Old treasures in the new Europe: the future of ethnobiology in the East and Far East

Report from the ISE European Regional Meeting in October 2010 — contributed by Renata Sõukand

This ISE Regional Ethnobiology Workshop, supported by the Cultural Endowment of Estonia, was held in Kallaste tourist farm, Padise, Harjumaa, Estonia, October 15-17th, 2010. The workshop reflected a special emphasis on the ethnobiology of the former communist Eurasia. Research by participating scholars was focused primarily in Eastern Europe and its border areas. The concept for the Workshop was to share an overview of the current ethnobiological research ongoing in the region, and to establish an interdisciplinary research network that may lead to future joint research, publications and projects. The broader purpose was to get to know each other and to find overlapping points in our research that might open more possibilities for future cooperation.

The Workshop was opened by the main initiator of the workshop, Andrea Pieroni (Italy), who said a few words about the purpose of the meeting and presented an overview of ethnobiology in the Central Mediterranean and the Alps. Renata Sõukand (Estonia) talked about her research on patterns of Estonian herbal knowledge, stressing the concept of herbal landscape. Ingvar Svanberg’s (Sweden) presentation concentrated on history and methods in ethnobiology. Valeria Kolosova (Russia) presented her research in the ethnolinguistics and geography-linguistics of Russian dialects, and Daiva Šešuskaite (Lithuania) gave an overview of ethnobiology in Lithuania compared with Europe. The first session was ended by Mare Kõiva (Estonia), introducing zoofolkloristics and her research on human-animal relations.

In the second section, Łukasz Łuczaj (Poland) gave an overview of the use of wild plants in Eastern Europe, with the main emphasis on Poland. Zsolt Molnár’s (Hungary) presentation on ethnogeobotanical studies in Hungary was followed by Anna Varga’s (Hungary) overview of the ethnobiology of used and abandoned wooded pastures in the Carpathian Basins. Aleksandra Ippolitova (Russia) presented her research on ethnobotany and plant lore in Russian herbal manuscripts, and Ülle Sillasoo (Estonia) gave an introductionto the archeobotanical approach to late Medieval religious art.

In the afternoon session Iwona Kołodziejska-Degórska (Poland) introduced her concept of mental herbaria, and Raivo Kalle (Estonia) talked about the landscape and medicinal plants. Martin Eessalu (Estonia) gave some insight into a methodological approach to most of the abstract categories of living nature in Estonian, Andres Kuperjanov (Estonia) presented animal-related Estonian astronymes and Aivar Jürgenson (Estonia) introduced the perception of  mushrooms in Estonian culture.

In the last session Monika Kujawska (Poland) talked about the ethnomedicine of Polish immigrants, Lisa Steker (Russia/Germany) introduced her research on wild plants in Eastern-Siberia and agrobiodiversity in Germany, and Aleksandra Anryka (Poland) gave some insight into the vegetation in rustic gardens. Zbynek Polesny (Czech Republic) introduced the ethnobotanical research of his group on agrobiodiversity use and management in traditional agriculture, and Marianna Teräväinen (Finland) ended the long day of presentations with a talk on ethnoentomology.

The second day of the meeting was dedicated to facilitated brainstorming, clustering, and discussion about ethnobiological topics that are perceived to be the most crucial in Eastern Europe. Finally, we designed a concrete action plan for collaborations: several common papers on cross-cultural comparisons and exchanges between institutes, including an agreement about the subject of and the place for a second Workshop.

Abstracts and presentations of the lectures held at the meeting, as well as photos of the workshop are available on the Workshop website.

The 2nd ISE Regional Eastern-European Workshop will be held in Királyrét, Börzsöny, Hungary, October 13-16 2011.

If interested in participating, please contact: Anna Varga and Zsolt Molnar.  More information will be available by March 2011.

If you wish to join the list-serve for Eastern-European ethnobiologists, contact  Renata Sõukand (Estonian Literary Museum, Tartu, Estonia), the local organizer of the 1st ISE Regional Eastern-European Workshop.