Saturday, May 26, 2001


UH organizes
71-country bridge-building
international summit

By Helen Altonn

More than 1,100 participants from 71 countries will gather here Monday for a five-day summit to "build bridges" with traditional knowledge.

"It's no small event," said Markus Faigle, editor in the University of Hawaii Botany Department and co-organizer of the event with Will McClatchey, UH botany professor.

"For me it symbolizes how we can take traditional culture and knowledge and put it in a framework of the 20th century where we can culturally survive," Faigle said.

McClatchey said the goal is to bring together groups of people who are talking about the same issues yet rarely talk to each other. The idea is to put them in situations where "they have a great deal of parity in discussions," he said.

For more information, visit traditionalknowledge.

Well-known cultural representatives have been invited to speak in a scientific-meeting format, he said. "It puts those leaders into positions where they will be heard, where it is highly dignified yet shows scientists they should be listening to these guys."

At the same time, McClatchey said, people from a number of scientific and conservation groups, instead of speaking in key positions, will step down and speak in sessions where they are not so prominent. "There is a fair amount of role reversal going on in this," he said.

Similar meetings on "Building Bridges with Traditional Knowledge" were held in Florida in 1997, McClatchey said. "The result was formation of a lot of interesting business and scientific collaborations." Cultural groups that had never met found they had a lot of common goals, he said.

A number of people encouraged Hawaii representatives to hold a second meeting, McClatchey said. One was an official of the MacArthur Foundation, which sponsored the first meeting. He had been one of the late UH professor Beatrice Krauss's graduate students.

McClatchey then was a graduate student at the University of Florida. Six months later, he was hired at UH, he said.

He said planners of the Hawaii conference embarked on new territory because it was not faculty, but "a bunch of graduate students who put this together, so we were not hindered by all the rules and perceived ways it had to be done and political alliances we had to satisfy."

Faigle said 25 volunteers have worked three years on the program, which will cover issues ranging from economic botany, ethnobotany and agriculture to education, ethnopharmacology and traditional medicine, politics and sustainable societies.

"We have a very strong Hawaiian component," Faigle said. "I'm really, really proud of it." Hawaiian focus sections will be held every day, he said.

Participants also will include traditional healers and conservationists from Madagascar, Samoa and Zimbabwe. American Indian representatives, scientists, teachers and students.

The program will feature 315 speakers from 50 countries.

Seven to nine concurrent sessions will be held every morning on specific themes, such as traditional oceanic navigation knowledge, bio-diversity and the future of ethno-biological community research, and conservation of heirloom plant knowledge.

Afternoon plenary sessions will focus on traditional knowledge in Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, North and South America, and Europe and the Mediterranean.

International leaders will address questions of culture, education, politics, science and the future in evening presentations. Among the experts will be two winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize, known as the "Nobel Prize for Environmentalists."

Ka Leo O Hawaii
University of Hawaii

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