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From WIPO to Vale do Ribeira and Back

Gabriela Balvedi Pimentel

Chapter IV: Conversations between empirical contexts – understandings of traditional knowledge

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1As pointed out earlier, in this work I am looking at connections and disconnections between what is being discussed at WIPO and how traditional communities conceptualize their knowledge in Vale do Ribeira. Therefore, now I will turn to the analysis of what is meant by traditional knowledge in these two sites. In this chapter, I will focus on the points of articulation between the different narratives, looking at what is understood as composing traditional knowledge in both sites. Here I am mainly looking for answers to the second part of my research question, in which I search for points of articulation around the concept of indigenous knowledge.

2In this sense, in this chapter I proceed with something closer to a comparison between two fields, since narratives around the meaning of knowledge in different places, one could argue, are closer to something like two similar conceptual units. The way the subject was normally treated in each of the fields, however, was rather different. In Vale do Ribeira, answers to the questions of what quilombola or caiçara knowledge means were usually preceded by laughter and small moments of discomfort – defining what knowledge means felt like a very unnatural act. In the context of WIPO, however, the answers were normally much more direct. Even if interlocutors highlighted the hardship of finding a definition for indigenous knowledge, they agreed on the need to do so. This has surely affected answers and reactions, as the participants of the IGC usually had their definitions for knowledge ready, while in Vale do Ribeira these came out during conversations, through the use of examples and anecdotes.

1. Traditional knowledge at the IGC and at Vale do Ribeira: which discourses?

  • 1 This approach was proposed by the NGO representative, during our interview.

3Defining what knowledge means, however, is in itself a difficult task. Knowledge is not an easy subject to discuss and neither is it an easy concept to grasp. One of my interlocutors1 proposed that to find the meaning of knowledge in general, and of indigenous knowledge more specifically, one should do something similar to what Foucault did to power in “The Subject and Power” (1982): instead of trying to define power, Foucault looked at the expression of power. We should look at knowledge in a similar way, my interlocutor suggested. I have decided to take this proposition seriously and use it to identify which connections and disconnections exist when we look at the idea of traditional knowledge in both fields.

4Indeed, during my fieldwork at Vale do Ribeira, it was much easier to grasp what people meant by traditional knowledges by looking at the practices that are understood as components of their knowledge system. As such, a helpful tactic was to identify both how knowledge is transmitted and how it is performed. In this sense, I looked at the characteristics attributed to what quilombolas and caiçaras identified as their knowledge, instead of at a fixed definition of what traditional knowledge means.

5At WIPO, it was easier to look at a clear definition of what traditional knowledge means as this is one of the main subjects of discussion at the IGC. Nevertheless, several different positions are presented and sometimes people do not agree entirely on a definition, but do agree on some elements. Therefore, at WIPO, looking at characteristics attributed to traditional knowledge was also helpful to better analyze different positionings and to trace connections and disconnections around the characteristics attributed to traditional knowledge. In the end, it is also through the discussion of what constitutes traditional knowledge that the different positions are presented.

6To identify the common and divergent characteristics evoked by my interlocutors, I conducted sixteen interviews with representatives of both fields. I then analyzed the characteristics evoked by my interlocutors through open coding (Emerson 2011), using the software NVivo, and identified patterns (Huberman and Miles 1994) in their narratives. I have clustered these patterns in several themes, which gave birth to the subsections below. The questions I asked and the issues I paid attention to in Vale do Ribeira have undoubtfully been informed by my participation at the IGC and, in interviews with interlocutors linked to WIPO and during observations at IGC 39, by my fieldwork at Vale do Ribeira.

7The fact that I had already attended two IGC sessions before going to Vale do Ribeira certainly influenced not only the terms through which I was framing my questions but also issues to which I have paid attention. In this sense, I was very much interested in understanding how knowledge was transmitted in Vale do Ribeira, if the people there applied any temporal criteria to the transmission of their knowledge, as well as whether they also proceeded with a division of types of knowledge between cultural expression and traditional knowledge per se. On the other hand, after my fieldwork in Vale do Ribeira, the collective character of indigenous knowledge and the act of learning through experience had acquired a very relevant role for me, as these issues were often highlighted in Vale. Therefore, during IGC 39 I certainly paid even more attention to these questions.

