependent on each other.



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