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   These plant portraits come from the Projek Etnobotani Kinabalu, further described below. Feel free to send good quality slides of seeds, leaves and textures that illustrate a project in which you are involved, or of local ethnobotanists with whom you work. We will try to include them in a future issue of the Handbook.  - GJM  

Textures, from a basket (barait) made by Dusun weavers around Kinabalu Park. The framework of the basket shown in the background of the Viewpoints section is made from Calamus ornatus (Arecaceae), a robust rattan palm which grows in primary dipterocarp forests of Malaysia, Indonesia, Phillipines and Southern Thailand. 

 The baskets are woven with the stems of a weedy species of Lygodium, a climbing fern common in lowland secondary forests. Barait were originally made from Calamus caesius (Arecaceae), but the design and materials are changing as a response to increasing scarcity of this rattan in areas where there are high rates of deforestation and intensive harvesting of the cane. 

    Baskets made from C. ornatus and Lygodium require less labor than those made from C. caesius, and are in demand by tourists who visit the region. Increased marketing of these baskets is now leading to scarcity of C. ornatus in some weaving communities, and to substitution with other rattan species.


A house for mushroom cultivation in Kiau, Malaysia made with Metroxylon sagu thatch
Leaves, from the thatch of a house used for cultivating mushrooms in Kiau, a Dusun community around Kinabalu Park in Sabah, Malaysia. The thatch is made from the leaves of Metroxylon sagu (Arecaceae)

   The palms around Kinabalu Park have been a special focus of the Projek Etnobotani Kinabalu, an ethnobotanical program coordinated by Sabah Parks, the state conservation agency, in collaboration with the Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation (IBEC) of the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), and the WWF-UNESCO-Kew People and Plants Initiative, with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In creating the PEK, these partners proposed to develop activities that contribute to:   

  1. ethnobotanical research, focused on building a team of local Dusun people, park personnel and visiting researchers who study patterns of Dusun classification, management and use of plants; 
  2. conservation of pristine areas, by developing the ability of park personnel to assess the ecological, cultural and economic importance of locally used botanical resources and by strengthening links between the park research staff and Dusun communities; 
  3. environmental education, by providing research and training opportunities for students from Malaysia and other Asian countries and by enriching interpretive programs and exhibits for the more than 200,000 people who visit the park every year; and 
  4. community development, through improving the management of unprotected forests in buffer zones around Kinabalu Park and promoting the viability of Dusun ecological knowledge.   

The project is now being extended to Crocker Range Park, also in Sabah. Contact: Datuk Lamri Ali, Director, Sabah Parks, P.O. Box 10626, 88806 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia; Tel. +60.88.221228, Fax +60.88.221001


Seeds? No, these are pellets of sago, the starchy food produced from the stem pith of Metroxylon sagu and other palms in Southeast Asia and Polynesia. The Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari described how it was made during his visit to Sarawak, Malaysia in 1865:

      ‘The operation of “tindjak,” or washing, is performed by placing the pith in the mat or basket, and treading it steadily with the bare feet while an assistant pours water over it from time to time. Even the pails used for this purpose are constructed from the sago palm. They are conical in shape, and are made from the thin laminar and coriaceous portion of the base of the fronds where they encircle the stem. 

This method of treading the baskets with the feet causes the stuff expressed to be carried off by the water through the meshes of the mat or basket, and to collect in a vessel placed beneath, which is usually a small canoe. Here it settles down, and after the water has been drained off constitutes what the natives call “lamanta.” After it has been dried and reduced to a granular form (pearling) it becomes the sago we all know.’ 

From: Beccari, O. 1986[1904]. Wanderings in the Great Forests of Borneo. Oxford University Press, Singapore. 

    This book, full of descriptions of the natural history and cultures of Malaysia, was reissued as part of the series called Oxford in Asia Hardback Reprints. Contact: Oxford University Press Pte. Ltd., Unit 221, Ubi Avenue 4, Singapore 1440.




Narayan P. Manandhar 

    Narayan P. Manandhar has carried out research on plants used in human and veterinary medicine in various parts of Nepal, including the Chitwan, Dhading, Gorkha, Kabhrepalanchok and Myagdi districts. A recent article on medicinal herbs of Myagdi district reflects his approach and the changing landscape of his native Nepal. He notes: ‘... the use of herbal medicine has declined rapidly along with the depletion of forest. 

   The country has now experienced rapid deforestation with the total forest cover being lost at the rate of 2.1% per year. The younger generation is now attracted to urban places. Only the older people have the knowledge of local and rural medicine. It is of prime importance to document the evidence of herbal medicine that still exists, to learn to maintain the equilibrium between utilization and conservation of these natural plant resources, and to involve the local people in natural resource management.’

From: Manandhar, N.P. 1995. An inventory of some herbal drugs of Myagdi District, Nepal. Economic Botany 49(4):371-379. Contact: N.P. Manandhar, Ethnobotanist, National Herbarium and Plant Laboratories, P.O. Box 3389, Kathmandu, Nepal; Tel. +977.1.223888, Fax +977.1.290549

Andau Pendiling 

    Andau Pendiling, some 60 years old, is from Himbaan, Bundu Tuhan, a community which borders the southern part of Kinabalu Park in Sabah, Malaysia. Many people from Bundu Tuhan and other Dusun communities work in the Park as staff scientists, naturalists and guides.

    Along with his brother, Intang Pendiling, Andau has participated in the Projek Etnobotani Kinabalu, described on the preceding page. Their detailed knowledge of the local names and uses of palms and other plants has been recorded by younger members of their village. One of Andau’s sons, Daim Andau, is collecting plants and recording their uses and names in another community, Nalumad, on the eastern border of the Park. These results will be included in a guidebook produced by the Park, which will include line drawings and ethnobotanical information on selected useful plants. To be published in Bahasa Malaysia, the guidebook will be distributed in local communities and the Park. 

    In the picture on the front cover of the Handbook, Andau is shown collecting damar resin, formerly an important non-timber forest product in Borneo, used as an ingredient in varnishes and as lamp fuel. Around Kinabalu Park, it is used as a fuel and fire starter.



 What is this ... ?

It is Bertholletia excelsa Humb. & Bonpl. (Lecythidaceae), commonly called Brazil nut or Pará nut in English, and nuez de Brasil or castaña in Spanish. Native to the Amazon, it is an important source of income for local people in several Latin American countries. The edible brazil nut of commerce is the oily endosperm of the seed, which is covered with a woody testa. Many seeds are found inside the large woody fruit, which matures over a period of 14 months. Most brazil nuts are collected from wild trees. 

    The illustration is from Killeen, T.J., E. García E. and S.G. Beck. 1993. Guía de Árboles de Bolivia. Quipus, La Paz. This guide to the trees of Bolivia includes more than 100 families, 650 genera and 2700 species of woody plants. Apart from taxonomic and phytogeographic information, it contains data on the local names and uses of many species. It is available in Latin America from Editorial del Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, Casilla 10077 - Correo Central, La Paz, Bolivia; Fax +591.2.797511 or in the United States from the Department of Publications, Missouri Botanical Garden, P.O. Box 299, St. Louis, MO 63166-0299, USA.   


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