8The process of coding was carried out after the conclusion of these two fieldwork periods and therefore was informed by these two perspectives taken together. My analytical and methodological frameworks informed the identification of patterns and choice of terminology for the categories.

9In the following section, I will present the items that were evoked as components of traditional knowledge and reference to which discourses these characteristics pertain. This will help us understand how the discussions at the IGC approach or drift away from the reality of quilombolas and caiçaras at Vale do Ribeira.

1.1 Intergenerational transmission of knowledge

  • 2 In fact, Ulisses used the word saber. Saber in its use as a noun in Portuguese, can be translated a (...)

10In all the interviews in Vale do Ribeira, the intergenerational character of knowledge transmission was highlighted. Both quilombolas and caiçaras mentioned that they have learned what they know from their parents. For Denis, caiçara from Barra do Ribeira, “you need to go with your dad to do a canoe, to plant in the field, to learn it”. Aurelio, from quilombo São Pedro, affirmed quilombola knowledge is “a culture that passes from father to son”: “it is cultural, it is traditional”. Along these lines, Ulisses, quilombola and legal advisor for CONAQ, said that “the knowledge2 of how to manipulate a plant, how to do the right dose, knowledge about plant roots, this is passed from generation to generation”. For Orlando, from quilombo Porto Velho, quilombola knowledge is “the African heritage passed from father to son”.

11In all these interview excerpts, we see the evocation of the intergenerational character of knowledge transmission, usually among kin. The intergenerational character of traditional knowledge transmission was also evoked in two Indigenous Panels, at IGC 38 (by a representative of Tanzanian pastoralists, and by an Aymara representative) and IGC 39 (by a Kankana-ey Igorot representative and by a Pastos people representative). It was highlighted that the transmission may or may not be among consecutive generations.

12In the last revised version of draft articles on the protection of traditional knowledge on IGC 39 (Rev. 2 TK IGC 39), transmission “from generation to generation” is present in the so-called “eligibility criteria” section, which determines what type of knowledge should be protected. This item appears in both alternative texts to the article, but with a significant change:

  1. In one of the alternatives, it is followed by the expression “whether consecutively or not”. As mentioned in the paragraphs above, this is the position defended by indigenous representatives at the forum;

  2. In the second alternative, the expression is followed by “whether consecutively or not for a term not less than fifty years or five generations”.

13This second alternative represents what is conventionally called at the IGC the “temporal criterion”, the object of my next point.

1.2 A temporal criterion

  • 3 Delegate of Japan on IGC 37.

14The addition of a temporal criterion to define what traditional knowledge is has been proposed by some delegations at the IGC, namely those of the USA, Japan, Italy and the EU. For these delegations, “the term ‘traditional’ should be clarified to guarantee predictability”.3 In this sense, the temporal criterion is presented as a way to guarantee legal certainty.

  • 4 Fieldnotes taken on plenary, IGC 37.
  • 5 Fieldnotes taken on plenary, IGC 39.
  • 6 Fieldnotes taken on Indigenous Panel, IGC 39.

15The temporal criterion has been criticized by several IGC participants, including the Indigenous Caucus, the delegations of Nigeria, Niger, Philippines, South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, Uganda, Colombia, Bolivia, Iran as well as the African Group, LMCs and GRULAC. The IGC Chair, Ian Goss, asked the proposing delegations to reconsider and “lift above a narrow understanding of this issue”4 as “indigenous peoples do not have the same linear view of time”.5 In this same sense, the representative from the Pastos people affirmed that their time is circular and not linear.6

  • 7 Fieldnotes taken on plenary, IGC 38.
  • 8 Fieldnotes taken on plenary, IGC 37.

16The delegate of Ghana emphasized “traditional does not mean old”7 and the delegate of Niger affirmed “50 years coming back is a very weird point. It is a matter of method of creation, not of duration, a dynamic knowledge. Trying to impose the classic proprietary system on it, this does not apply to TK”.8 Other participants highlighted the incongruence of this criterion in regard to other international instruments that deal with indigenous peoples’ rights.

17In none of the interviews undertaken at Vale do Ribeira was a temporal criterion evoked. One could, however, trace a parallel between the attempt to insert a temporal criterion on the definition of traditional knowledge and a discussion that gained momentum in Brazil in the past few years regarding the application of a temporal criterion to limit indigenous peoples’ rights to land (ISA 2017).

