Melting Crucibles-Quantitative Assessment of the Erosion of Traditional Knowledge among Tribal Communities of the Western Ghats: A UNESCO Natural Heritage Site in India.

A quantitative study was carried out during July-August 2013 in four locations, covering eight traditional communities within the recently designated UNESCO Natural Heritage Site: the Western Ghats, India. The communities studied were: Kurichiar and Kattunayakar (Wayanad), Cholanaikar and Paniyar (Malappuram), Irula and Kurumba (Palakkad) and Kanikar and Malapandarm (Quilon).


Documented traditional knowledge of the above mentioned communities were compiled exclusively from literature published about 2-3 decades ago. This enabled a simulated expansion of time period of the study. Survey was designed in such a way as to elicit binary mode of response as yes or no, which were tabulated as 1 and 0 to denote presence or absence of the specific traditional knowledge therein, respectively.Statistical analysis of the compiled data has thrown unprecedented result in the form of estimates for erosion or retention of traditional knowledge within the communities. More than establishing beyond doubts the erosion of traditional knowledge; this study has provided quantitative estimates of such losses. The author has developed a model based on age to express the rate of erosion for all communities studied. The model at present is partial and requires detailed studies incorporating other factors that affect the erosion of traditional knowledge.


The highest relative loss traditional knowledge across age groups studied was observed in Kurumba and Kurichiars (>50 %). Kanikar and Kattunayakar communities showed a decline of traditional knowledge to the tune of (40- 45%). Highest absolute loss of traditional knowledge was observed in Malapandarm community. Least erosion of traditional knowledge was observed in Cholanaikars.

The finding compels the author to describe such socio-cultural landscapes scattered across the Western Ghats: A UNESCO Natural Heritage Site as Melting Crucibles. Unless immediate prophylactic measures are taken we soon will have lost our last Stem Cells of sustainability.