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Ethnoecology of the Yucatec Maya: Symbolism, Knowledge and Management of Natural Resources

From: Journal of Latin American Geography
Volume 4, Number 1, 2005
pp. 9-41 | 10.1353/lag.2005.0021

Abstract

There is a growing interest worldwide in adopting interdisciplinary approaches for studying the complex and dynamic interplay between societies and landscapes. During the last few years, ethnoecology, broadly defined as an integrative study of beliefs, knowledge and practice of a given social entity, has emerged as a useful research method for the comprehensive understanding of landscape use and management. Maya people have inhabited the Yucatan Peninsula for the last three thousand years, suggesting that Maya farmers have successfully managed natural resources, preserving both nature and culture in the long run. Despite research focusing on Yucatec Maya resource management, understanding of how pre-Hispanic Maya adapted to their heterogeneous and changing environment during the past is still limited. There are few studies that fully understand and explain how contemporary Maya farmers perceive, know, use and manage their landscapes as a whole. By applying the ethnoecological approach, this article reveals the inextricable links between beliefs, knowledge and management of natural resources among the Yucatec Maya. The paper concludes by discussing the highly resilient capacity of Yucatec Maya producers through examining two main mechanisms: their multiple-use strategy and their cross-scale concept of health.

Existe un creciente interés a nivel mundial por adoptar enfoques interdisciplinarios en el estudio de las multifacéticas relaciones entre la sociedad y sus paisajes. La etnoecología, definida en términos generales como el estudio integral de creencias, conocimientos y prácticas de una entidad social dada, ha surgido como un método científico útil para el cabal entendimiento de la apropiación humana de la naturaleza. El pueblo Maya ha habitado la Península de Yucatán durante los últimos 3 mil años, lo cual sugiere que e l campesino Maya ha manejado sus recursos naturales de manera exitosa, preservando naturaleza y cultura a través del tiempo. Sin embargo, existen pocos estudios dedicados a entender y explicar, de manera integrada, cómo el campesino Maya percibe, conoce, usa y maneja sus recursos naturales. Al aplicar el método etnoecológico, este artículo revela las inseparables relaciones que existen entre creencia, conocimiento y práctica entre los Maya yucatecos actuales. El artículo finaliza discutiendo la alta capacidad de resiliencia mostrada por los Maya yucatecos a través de dos mecanismos principales: la estrategia de uso múltiple y su concepto multi-escalar de salud.