1.3 Knowledge as dynamic and evolving

  • 9 Kankana-ey Igorot representative during Indigenous Panel, IGC 39.

18In opposition to the temporal criterion, Indigenous Caucus members and delegates of the member states that oppose the idea, as well as the IGC Chair, argue that traditional knowledge is dynamic and evolving. Traditional does not refer to a static character of the knowledge, but in fact to a knowledge that is “part of an indigenous knowledge system”, being “created, maintained, developed and governed by indigenous knowledge”.9

19These same ideas appeared at Vale do Ribeira. In an informal conversation, Claudia emphasized that quilombolas are not stuck in the past. She affirmed that to be close to the traditional, to their ancestors’ practices, has nothing to do with having stopped at one point in time. Although it was always emphasized that their knowledge comes from their ancestors and its transmission happens through several generations, it has never been said that it stopped in time. In fact, new ways of sharing knowledge have also emerged in recent years. An example is the “Traditional Seeds and Seedlings Exchange Fair of the Quilombola Communities of Vale do Ribeira”. The fair, which has happened annually since 2007, is a place for quilombola communities from Vale do Ribeira to exchange traditional seeds among themselves (ISA 2018).

1.4 Orality

  • 10 Ulisses, during interview.
  • 11 Fernanda, during interview.

20The oral character of the transmission and maintenance of traditional knowledge was highlighted throughout interviews at Vale do Ribeira as well as through informal conversations. “The dialogue, the conversation” are important for the transmission of traditional knowledge10 and are “very much linked to the memory of the group”.11 Quilombolas from Ivaporunduva and Pedro Cubas also pointed to this characteristic in informal conversations.

21As Fernanda explained, only recently have some community members like herself started to make efforts to produce written accounts of their practices. This is happening in partnership with some researchers, who propose to write articles in co-authorship with community members. Through these practices, they hope “this data is seen as legit information about the community”.

22In WIPO discussions, orality has not received a central position as a characteristic of traditional knowledge. In the Rev. 2 document of IGC 39, it is only mentioned as a subitem in the article about the production of databases for the defensive protection of traditional knowledge. The article states that both written and oral information about traditional knowledge should be contemplated by databases.

23The oral characteristic highlighted by quilombolas and caiçaras at Vale do Ribeira is deeply linked to the intergenerational character as well as to the characteristic that will be pointed out in the next section, as the transmission of knowledge normally happens during participation in daily practices.

1.5 “Learning by doing”

24Claudia, her mom, Neire and I were sitting at the kitchen of Claudia’s house and having an informal conversation. They asked me why I decided to go to Vale do Ribeira and asked me to explain a bit about my research. They laughed when I said I wanted to understand what quilombola knowledge is. Claudia’s mom, Mirana, then said: “knowledge is vivência emphasis added”. Vivência is a word in Portuguese that can be a synonym for experience, a fact or situation through which one has passed and from which knowledge derives. It can also mean ways of living (Michaelis 2019).

25Vivência was also evoked by Neire, who affirmed there is a difference between telling someone about a recipe for a certain medicine and the person experiencing it, seeing how it is done in practice. “(…) you need to learn the knowledge there [the place where the knowledge in question was being put into practice] to understand how it works. This, for us, is knowledge”.

  • 12 Here again, Fernanda used the word saber.

26This view appeared in many other conversations, although sometimes through the use of different words. Francisco said, “they learn through practice”. Denis said, “you need to accompany someone, to learn this knowledge, you do not learn it at university, you cannot learn it in school. You need to go with your parents”. To this Fernanda added, “it is the knowledge12 from the experience, right?”

27From these interviews, we can understand that in the context of quilombola and caiçara communities at Vale do Ribeira, traditional knowledge is acquired and passed on through experiences that are shared in the context of the daily practices of a specific community. This characteristic was not highlighted in WIPO. This has a deep relation with my next point.

1.6 Knowledge as collective production: developed and maintained in a community setting

28Traditional knowledge is collective and cannot be held by an individual alone. My interlocutors at Vale do Ribeira highlighted this at many points, explicitly or otherwise. Denis, for example, explained that one should be careful about transmitting caiçara knowledge to non-caiçaras due to its collective character. He affirmed that “this knowledge is not mine alone, it is of all, I would transmit a knowledge that is of the community”, it “is a heritage of the community and that sometimes can even be shared among different segments of traditional communities”.

