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OMAERE PARK: AN ETHNO-BOTANICAL SCHOOL

by L. Lebrun, C.Piruchkun
Translated from the Spanish by Mary Ellen Fieweger

Home | Contents | Introduction | OMAERE Park and Its Surroundings | Ethno-Botanical Material | The Philosophy of OMAERE Park | The Philosophy of OMAERE Park | Exchanges and Environmental Education | Conclusion | References

Introduction

OMAERE Ethno-Botanical Park is located in Ecuador's Amazon region, ten minutes from the city of Puyo. The 15.6 hectare (38.55 acre) area, designed with local and foreign visitors and students of all level in mind, contains a wide range of rain forest plants and various kinds of forests found localy. Along with plants with spectacular blooms and other decorative features, are those used for different purposes by local residents.

Visitors, guided by indigenous parabiologists, learn about the flora species found along paths and also have an opportunity to observe models of the traditional homes and gardens of the Quichua, Shuar and Huaorani, three of the five ethnic groups whose members reside in the Province. They can see also the home of a Shuar shaman, the traditional shelter of the hunter, a workshop-museum where autochthonous ceramic items are fashioned, and other attractions. The Park is equipped with an information center, lodging, and two classrooms, and in 1998 will have a scientific station.

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OMAERE Park and Its Surroundings

The Park is located within the city limits of Puyo, in a area known as the Paseo TurRstico, on the banks of the Puyo River. Puyo is the capital of the province of Pastaza in the Ecuadorian Amazon. It is situated at 77" 58'W longitude and 01" 27' S latitude, at an altitude of 2950 feet above sea level. Ecologically speaking, the Park is located in the Premontane Rain Forest Zone. Average annual temperatures fluctuate between 18 and 24"C, and average rainfall measures 4.000 to 8.000 mm per year and, thus, the area is one of the wettest region of Ecuador. Soils are of the INSEPTISOLES order, the ADEPTS suborder, within in the HIDRANDEPTS group; these are allophanic soils, silty or silty clay, with a water and humidity retention capacity exceeding 100% (CaZadas, 1983).

The Park is situated, in large part, in the alluvial forest near the Puyo River. It includes a terrace with patches of secondary forest, patches of disturbed primary forest extending over an area of 3.6 hectares (8.9 acres); 1.2 hectares (2.9 acres) is devoted to agroforestry demonstrations.

The primary forest patch is characteristic of the life zone of the region. The tree story consists of palms of the genus Socratea (Arecaceae), and emerging tree genus represented by Ficus (Moraceae), Miconia and Ossaea (Melastomataceae), Psychotria and Palicourea (Rubiaceae), Icshnosiphon (Marantaceae), Aiphaenes and Chamaedorea (Arecaceae). Vegetation on the forest floor is very dense and covered with ferns (Polypodiophytes), (Gesneriaceae) and (Selaginellaceae), while among climbing plants and epiphytes, the dominant species include Plukenetia volubilis (Euphorbiaceae), Pitcairnia (Bromeliaceae), Anthurium, Philodendron (Araceae), Peperomia (Piperaceae), Asplundia (Cyclanthaceae), Pleurothallis, Oncidium, Stelis, Maxillaria (Orchidaceae).(Ceron,C 1996)

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Ethno-Botanical Material

A portion of the Park has been transformed into a botanical garden featuring decorative species (including the Orchidaceae, Heliconiaceae, Bromeliaceae), rare species (for example, the Cyatheaceae) and spectacular species (the giant begonia, Begonia parviflora (Begoniaceae), the strangler ficus, Ficus guianensis (Moraceae), the Duroia hirsuta (Rubiaceae) within whose branches ants live; cauliflower species including the monopodic "wild cacao", Herrania balaensis (Sterculiaceae), and others).

In addition, because it is also an ethno-botanical garden, the Park includes a wide variety of plants used by the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The staff of OMAERE is committed both to recording information on them and to protecting that information. At present time, focus is on three areas which include plants used by members of the Shuar, Quichua and Huaorani ethnic groups, as well as on the creation of two demonstration gardens containing medicinal plants. Little by little, Park 's staff is collecting groups of plants and is arranging these on the basis of the way they are used by members of indigenous groups. Some of these provide dye, while others supply poison or fibers, or are used in rituals and the creation of craft items for example.

Finally, the Park offers a large collection of ethnographic material, including models of autochthonous homes built by indigenous architects, as well as extensive collections of traditional artifacts. Publications and videos will complement the Park's ethnografic work.

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The Philosophy of OMAERE Park

Undoubtedly, an ethno-botanical park in the Amazon represents a powerful tool for botanists, ethnographers, ecologists and above all local residents. The objetive of the Park staff is to promote the conservation, ex situ and in situ of plants from the region and to contribute through environmental education programs for citizens of Ecuador in general and residents of the region in particular. To this end, the Park has been designed, in a systematic fashion, to be both attractive and educational.

All Park projects are undertaken by botanists, anthropologists education specialits and indigenous consultants. The goal of OMAERE Park is to train indigenous botanists and anthropologists to carry on the work that needs to be done.

As an impresive body of traditional knowledge exists in this part of the Amazon, the OMAERE Foundation, an ecuadorian non-governmental institution based in Puyo and Quito, with responsibility for the Park project, is committed to assuring that all information is properly gathered and stored, and that the fact that this material belongs to the ethnic groups from whose members it comes is universally recognized. This, we believe, is an ethnical and professional responsibility of the highest order and assures that the members of these groups have the right to use the information for their own purposes and in their own ways. In order to fulfill this obligation, the Park staff is designing a special data base sistem and working out agreements with indigenous organizations.

The staff of OMAERE Park, along with the Bilingual Education System of the Province, is also committed to assuring that this ethno-botanical knowledge remains alive among the communities from which it originated, in spite of the acculaturation processes present throughout the area.

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Exchanges and Environmental Education

There is a growing demand for participatory education programs, especially from school children in Puyo whose teaching staffs bring children to the Park for classes and lab activities and from the communities living in the Province of Pastaza and Morona Santiago. To meet this need, Park staff has programmed activities for the coming three years (1997-99). These include adding trails and activities designed for environmental education (in Spanish and native languages), and organizing seminars with local institutions and communities whose members are interested in participatory courses which offer environmental information and practice in sustainable forest management.

Conclusion

Conservation involves the preservation of species ex situ and in situ, as well as the development of an appreciation of the value inherent in local traditional knowledge related to natural resources. This appreciation can only come about if there exists an appropriate philosphy of life and work ethics. Research on and activities related to conservation are relatively new phenomena in the Western world, but this is not the case for members of indigenous groups who have been involved in these activities through the ages in an environment in which conservation has always been synonymous with survival (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1983:290). Today, considering the heavy pressures on native groups and their environment, conservation is an urgent task that cannot be postponed, a task that implies collective an integrated efforts.

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References



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