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Field Project - Nicaragua
Latest news: Mayangna knowledge deep in the heart of Mesoamerica by Paule Gros and Douglas Nakashima

Mayangna – Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, Nicaragua

Summary | Documents | Photos

In recent decades, recognition of the intimate relationship between people and places has grown so that cultural diversity is acknowledged as a crucial factor in maintaining the world’s biodiversity. Yet still today, innumerable conservation initiatives remain mired in a dualistic vision that opposes humans and nature.

Fishing technique: Alejandro Amador fishing from a boat with a bow and arrow.



Fishing technique: Juan Francisco Lopez fishing from the river bank with a lure and harpoon.



Discussion of plant names during a workshop of data collection lead by Nacilio Miguel.

Summary: The Bosawas Biosphere reserve in north-central Nicaragua is one of the centrepieces of the 'Heart of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor'. The area is renowned for its rich biodiversity and numerous rare or endangered species. Occurring there are some of the last populations in Central America of Giant Anteater, Baird’s Tapir, Central American Spider Monkey, Jaguar, Harpy Eagle and American Crocodile, and among the world’s last populations of Baird's Tapir and Central American Spider Monkey. 

This territory is also the home of the indigenous Mayangna, or Sumu, people, who have lived here for centuries. They have developed an intricate and extensive knowledge of the local flora and fauna and have shaped the biological system through their cultural practices.

Today these interlinked biological and cultural systems are under threat by a rapidly advancing agricultural frontier, increasing contamination of watercourses originating outside the reserve, illegal logging, as well as some trade in endangered animal and plant species. The LINKS project seeks to ensure that the knowledge possessed by the Mayangna, as well as their unique ecological, social and cultural relationship with the natural environment, are appropriately recognized and fully incorporated into the design and implementation of resource management processes in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve.

As a first step to understanding Mayangna relationships with their natural environment, the animals, plants and other natural entities that Mayangna people recognize are being compiled in a book entitled 'Conocimientos tradicionales del pueblo Mayangna sobre la convivencia hombre y naturaleza'. This project is being undertaken in cooperation with the International Center for Tropical Ecology (ICTE) at the University of Missouri Saint Louis (USA).

After extensive consultation and in agreement with the local Mayangna leadership, this documentation focuses initially on fishes and turtles, two important food sources in the reserve. We are compiling a photo library of the thirty-two taxa of fish and six turtles that the Mayangna identify. For each of these animals, we document Mayangna names, knowledge and know how on natural history, harvesting techniques and use, as well as legends and myths, using both one-to-one interviews and interactive assemblies. We also investigate the correspondences between Mayangna and other naming systems, including scientific terms for these taxa, as well as names in the Miskitu language and locally spoken Spanish. This is part of a broader endeavour through which names have been collected for 787 plants and animals, organised into nineteen Mayangna categories.

This project initially carried out by the habitants of the Lakus River, one of the five Mayangna groups in BOSAWAS, under the joint supervision of Nacilio Miguel of Arandak, Lakus, and Dr. Paule Gros Faculty Associate with ICTE, is now extended to the entire Mayangna community within BOSAWAS. The draft encyclopedia produced in Lakus is currently beeing checked and completed by the other four Mayangna groups of the reserve.

Further investigations will elucidate Mayangna knowledge, practices and world-views as they relate to natural resource use and management. As a result, materials on local knowledge in the Mayangna language will be developed, serving both educational and resource management ends. Ultimately, it is expected that by bringing recognition to their knowledge and practices, and demonstrating their influential role in natural resource management, the Mayangna people will be conferred an increasingly prominent role in the sustainable development of the region.

The Bosawas Reserve is a part of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, World Network of Biosphere Reserves




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