Fibers from the forest: mestizo, Afro-Ecuadorian and Chachi ethnobotany of piquigua (Heperopsis ecuadorensis, Araceae) and mocora (Astrocaryum standleyanum, Arecaceae) in northwestern Ecuador

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Fadiman, Maria Grace

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This dissertation explores the uses of two tropical rainforest plants by three different people living in one common area. The setting is the Mache-Chindul Ecological Reserve in northwestern Ecuador, an environmentally sensitive area and hot spot of biodiversity. The two plants are Heteropsis ecuadorensis, Araceae, and Astrocaryum standleyanum, Arecaceae, known locally as piquigua and mocora, respectively. They are used principally for their fibers. The three people are the indigenous Chachi, and two ethnically distinct groups of colonists, mestizos and AfroEcuadorians.

Previous studies in ethnobotany have looked mainly at indigenous people’s use of wild plants. This study is significant in that it not only examines the practices of an indigenous people who have lived in the area for centuries, but it compares their activities to those of two different groups of relative newcomers. The issues of culture and conservation versus economics and development are explored in regard to non-timber forest resources. Collection of plant materials as well as their use is investigated, particularly in regard to resource sustainability and the potential for generating income. Plant densities, population structures, growth rates, and edaphic characteristics are examined. Findings of this study challenge some long-held notions about specific peoples’ attitudes toward and use of the environment. Most importantly, this dissertation finds recent interlopers may have a greater conservation ethic than do the indigenous people. Implications are discussed.