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Plant Classification and Nomenclature in Ndumba, Papua New Guinea Highlands
Faculty Publications
  • Terence E Hays, Rhode Island College
Document Type
Department (Manual Entry)
Dept. of Anthropology
Date of Original Version

Traditionally, the terms "ethnobotany" and "ethnozoology" have designated little more than the study of plant and animal utilization. In the past two decades, however, the ways in which the components of given biological environments are locally perceived and categorized have received increasing attention. Not only has the study of ethnobiological classification been recognized as essential to a wide variety of ethnographic concerns (cf. Frake 1962; Bulmer 1967), but the discovery of possible universals in folk classification systems promises to enrich our understanding of human cognitive processes as well (Berlin et al. 1973; Brown 1977).

The paucity of comprehensive studies of particular ethnobiological classification systems, however, has meant that generalizations have necessarily been based largely on a few well-described cases, most notably Hanunoo ethnobotany (Conklin 1954), Kalam ethnozoology (Bulmer 1967, 1974) and Tzeltal Maya ethnobotany (Berlin et al. 1974) and ethnozoology (Hunn 1977).

This paper provides an outline of the folk classification of plants in Ndumba, a New Guinea Highlands society. It is intended as a contribution to the ethnographic literature from a region in which ethnobotanical research has concentrated almost exclusively on plant utilization and related issues. Aside from its possible value to regional specialists, this description allows a critical assessment of ethnobiological propsed "universals" especially those by Berlin and his colleagues (Berlin et al. 1973; Berlin 1976). Following a brief sketch of the environment and culture of Ndumba, I will describe the more formal aspects of their view of the plant world following. Berlin's suggested terminology and typologies to facilitate such an assessment. It will be seen that Ndumba plant classification deviates from Berlin's proposed general principles in a few particulars that are, for the most part, probably explainable in terms of the dynamic properties of classification systems.

Citation Information
Terence E Hays. "Plant Classification and Nomenclature in Ndumba, Papua New Guinea Highlands" (1979)
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