Preservation of Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Zimbabwe: Some Ethical Considerations

Preservation of Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Zimbabwe: Some Ethical Considerations

Mass Tapfuma (National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0838-0.ch013


The chapter discusses the ethical considerations that have to be observed in the preservation of indigenous knowledge following observations that there is no documented evidence of efforts in Zimbabwe to protect indigenous knowledge from unethical practices by researchers and companies as they tap and use the knowledge. The chapter brings to fore the importance of ethics with regards to research aimed at tapping and preserving indigenous knowledge systems before the knowledge becomes extinct. Therefore, a review of literature was done in order to provide a conceptual overview of the importance of ethics, and measures that can be taken in the preservation of indigenous knowledge are also explored. The chapter recommends that policies promoting ethical practices in the preservation of indigenous knowledge systems of the indigenous communities, be put in place as a measure against theft of innovations and knowledge and the filing of bad patents.
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The concept of indigenous knowledge (IK) has become a topical issue across the globe, as evidenced by the writings of Mapara (2009), Msuya (2007), Ngulube and Onyancha (2011), Ocholla (2007) and Twarog (2004) just to mention a few. Indigenous knowledge is essential in resolving local problems, to help in producing “more and better food, to maintain healthy lives, to share wealth, to prevent conflict, to manage local affairs, and thus contribute to global solutions” (Mkapa, 2004, p. 1). The term ‘indigenous knowledge’ is alternatively known as indigenous ways of knowing (Nyota & Mapara, 2008, p. 1), traditional or local knowledge. Several competing definitions of IK have been proffered “by innumerable voices related to diverse disciplines and professional interests” (Ngulube & Onyancha, 2011, p.130). Rajasekaran, Martin, and Warren (1994, p. 25) define indigenous knowledge as “the systematic body of knowledge acquired by local people through the accumulation of experiences, informal experiments and intimate understanding of the environment in a given culture”. The knowledge is unique to a particular community and does not transcend beyond defined community boundaries (Ngulube & Onyancha, 2011). Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it does not exist in written form but people are the repositories of this knowledge and are responsible for its transmission from one generation to the next, which makes it difficult to access since they have the prerogative to decide when to transmit it and to whom.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Indigenous Knowledge: Local knowledge that is unique to a particular community or society that has been developed over time.

Ethics: Standards of behavior determined by what is considered by society to be right or wrong.

Protection of Knowledge: Guarding information from extinction.

Knowledge: Implicit information that is not codified but resides in the minds of the knowledge holders.

Preservation of Knowledge: An act of keeping information alive or in existence.

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