Loss, Damage and Lessons from the Past: a Conversation on Biocultural and Linguistic Landscapes

14 December 2022, 11:00 – 12:30.

Cross-disciplinary hybrid delivery event.
Location: University of St Andrews, St Salvators‘ Quad, School 5.
Virtual format: Microsoft Teams.

In a world increasingly affected by climate change, maintaining biodiversity relies on enhanced and targeted conservation efforts, in coordination with robust adaptation and innovation support. This is the core message from the first collaborative workshop between the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2021. In November 2022, indigenous voices, perspectives and strategies played an increasingly prominent role in COP27 discussions on the climate crisis and biodiversity conversation, with loss and damage continuing as a central theme.

The direction of these major debates and negotiations shows that there is momentum to deepen our collective understandings of traditional local knowledge systems and indigenous approaches to environmental management. While visions for a more sustainable future include innovative ‘smart’ technologies, recent decades have also seen the revitalisation of traditional infrastructures and approaches based on ancestral, local knowledge in many contexts across the globe. Cross-disciplinary conversations about loss and damage are urgently needed, as are conversations about protection, risk and revitalisation. Ongoing discussions about protecting diversity will benefit from a focus that goes beyond questions of environmental management, to the broader knowledge systems underpinning our ways of understanding and communicating with each other and the world around us. STACEES and the Working Group on Alternative Sustainabilities (WG AS, University of Bonn) are delighted to co-host two talks on this topic:


‘Biocultural Heritage in Llanos de Moxos, Bolivia’

Dr Carla Jaimes Betancourt (Department of Anthropology of the Americas, University of Bonn)

The Llanos de Moxos in Bolivia is one of the most extensive savannas in South America and is home to incredible linguistic and ethnic diversity. Over two millennia, this landscape has been modified on an unprecedented scale, and archaeological evidence has demonstrated the presence of monumental earthworks built for ritual, habitation, and agricultural functions. The Llanos de Moxos is home to 22 protected areas, 18 indigenous territories, and 3 Ramsar sites. Due to its location and extent, this region is considered vital to maintaining the overall ecological health of the entire Amazon. Archaeology can contribute significantly to the conservation of one of the wealthiest biocultural landscapes in the Amazon basin. The history of natural resource management is critical to understanding how the inhabitants of this region created, adapted, and conserved this biocultural landscape and how those lessons from the past can inspire us for the present.

‘The human–nature relationship in Southern Arabia’ 

Prof Janet Watson, Said Baquir and Abdullah al-Mahri (Centre for Endangered Languages, Cultures and Ecosystems, University of Leeds)

‘The losses of the natural world are our loss, their silence silences something within the human mind.’ Jay Griffiths 

In this talk, we examine the effects of erosion of the traditional human–nature on local language, taking as a case study Dhofar in Southern Oman, home to a family of endangered Modern South Arabian languages. Since the 1970s, Dhofar has experienced some of the most rapid socio-economic changes in the world. We ask what effect these changes have had on the language–nature relationship, suggesting that the decoupling of the human–nature relationship as a result of social and economic progress is a significant factor in language attrition. We begin by examining the dynamic biocultural situation in Dhofar. We examine causes and indications of language and ecosystem erosion. Returning back in time, we consider traditional measurement terms, terms which rely on the language–nature relationship in the region: weight, size of livestock herds, verbs of movement, time expressed by the position of the sun and the depth of darkness, and dating through narratives around key climatic events. Finally, we point to language revitalization attempts currently being conducted in Dhofar and maintain that only with active community involvement will such attempts have hope of success.  

Speaker information

Biocultural Heritage in Llanos de Moxos, Bolivia

Carla Jaimes Betancourt is a professor of cultural heritage at the Department of Anthropology of the Americas. Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, Germany and co-director of the BASA Museum (Bonn Americas Collection). Her research focuses on the southwestern Amazon’s complex societies, expansion and ethnogenesis in the South American lowlands, notions of heritage in the Llanos de Moxos, and ethnological/archaeological collections from South America in European museums.

She was a guest professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Quito – Ecuador (2013), the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (2015), and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú in Lima (2018).

She is currently leading the project “Heritage and territoriality: Past, present, and future perceptions among the Tacana, T’simane, and Waiwai” she is part of the “Grupo de Trabajo para los Llanos de Moxos” and Co-Investigator of the project “Human-Environment Relations in the Pre-Columbian Amazon (HERCA).” She is the author of books and several articles in journals and books on Amazonian archaeology.

The human–nature relationship in Southern Arabia

Janet C.E. Watson holds the Leadership Chair for Language@Leeds at the University of Leeds. She is co-director of the Centre for Endangered Languages, Cultures and Ecosystems (CELCE) and a Fellow of the British Academy. Her research interests lie in Modern South Arabian and Yemeni Arabic dialects, with particular focus on theoretical phonological and morphological approaches. Her key works include Phonology and Morphology of ArabicThe Structure of Mehri and Təghamk Āfyət: A course in Mehri of Dhofar (with Abdullah al-Mahri et al). Janet can be contacted at [email protected].

Abdullah al-Mahri is a speaker of Mehri from the village of Rabkut in Dhofar. He has been researching Mehri since 2012, and worked on the Documentation and Ethnolinguistic Analysis of Modern South Arabian project from 2013. He first started working with Janet Watson in 2010. He has presented at several international conferences both in person and on-line, is co-author of several articles and two books on Mehri. Together with Janet Watson and Domenyk Eades, he authored the first children’s book in Mehri, Selim and his shadow.

Since 2013, Said Baquir has worked on the Documentation and Ethnolinguistic Analysis of Modern South Arabian project and is a member of the Centre for Endangered Languages, Cultures and Ecosystems at the University of Leeds. His family come from two Modern South Arabian language communities and he is fluent in both Hobyot and Shehret. He has a deep curiosity about his cultural heritage and has presented a number of times on cultural practices at international conferences.

The event is kindly supported by the Bonn Alliance for Sustainability Research.

STACEES Loss Damage and Lessons from the Past poster 2022

‘Loss, Damage and Lessons from the Past: a Conversation on Biocultural and Linguistic Landscapes’ video on YouTube

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