  • 13 More details on this case will be provided in Chapter V, Section 1.1.

29For Orlando, quilombola communities at Vale do Ribeira “share the same knowledge system”. This is why, for example, he could not accept the idea of progressing with an agreement with Natura13 without having a discussion with other quilombola communities that share the same knowledge. “We cannot live in a collective and discuss alone”, he stated.

  • 14 This will be further discussed in the next chapter.
  • 15 Kankana-ey Igorot representative during Indigenous Panel, IGC 39.

30In the context of the IGC, the delegate of a developing country affirmed that “an important element of both traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions are their collective character”. During Indigenous Panels throughout IGC 37 to 39, this characteristic was also used in these presentations to justify why any right related to indigenous knowledge should be collective:14 “created, maintained, developed and governed in a collective context by indigenous people”.15

  • 16 Declaration made in plenary, IGC 37.

31Although the collective dimension of traditional knowledge was evoked by several participants at the IGC, it was questioned by others. The French delegate recalled that they “only recognize individual rights, not collective rights”.16

1.7 Knowledge as linked to identity

32This section highlights the idea that underlies the two other sections above (“Learning by doing” and “Knowledge as collective production”), making it more evident. I have decided to insert it as a separate element because the expressions “learning by doing” or “learning through practice” did not appear in the IGC, but somewhat similar ideas were evoked in the forum.

  • 17 NGO representative during interview.

33Indigenous Caucus representatives mentioned several times the deep linkage between traditional knowledge and indigenous and local peoples’ cultural identity. The link between traditional knowledge and the actor that develops and perform it was highlighted.17 Along these lines, traditional knowledge is all the knowledge produced, reproduced and transmitted inside a traditional or indigenous community.

34This direct link to identity has also been made by quilombolas and caiçaras at Vale in more direct terms. The traditional community identity, either quilombola or caiçara, was directly linked to their specific knowledges and practices. During the CONAQ state meeting, it was stressed that quilombolas need to know their origins and how these are deeply connected with their knowledge and practices: “I am a quilombola. I know how to plant and harvest – everything that a quilombola community knows how to do, it is in our roots”. In the same line, Fernanda, when talking about non-caiçaras that use the adjective “caiçara” to attract tourists to their restaurants on the coast said: “for me, this is also a misappropriation of a knowledge, of an identity”. When talking about what it means to be a caiçara, Fernanda related it to the ways they harvest, fish and build houses.

1.8 Specific processes of knowledge creation, connected to ways of living and viewing the world

35At WIPO, representatives of the Indigenous Caucus have often emphasized that indigenous peoples may have ways of knowledge production that differ from the methods in non-indigenous contexts. For example, they mentioned that knowledge may arrive in the form of dreams. During IGC 37, a representative of the Indigenous Caucus stated that what they want to protect is “the manner the knowledge arrives on a living culture, the process of being guided to and receiving the knowledge”. In this sense, they have stressed that there exists a difference in the way they perceive the world compared to non-indigenous cultures.

36Although in Vale do Ribeira it was argued that quilombolas and caiçaras have a different relationship with the world, holding a special relationship with their territories as well as particular links of solidarity among them, there was no mention to a specific way of receiving knowledge. Nevertheless, as it has already been described above, specific ways of knowledge transmission through generations were highlighted.

1.9 Knowledge as part of a knowledge system

37The idea that traditional knowledges are a part of a complex knowledge system is a characteristic that appears in opposition to the division between traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and traditional knowledge related to genetic resources proposed by WIPO.

  • 18 Fernanda, during interview.

38In several conversations at Vale do Ribeira, the interconnection between different knowledges was stressed. A good example of this is fandango: the festivities are deeply linked to daily practices and fandango masters not only master the technique of playing traditional songs but also build their own instruments, knowing exactly which wood to use.18 In the case of the quilombola communities, a holistic character appears in the accounts of Vale do Ribeira’s Quilombola Agricole System: “if the quilombola culture was a house, their agricultural system would be the structure of the house”; “it is a system, one thing depends on the other to exist in time” (ISA 2016). Vale do Ribeira’s quilombolas share not only ways of planting and harvesting, but also ways of artisanal production of instruments for the benefit of manioc and other plants, and a collective organization of work. The traditional parties, dances and songs that happen after a mutirão also only take place in this context.

