Blackwell Publishing Ltd Ethnopathology: local knowledge of plant health problems in Bangladesh, Uganda and Bolivia
Bentley, J. W.
Boa, E. R.
Rahman, A. K. M.
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All peoples have names for and knowledge of plants, animals and other things in the real world. An ethnopathology (or, more strictly, ‘ethnophytopathology’) – study in Bangladesh, Uganda and Bolivia revealed that smallholder farmers label plant health problems with meaningful names. A local name for a plant health problem typically has two kinds of meaning. The first is a literal translation of the name, often a kind of shorthand description of the symptom. The second and most important kind of meaning is the denotative meaning (the thing in the real world which the name actually refers to). Local words for plant health problems often label the symptom rather than the actual disease. This is logical, since smallholders cannot observe microscopic causal organisms. Local concepts for plant health problems do not necessarily classify the natural world in exactly the same way that scientists do, yet local terms for plant health problems are still meaningful. It is not clear if folk classifications of plant health problems are phylogenetic classifications (e.g. ‘mammals’ vs. ‘fish’) or ecological (e.g. ‘seafood’ vs. ‘meat and poultry’). Cross-culturally, local knowledge recognizes that plants are alive, and that they may be ill or healthy, perhaps in analogy with human health.