Peer Learning in Indigenous Mountain Forest Communities in Northern Thailand

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* Master Thesis: Learning in Indigenous Mountain Forest Communities. Case studies in Northern Thailand: White Hmong (Miao), Sheleh Ladhulsi (Lahu), and Pgak'nyau (Karen) Peoples. by Marcus Kit Petz. University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna. Master Thesis for the degree of Mountain Forestry MSc. 2017

URL = http://permalink.obvsg.at/bok/AC13739283


Abstract

"The Hmong, Lahu and Karen people of Thailand are traditionally forest peoples and foragers. Their traditions and country skills have developed in concert with how they modified the landscape around them. Swidden agroforestry is a disappearing practice as their societies transition to more settled agricultural existences. The cultural legacy in how they live, material culture and framing of forest dependency are still found in their approach to learning for natural resource management. Their knowledge, know-how and wisdom can serve both them and the wider world. Once marginalized, they are becoming more integrated into mainstream Thai and global society. They want to share their skills and knowledge with others.

This research uses an exploratory research approach with co-performative witnessing to engage with the context in the area around Chiang Mai, Thailand. Semi-structured interviews, field visits, conversations and analysis of audio-visual material of the indigenous people are used to generate data around the topic of learning within a case study approach. Artistic Research Methods (ARM) were used as a way to engage with research subjects, communities and experts and thus explore the ecology of learning connected with indigenous communities. Data was analysed with the design science methodology of pattern research within the tradition of Christopher Alexander.

Notable was the finding of Hmong Forest Walks, as a foraging practice applicable for ethno-medicinal and herbology usage. Hmong Forest Gardens, learning buildings for natural resource management, and the Thai earth building movement are described. Encountered learning fora, which contain pedagogical approaches transferrable to other locations, were The Karen Lazy Man School and the Lahu Learning Circle."


Contents

Only the parts describing the projects are copied here:

Chapter 4: Results .............................................................................................................................. 82

  • 4.1 Material culture of buildings and cultivated areas .................................................... 83
  1. 4.1.1 The Thai earth building movement .................................................................... 83
  2. 4.1.2 Daveyo Bamboo School in a Lahu community ................................................. 86
  3. 4.1.3 Spirit houses ..................................................................................................... 103
  4. 4.1.4 Nursery and Education Centre ......................................................................... 106
  5. 4.1.5 Home ................................................................................................................. 113
  6. 4.1.6 Home gardens and the garden in the forest ....................................................... 119
  7. 4.1.7 Hmong portable material culture ..................................................................... 126
  • 4.2 Sources of learning .................................................................................................. 129
  1. 4.2.1 Family .............................................................................................................. 129
  2. 4.2.2 Indigenous experts ........................................................................................... 137
  3. 4.2.3 Outside experts who are not indigenous in-group members ............................ 147
  4. 4.2.4 Learning directly from nature .......................................................................... 152
  • 4.3 Learning fora ........................................................................................................... 157
  1. 4.3.1 Learning circle (Lahu) ..................................................................................... 157
  2. 4.3.2 Lazy Man School (Karen) ................................................................................ 158
  3. 4.3.3 From the spirits and religion ............................................................................ 168
  4. 4.3.4 Forest walk (Hmong) ....................................................................................... 173
  5. 4.3.5 Self learning, the self and society as a learning space ..................................... 175
  6. 4.3.6 Social media and devices ................................................................................. 177
  7. 4.3.7 Action-based research: Indigenous Peoples Forest Wiki ................................. 179
  • 4.4 Learning techniques ................................................................................................ 180
  1. 4.4.1 Print media ....................................................................................................... 180
  2. 4.4.2 Practical workshops ......................................................................................... 185
  3. 4.4.3 Learning on the job .......................................................................................... 190
  4. 4.4.4 Plant specimens ................................................................................................ 191
  5. 4.4.5 Religious rituals ............................................................................................... 192
  6. 4.4.6 Peer-to-peer learning ........................................................................................ 193


Chapter 5: Discussion ...................................................................................................................... 194

  • 5.1 What is knowledge, know-how and wisdom? ......................................................... 196
  • 5.2 Practical learning ..................................................................................................... 200
  • 5.3 Community led learning in South East Asia ........................................................... 202
  1. 5.3.1 Learning for children and youth....................................................................... 203
  2. 5.3.2 Life-long learning ............................................................................................ 205
  3. 5.3.3 Learning for natural resource management ..................................................... 207
  • 5.4 Culture specific learning ......................................................................................... 209
  1. 5.4.1 Culture specific learning: Karen, Lahu and Hmong ........................................ 209
  2. 5.4.2 Learning for oral cultures ................................................................................. 212
  3. 5.4.3 The use of modern technology in learning ....................................................... 214
  4. 5.4.4 Global learning resources................................................................................. 215


Excerpts

Major findings of this research

Markus Petz:

"While there are results which add to the knowledge of what exists around learning, some results have a direct practical use now. These are given here in brief and why I think they are significant. This is of course my selective view of the research being purposeful. Hmong garden in the forest (cf. 4.1.6) seem important as they gives a way that people and forest management can interact in a sustainable way. The dynamic of nature protection, excluding people who live in an area, is not a wise one where there is great pressure from a local population to use those resources. It makes an expensive policing requirement, instead of a supportive rôle incumbent on the forest administration. There is a difficulty, in restoring degraded and deforested areas of Thailand and other places. Yet the forest garden brings with it; an intimate knowledge of what is growing, and mechanisms for encouraging useful plant biodiversity.