  • 19 Davi Yanomami is a shaman from the Yanomami tribe and became internationally known for his fight ag (...)

39The same discourse appeared in the context of WIPO. When telling me about the courses on intellectual property for indigenous peoples she conducted in the Amazon, the indigenous representative said that in one of the courses, a well-known indigenous leader19 affirmed:

The non-indigenous is very smart, they write a lot of books, they create an entire system divided into boxes. Then they take our songs and they put it in the copyright box. They take our medicine and transform it into a patent. They take our drawings and they put it as industrial design. But it is all one ritual! They do not understand that our knowledge is integral and has to be integrally protected.

  • 20 Plenary IGC 37.

40The indigenous representative added: “It is not a square knowledge, you cannot chop it and put in their boxes, don’t they understand? Their system is not adequate to accommodate the greatness of our knowledge!” The Nigerian delegate also expressed discomfort with this division, arguing that traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions cannot be divided.20

41These declarations suggest that instead of talking about three different categories of knowledge in traditional communities, namely traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and traditional knowledge associated to genetic resources, it might be more accurate to talk about a knowledge system, where different knowledge expressions are interconnected.

42Considering the existence of negotiations on three separate texts at WIPO’s IGC, such an understanding is clearly not shared by all members of the forum. When interviewing the delegate of a developing country I confronted him with this issue, asking if it was indeed possible to make this division while some indigenous peoples and traditional communities’ representatives have affirmed it was not. He answered me with the example of a Coca-Cola bottle, which in itself unites different types of intellectual property: industrial design, brand, copyrights. For him, although it might be challenging, it is not impossible to find answers to such questions in intellectual property law.

43The division of traditional knowledge systems into three different categories seems to be an effort of applying an intellectual property law system’s rationale to the reality of indigenous peoples and traditional communities, but it does not necessarily correspond to their experience.

1.10 Knowledge and solidarity

44José evoked solidarity as a relevant characteristic of the transmission of traditional knowledge. As he explained, people never charge to teach something, they do it as an expression of charity: “what we learn we should also transmit to others”. He affirmed that all the traditional medicine already produced by him was done “na amizade (‘in friendship’), this traditional medicine has never been used for commerce, it is used for serving”, “the solidarity quality of people stands above all”. He compared how this makes life in the neighborhood different from life in other places: “nowadays we need to pay for everything. Here we go to the neighbor, to someone in our neighborhood, we eat, we sleep two or three days, we do not spend anything. All is done in friendship emphasis added. We give value to this type of life”.

45Although solidarity was mentioned by none of my other interlocutors as a characteristic of knowledge transmission, I experienced some situations in which these solidarity links were very vivid. Throughout my fieldwork, when I was accompanying Neire, it was very common that we would just arrive at a place and see if we could eat there, use the facilities (e.g. Wi-Fi, phone, a table) or even stay for a night. While I often felt uncomfortable in such situations, not only Neire but also the people helping us not only explained to me that there was no problem but also emphasized that they would normally not even consider it as a problem: “This is just the way things go around here”, “that’s the way we are”, were phrases I heard several times in these situations. In conversations with quilombolas that hold knowledge about the production of medicine or on benzimento, there was never mention of expectations of returns for “rendering of this service” or sharing of knowledge.

  • 21 Brazilian delegate at IGC 39.

46While there was no mention of an element of solidarity in knowledge transmission at WIPO’s IGC, it was recalled by the Indigenous Caucus in a plenary intervention at IGC 39 that indigenous peoples and local communities do not necessarily look for a monetary compensation for their knowledge.21

1.11 Knowledge as a tool for resistance

47During the two-day São Paulo state-level meeting of CONAQ, the climate was of general concern around the new policies announced by the newly elected Brazilian president. Quilombolas are afraid that the new measures undertaken by the government will make it even more difficult for them to have their lands titled and will mean the withdrawal of rights that were already recognized.

