Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Being a Researcher Tourist

So far, I have learned that this program is designed to get students to question everything. We question the facts we are given, the methods we use to research, and especially the populations we study. We ask questions because the information is always changing, and as researchers, it is our responsibility to get the most accurate and unbiased information. Since everyone has his or her own ethnobiological lens that they are looking through, obtaining accurate information becomes much less simple. 

From the three days in Kekoldi that we spent with two indigenous Bribri clans, I realized just how complicated getting information could be. The leaders welcomed us into their homes and were extremely forthcoming in explaining specific aspects of their lives. However, because of the touristic nature of our visit, we were unable to delve any deeper into what we were being told. Of course questions could be asked with respect to certain activities, but not the questions that we so had recently been learning to ask. The activities were planned, even rehearsed, and when I broke away from the group I noticed how few actual indigenous people were there. Instead, most were located further from the Usure hut, and were spending their days as “normal”. But how could we know what a normal day even was? Without first spending time and gaining the trust of the population, we were unable to ask substantial questions about their daily life.

For this reason, I had mixed feelings about this visit. By no means are either the program or the leaders of the clans at fault, instead the disconnect I felt indicated that there was a more interesting issue here. How do researchers shed their “tourist” label if they do not have much time? Can this even be done? During this trip I learned about many new plant purposes and about different indigenous traditions, but I think more importantly, I learned that there are always questions to be asked. I just hope I’m always aware enough to recognize them. 

Liz Stratton

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