The Hmong garden in the forest is readily transferable to other locations by using local people who are educated about the plants and plant interactions with each other and the community of users. While it comes from one ethnic group, the Hmong, I believe it could be repurposed for any kind of woods and ethnic group if sufficient knowledge were available, much in the way that the Adopt a Monument scheme has done for different cultures and histories around the historical landscape.

The Hmong forest walk (cf. 4.3.4) is the forum where I encountered the Hmong garden in the forest. Here is a way that following a known trail by an expert connected to the place can make what is there practical and useful. It is a way to keep foraging and herbology traditions alive. As a practical location for doing that, many similar trails and walks happened in other cultures so it seems that the pattern is readily transferable to different settings and groups. The distinctive aspects of being expert led, themed and embedded in a culture allowed both embedded and embodied knowledge to be transferred. This learning aspect makes it more valuable than a trail with signs that do not connect with specific plants at specific locations.

Rather like psychogeographic walks it is immediate in the here and now and makes use of a wide range of different learning styles. It is prescient to some extent with regular walks over the wheel of the year allowing ecological dynamics to be absorbed, which is useful for food, medicine and general health and planning. It would allow an area that is being restored or even a virgin forest to be monitored by amateur naturalists. This citizen science is useful for spotting climate change signs or other things of alarm in threatening local biodiversity. It could be easily linked in with new media applications such as blogging, photojournalism and these aggregated for big data analyses. On an individual level, such curation and linkages can really grow knowledge and share it more widely between participants of such walks, such as through foraging and herbology networks.

The Hmong herbology garden (cf. 4.1.6) is a novel form of garden design, which I think can be adopted in other places. This is mostly of value as an aesthetic choice, but the practical aspect could provide a counter argument to modern civilization being the only answer for medicinal treatments. Traditionally we have kept herbal gardens, but often the ornamental or food aspects without the physic one are considered.

There has been considerable debate over golden rice and its supposed health benefits. Opponents have pointed out that for good nutritional health home gardens, growing a variety of vegetables are better for achieving a balanced diet rather than the magic bullet of the rice, which appears to entrench an over dependence on one food source. So it is with the Hmong herbology garden, which can provide in all communities, not just vulnerable, liminal or indigenous ones, a home apothecary.

Along with the growing of the plants come the herb lore and a care for health and nutrition. There is a large amount of malnutrition, in the world, which is due to ignorance over the food we consume. We consume meals around 5 times a day in many cultures, for example the West, yet many people leave formal schooling of over 10 years unable to make a balanced meal or cook tasty, nutritious food for a group of people. A reconnection via the Hmong herbology garden could help to heal that discontinuity.

The Lazy Man School (cf. 4.3.2) has many features found in other pedagogies, and popular education. It is important, as a practical way of carrying out horizontal education. This wider remit takes a co-learning paradigm, where learning is practical, personally- and community relevant and captures all the important features of good learning practice. The approach can extend to other settings and work inter-generationally, inter-ethnically, which it does already, with learners at different levels and experiences.

The pacing, autodidactic aspect and flexibility allow repurposing and redirecting as needed. Although I think these are great things and a pedagogical pattern could be made about the Lazy Man School, the praxis was weak in some respects. The lack of written curricula makes assessment and validation hard (Bjornavold et al., 2015). Portability of learning and qualifications can be a useful thing and here the informal and non-formal learning has not yet found its way to be accredited and demonstrated to others.

However, just as language-speaking competence can develop without writing, and later language testing can certificate what has been learnt so too can other learning. In many ways what is being learnt are life-skills or rural crafts for a life in that existence and so external validation is not needed; validation is provided by getting a house to live in that does not fall down, or feeding yourself, and that the land or forest are not depleted.

Pattern language research findings, are dependent on accepting pattern languages (cf. 3.2) are a useful addition to our way of understanding the world. If that is so then I think that that the Pattern Language for a learning building for natural resource management (cf. Appx. V) is a useful find. A dedicated building that seems to epitomize the pattern language, from an ethnic perspective, was a major find. I suspect that such a building will be quite rare and protecting or at least recording it is important. That this learning building is functioning means that social patterns and pedagogical patterns can be found around it. More research around this functioning would be useful.

The Daveyo Bamboo School has certain features and individuals that to my mind make it function in a way that contains a dynamism that gyroscopically stabilizes the unstable. It is unstable as it lacks formalized rigid systems, the Lahu people culturally predisposed to voluntarily cooperate and be told what to do, the ideas are flexible and in a state of flux. Yet it functions. Capturing this mutability is hard, but recognizing it is there is a first step, which more research can explore and then apply to other locations and contexts."


Methodological Learnings

Markus Petz:

"Practical tools for pattern language research were created during my writing-up phase. These include a methodology for writing a pattern language, which can be seen in Appx. III; a pattern language template, in Appx. IV; and a property matching sheet template, in Appx. II. While my exploration focused on learning buildings, these tools can be used for others in the wide range of pattern applications. I consider these as valuable contributions to the literature, even if others develop better or different tools. That few people have made or explored or even developed these kind of guides are big limitations on spreading the ideas of patterns.

The pattern tools being developed are mainly focused on applications for computer related purposes, principally software, although some hardware architecture design exists. To make pattern research relevant and accessible to a wider audience this kind of development is needed in other areas like natural resource management, food technology, or social patterns. Similar limitations exist for peer-to-peer or sharing economy approaches. My tools are offered as a contribution to making the more desirable purposes, which enrich our lives and reduce ecological or financial costs, more possible."


More Information

Request copy from author at ravenwyn at gmail dot com though there should be a free to download pdf from the libray at http://permalink.obvsg.at/bok/AC13739283