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University of Cape Town (1994)

Ethnobotany of Namaqualand : the Richtersveld

Archer Fiona M

Titre : Ethnobotany of Namaqualand : the Richtersveld

Auteur : Archer Fiona M

Université de soutenance : University of Cape Town

Grade : Master of Arts (MA) 1994

The primary aim of this ethnobotanical dissertation was to provide a biobehavioural focus for indigenous plant use in the semi-arid areas of one of the six so-called Coloured Rural Reserves (Komaggas, Concordia, Richtersveld, Steinkopf, Leliefontein and Pella) in the north-western Cape (Namaqualand). Although much of the indigenous plant lore has been lost through westernization, the descendants of the Nama-speaking Khoi pastoralists, who are traditionally associated with Namaqualand, still partially rely on indigenous plants for subsistence. Firewood is used daily, medicinal plants are collected regularly and edible plants as well as plants used for household and other activities (such as dyeing of leather) are often used. This project can be seen as a rescue operation to obtain information on the use of indigenous plants before this fast-disappearing knowledge is lost. Richtersveld (and Leliefontein, for comparative and enrichment purposes only) were selected because literary sources confirm the observation that these are the areas where customary practises persist. A biobehavioural approach in terms of human-plant interactions has been applied. The main focus of the dissertation is on the diversity of useful plants and the range of activities associated with the use of the plants. The characteristics of the plants have been examined from an emic as well as etic perspective. The emic perspective was found to be particularly significant in assessing plant foods as well as medicinal plants. Etic perspectives were obtained through nutrient analyses of edible plants and discussions and literary research on medicinal compounds in plants used in health care. It seems that the emic and etic perspectives about plants are not as distinct as was initially thought. Peoples’ perceptions about the plants guide them in their choice of plants but it is clear that some biological characteristics of the plants give rise to many of these choices. It may be possible to develop a system of criteria for different categories of plants which will enable archaeologists to make inferences about human-plant interactions. The dissertation ends by commenting on the archaeological significance of the way in which plants are used. The conclusion is that the archaeological record is a poor reflection of the range of activities associated with plant use ; and a poor reflection of the diversity of plants which are used in subsistence strategies of the pastoralists of Namaqualand.


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