Stocktaking of traditional knowledge (TK) in the Caribbean requires a simultaneous stocktaking of the Peoples of the Caribbean. The biggest concern of the Caribbean is that the definition of Traditional Knowledge as ‘oral knowledge developed over many generations adapted to local culture and environment by a definable cultural group’ (WIPO 2018), may need to be adjusted to include the Caribbean experience, so as not to deny them the benefit sharing promised under the Nagoya Protocol.
The first part of this publication considers the international definitions of traditional knowledge and the responses of different voices from the Caribbean as it tries to interpret this concept for itself. The truth is that the Caribbean has never been settled by any one race or people for any length of time. The peoples in the Caribbean came from many different nations, whether forced or free, for a long period of time, from the Amerindians to present day settlers. These concerns expressed by various voices from the Caribbean are discussed in relation to ABS and the Nagoya Protocol.
Another concern that impinges on the stocktaking of traditional knowledge is intellectual property, that is, who owns the rights to this knowledge? Is it the country from which the Peoples came? Or the country to which they came? Is it only to the Peoples who can still distinguish themselves such as the Maroons? Or the various combinations – Mulattos, Creoles, Garifunda? What about local communities who cannot trace their heritage, do they qualify? Then, are the benefits to be given to the individual, community, or country? Diaspora? These are relevant questions in the context of the Nagoya Protocol. Some countries have considered these questions and tried amending their IP systems accordingly. For many countries, while the questions have been considered they have not answered, or answered only partially.
The next section discusses the identifiable People of the Caribbean and whether they can be considered traditional, indigenous or local. Where such cultural groupings are recognized, such as the Amerindians, Maroons, Garifuna they are described in this document. Surely, this is not an exhaustive list. Indeed, genetic studies are being employed to help determine the level of intermixing that has occurred In the Caribbean, leading to terms such as biracial and triracial. A consideration of such ‘traditional / indigenous peoples’ is against the back-drop that in the Caribbean, independence is relatively recent and many countries are still overseas territories of nations outside of the Caribbean region. The relative impact of these many nations on Caribbean ‘traditional knowledge’ is discussed.
The concern is, that while the authorities try to deal with the situation which is the Caribbean, its medicinal plants and their associated recipes are benefitting those outside the region. Much information about Caribbean biodiversity and associated traditional or folk knowledge resides outside of the region and needs to be repatriated, that is, returned to the region. For these, stocking taking is well-nigh impossible without the cooperation of international agencies, botanical gardens and universities outside of the Caribbean.
This document then considers the Caribbean response to its history and biodiversity. There have arisen many local Caribbean groups working together to identify Peoples, such as the Caribbean Indigenous Legacies Project for the Taino Culture, the Garifunda movement for Black Caribs, and associated traditional/folk knowledge research groups such as TRAMIL. It is through the work of these groups, and the book writers, and the scientists, often with very little funding (as most countries of the Caribbean are Small Island Developing States [SIDS]), that the traditional folk knowledge of the Caribbean is becoming known to the wider society. International groups such as WIPO, GEF, IUCN and others are helping. Without this regional and international help, the task would be even harder.
A desk top and field work study was undertaken to unearth the traditional knowledge of the Caribbean relevant to ABS for microbes, land animals, land plants and marine organisms. Use of plants for folk medicine make up the majority of the Caribbean TK linked to genetic resources. There are two levels of information obtained which links Caribbean biodiversity to TK. One is based on studies of how local communities and distinguishable People are using the biodiversity around them for a living, and specifically how it used for health (to prevent, to cure and to strengthen) as folk medicine. The plants are used mostly as infusions and decoctions for a wide variety of health conditions, interestingly for preventative as well as curative uses, and for wellness. A group of five TRAMIL papers is analysed thus allowing a comparison of the medicinal plant occurrence in these countries. These and similar studies have resulted in the online TRAMIL database.
Another level of information is found in medicinal plant books written by Caribbean authors as they slowly turn a largely oral tradition into a written database of knowledge. The originators of these recipes is largely unknown. Many of these folk medicinal uses (as practised in households throughout the Caribbean and by trained Caribbean herbalists) have been published in books. There are many similarities in plants and recipes between the various islands and mainland countries of the Caribbean. Nearly every country of the Caribbean has now published at least one book on its ethnobotany, or folk medicine as it is called in the Caribbean. This knowledge resides with expert practitioners, such as the Maroon and Garifunda herbalists, but also with the mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers throughout the region. This is one step removed from Traditional knowledge as often times the source of the knowledge is not identified. A study of 21 Caribbean medicinal plant books has been undertaken in terms of medicinal plants used. This study is summarized in here and is expounded on in the bioprospecting document of this set of documents.
The last section in this publication is devoted to three countries: Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, and Guyana. This section starts with a comparison of the medicinal plant families found in the three countries obtained from published books and referred journal articles on this subject. After this section, each country is considered separately in terms of its population density, history, Peoples, any genetic studies, and a summary of its traditional or folk knowledge – mostly in terms of medicinal plants and their associated medicinal use. Where applicable, the status in law and government policy in relation to TK and distinguishable Peoples is highlighted.
References include those used in the document and those pertaining to the distinct Peoples of the Caribbean as well as studies of its medicinal plants which represent local folk use.
Appendix 1 gives more details on the Geographic Project in Puerto Rico, Appendix 2 is a stocktaking of the medicinal plants identified in five TRAMIL studies in Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago. Where the same plant has been identified for its medicinal use in more than one countries, this has been indicated. Appendix 3 highlights a Bourda bush seller from Guyana who can declare a long history of herb use, representing one of the finer examples of Caribbean TK. Appendix 4 is an article by a Guyanese national, a voice from the Caribbean that speaks for all of us, to plead for the unending local intellectual protection of the traditional knowledge of the Caribbean for perpetuity, for the benefit of the Caribbean. Appendix 5 refers to the 21 book study – listing the books used and giving a summary information of the plants listed therein.
This report aims to be comprehensive. However if there are errors of omission, the authors take responsibility and hope that such feedback could be shared with us. If there is any book, literature source or other information on Caribbean biodiversity, traditional knowledge or other topics relevant to this discourse, please let us know. This will enable us to improve this report going forward.