Over 40 percent of the world’s 6,000 languages are disappearing at an alarming rate. As language vanishes around the world, we lose a vast amount of cultural heritage, including botanical heritage. The World Oral Literature Project (2013), started by the University of Cambridge and Yale University, beautifully describes the sanctity of cultural transmission through oral literature and traditions:
“For many communities around the world, the transmission of oral literature from one generation to the next lies at the heart of cultural practice. Local languages act as vehicles for the transmission of unique cultural knowledge, but the oral traditions encoded within these languages become threatened when elders die and livelihoods are disrupted. These creative works are increasingly endangered as globalisation and rapid socioeconomic change exert complex pressures on smaller communities, often eroding expressive diversity and transforming culture through assimilation to more dominant ways of life. Of the world’s living languages, currently numbering over 6,000, around half will cease to be spoken by the end of this century.”
This rapid loss of cultural heritage around the world is a driving force behind HAP’s goals. We have developed a specific set of criteria in order to define and locate the “most vulnerable” communities around the world who ask HAP to help them document their traditional medicine heritage. By extensively discussing with community members and leaders about the potential benefits and risks of the documentation process, we form a collaborative relationship with these “vulnerable communities”. The following are the four questions we research before entering into a community:
What is the level of risk of rapid acculturation due to globalization?
Prior to entering a country we must understand and be aware of all laws, regulations and common practices. In addition, HAP members understand that a government’s stance on acculturation could prevent entrance into the country or collaborative work with indigenous communities could be hindered by shifts in cultural dynamics. Finally, HAP is conscience of any other groups that are working with the community and the level of documentation already achieved.
What is the feasibility and access to the community?
The safety of our team is top priority therefore we extensively research each potential community for any foreseeable safety concerns entering into the country as well as reaching the potential community. We evaluate each community based upon level of local interest, community advocates that want to closely work with us and the level of accessibility to each community.
What is the level of sensitivity within each specific community?
Intellectual property and traditional knowledge is a resource that is difficult to protect with current national laws, however we plan to eliminate the possibility of biopiracy by preserving botanical heritage per the community’s request. It is vital that are welcomed into the community from their own desire to document their traditional medicines, and we obtain approval for the project from all community members before we proceed in any documentation methods.
Why is language preservation important to preserving cultural heritage around the world?
Aforementioned, languages around the world are being lost at alarming rates. Most “vulnerable communities” survive their knowledge through oral tradition. Working with other groups, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the World Oral Literature Project, we are better able to pinpoint where the endangered languages are located.