48In this sense, they deem it relevant to think of tools for resistance. During the conversations and presentations that took place over these two days, the preservation of the communities’ cultural heritage and the exercise of their traditional knowledge was often evoked as a relevant tool for resistance. To oppose the efforts of homogenization of the territories undertaken by agribusiness, through the spread of monoculture plantation, quilombolas leaders reminded community members of the importance of continuing to plant through their traditional practices. The recognition of Vale do Ribeira’s Quilombolas Agricultural System as Brazilian cultural heritage was mentioned as an important step in this direction, a relevant tool for resistance.

49The transmission of knowledge to new generations was also highlighted as one of

50quilombola’s main challenges and an essential element for preserving their identity and culture, which was linked directly to the possibility of permanence in the territory. During our interview, Aurelio mentioned that in quilombo São Pedro:

  • 22 The Brazilian federal agency for the National Artistic and Historic Heritage.
  • 23 University of São Paulo.

since 1825 we have this culture. It never “fell”. Just around the 80s that it was almost over in all quilombola communities at Vale do Ribeira. Because of the decadence of the government, of all the environmental issues, that were imposed over the communities, it made us lose many seeds. But then we managed to rescue it in this way, that it is a traditional knowledge (…) Now that we have the document from IPHAN,22 documents made by USP,23 which say our practices of work do not harm the environment, now we are confident that things will be better.

51It was also interesting to see that the “political knowledge” acquired by quilombolas in the past decades, through their political organization around their identity, was highlighted by some as a knowledge that should be guaranteed to be transmitted. This demonstrates that, slowly, a more overarching understanding of what quilombola knowledge means is appearing – it would not only encompass knowledge related to daily practices, such as harvesting knowledge, but also the knowledge of political processes and strategies.

52The idea that the recognition of their knowledges as traditional knowledge leads to protection and revitalization was also expressed in a declaration made by the Colombian delegate at an informal session at IGC 39. Recognition of traditional knowledge as a tool for resistance, however, is an idea that has not been evoked at this forum.

2. Discussion

53Throughout this chapter, I have presented the characteristics of traditional knowledge that have been evoked in interviews and observations at WIPO and Vale do Ribeira. Some of them were referenced at both sites. At WIPO and Vale, several interlocutors understood traditional knowledge as a knowledge that is: (i) transmitted intergenerationally; (ii) dynamic and evolving; (iii) created and maintained in a community setting; (iv) connected to specific identities, as it is created and maintained by indigenous peoples and local communities; (v) a part of a knowledge system; and (vi) based in solidarity.

54These characteristics were evoked by quilombolas and caiçaras in Vale do Ribeira, as well as by representatives of the Indigenous Caucus at WIPO, highlighting the importance of the participation of indigenous peoples in the discussion. Even if they do not effectively get to vote, the presence of indigenous peoples and local communities’ representatives at WIPO is relevant as it guarantees the representation of a discourse more aligned with the realities of indigenous peoples and local communities’ perspectives.

55These people stress the link between indigenous knowledges and indigeneity, placing the collective and contextual dimensions as key to defining this body of knowledge. In this sense, indigenous knowledges are not something that exists in a void but are deeply linked to the characterization of some groups as indigenous. The characterization of a body of knowledge as indigenous does not depend, thus, on essential elements, but on the groups that produce and maintain it. It is relational.

56Interestingly, some of these characteristics were also evoked and supported by developing countries’ delegates. Especially the fact that indigenous knowledge is dynamic and evolving, instead of characterized by its existence for a certain time frame (fifty years or five generations), has been advocated by a significant number of these countries. The other characteristics, although having been stressed by some delegates, did not attract the same level of support. This points to a certain level of articulation between the discourses of indigenous peoples’ representatives and developing countries’ delegates at the IGC. This point will be further developed in the next chapter.

57The temporal criterion, on the other hand, was only considered as a characteristic of traditional knowledge at WIPO. It was proposed and supported by industrialized countries, namely the USA, Japan, Italy and the EU. As described in Chapter III, these are also the countries that do not want a binding instrument and that use procedural strategies to delay the process. A temporal criterion is much more in line with what Hodgson (2011, 37) has called an essentialist approach to indigeneity, rather than a relational approach. It assumes that indigeneity is more related to a temporality criterion, opposing tradition and modernity, than to the centrality of experiences.

58The idea of a temporal criterion disregards possibilities of interaction between western and traditional knowledge, as it evokes ideas of isolation and permanence in time to characterize indigenous knowledge. The strong argumentation for a temporal criterion, which goes against most anthropological production on the issue (Agrawal 1995; Bayart 1996; M.C. da Cunha 2009; Dove 2000; Hodgson 2011; Lewis and Kenrick 2004; Li 2000; Pelican 2009), may impede achieving an agreement, since this is a non-negotiable point for developing countries and indigenous peoples alike.

59This criterion is also in direct contrast to the characteristics that were only evoked at Vale do Ribeira, namely (i) learning by doing; (ii) orality; and (iii) knowledge as a tool for resistance. On the one hand, these elements highlight the role of experience and presence in community life to explain the transmission of knowledge considered traditional, much more in consonance with a relational idea of indigeneity (Hodgson 2011, 37).

60On the other hand, they point to the possibilities of articulation of traditional knowledge as a tool for resisting dispossession. The recognition of traditional knowledge as intangible heritage is understood by Vale do Ribeira’s quilombolas as a key tool for resisting the criminalization of their agricultural practices by the state. In this sense, the articulation of the idea of traditional knowledge gains relevance as a tool for permanence in the territory and as a counterargument to the criminalization of traditional communities’ practices.

61Furthermore, having their knowledge recognized as traditional is also the condition for indigenous peoples and local communities to ground their participation at the IGC. Thus, traditional knowledge works as a means not only to articulate different groups around the same issue but to justify the participation of indigenous peoples and local communities’ representatives in fora where decisions about their futures are being taken – places where they were not welcomed before.

62Along these lines, the life-cycle of the concept of indigenous knowledge (Dove 2000) does not stop at being a theoretical tool to argue that intellectual productions that do not conform to what has conventionally been called “scientific knowledge” are knowledge as well. It also does not stop at demonstrating the “hackneyed dichotomy” of indigenous knowledge as an example of a dividing practice (Dove 2000). In fact, as it is enunciated in the discourses of indigenous peoples and local communities, “indigenous knowledge” acquires another facet: it becomes the tool that allows for some specific articulations and the occupation of certain spaces in legal and policy discussions.

63Through the articulation of the concept of indigenous knowledge, indigenous peoples and local communities can enter a forum of discussion at WIPO. Furthermore, through the articulation of this concept, Vale do Ribeira’s quilombolas can continue to practice their agricultural techniques, oppose the criminalization of their traditional practices and add another argument to ground their permanence in their territory.


1 This approach was proposed by the NGO representative, during our interview.

2 In fact, Ulisses used the word saber. Saber in its use as a noun in Portuguese, can be translated as knowledge in English. But the Portuguese word conhecimento is also translatable as knowledge, even though conhecimento and saber have similar but different meanings. Saber is normally used to name a knowledge which is not necessarily backed by scientific proof. It could be translated to French as savoir. Conhecimento on the other hand, is the equivalent to the French word connaissance, and can be explained as the understanding of a phenomenon through reason and/or experience. In Portuguese, one can talk about conhecimento científico (connaissance scientifique; scientific knowledge) and of saber tradicional (savoir traditionnel; traditional knowledge).

3 Delegate of Japan on IGC 37.

4 Fieldnotes taken on plenary, IGC 37.

5 Fieldnotes taken on plenary, IGC 39.

6 Fieldnotes taken on Indigenous Panel, IGC 39.

7 Fieldnotes taken on plenary, IGC 38.

8 Fieldnotes taken on plenary, IGC 37.

9 Kankana-ey Igorot representative during Indigenous Panel, IGC 39.

10 Ulisses, during interview.

11 Fernanda, during interview.

12 Here again, Fernanda used the word saber.

13 More details on this case will be provided in Chapter V, Section 1.1.

14 This will be further discussed in the next chapter.

15 Kankana-ey Igorot representative during Indigenous Panel, IGC 39.

16 Declaration made in plenary, IGC 37.

17 NGO representative during interview.

18 Fernanda, during interview.

19 Davi Yanomami is a shaman from the Yanomami tribe and became internationally known for his fight against the genocide of his people and for Yanomami’s right to land. He recently published a book “The Falling Sky”, in partnership with Bruce Albert (Branford 2015).

20 Plenary IGC 37.

21 Brazilian delegate at IGC 39.

22 The Brazilian federal agency for the National Artistic and Historic Heritage.

23 University of São Paulo.


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