The 15th Congress of the International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE), Makerere University, Kampala, 1-7 August 2016
Written by Christine Kabuye

13668905_10153591730521455_167587945218953387_oThe 15th Congress was spearheaded and organized from the Department of Plant Sciences, Microbiology and Biotechnology, College of Natural Sciences, Makerere University. Makerere University had its partners, the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology and Buganda Kingdom in planning the congress activities.

A few people who came early attended the anniversary of the Kabaka’s coronation on 31st July in Kabasanda, 51 km from Kampala.

On the opening day, in calling the congress to order, on August 1st, the Department of Performing Arts and Film, Makerere University sounded the African drums. This was followed by entertainment depicting dances from different parts of Uganda.

The congress was opened by the Right Honourable Ruhakana Rugunda, the Prime Minister of Uganda representing His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the President of the Republic of Uganda. The president’s speech among other things emphasized training for management of biological resources, the connection of indigenous knowledge with development and its inclusion in strategic National plans for improvement of livelihoods.

The opening ceremony was graced by a number of invited guests. Among those who gave welcoming remarks were Hon. Elioda Tumwesigye, Minister of Science and Technology who emphasized application of knowledge in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal in uplifting the population by providing basic human needs; Owek. Walusimbi Ssengendo, Buganda Minister of Culture who emphasized the promoting of culture id development; Dr. Peter Ndemere, Executive Director of the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology who mentioned the importance of indigenous knowledge in working together with science and technology; Prof. John Ssentamu-Ddumba, Vice Chancellor, Makerere University pointed out Makerere’s objectives in providing quality higher education to promote research and innovations and advanced learning and their transformation for excellence and application to societal needs; Prof. Joseph Y.T. Mugisha, Principal of College of Natural Sciences pointed out that Makerere as a leading training institution of higher education in Uganda welcomed promoting joint and interdisciplinary research among which was the ethnobotany program; Mrs. Verna Miller, Vice President, ISE representing Dr. Alain Cuerrier who could not make it to the congress.

The symbolic nature of the congress logo (of a basket in the making) and the tagline ‘Together keeping continuity from our roots’ were explained. The starting base of the basket represents the root, and the lead and the bundle that makes the basket represents the elements that constitute people with their knowledge which is incremental (obtained from passed on knowledge, added on by innovation and experimentation) and used in maintaining livelihoods. It is this knowledge that we must keep and continue building on for the future development.

With the main theme of ‘Ethnobiological Knowledge for Improved Human Wellbeing and Development’, three plenary speakers kicked off the congress sessions on special subjects. Dr. Jones Yosiya Kyazze, formerly of UNESCO and a former Minister of State for Culture in Buganda Kingdom spoke on ‘The Essence of the Baganda Clan System’ demonstrating a strong social system that is both for governance and resource conservation. Dr. Fred Musisi Kamoga, a Lecturer in History and Cultural Heritage of Uganda at Muteesa 1 Royal University expounded on ‘Culture at Cross Roads’ addressing the challenges that come with adoption of foreign cultures. Mr. Amoni Kitooke, Heritage Program Officer with Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda gave a talk and video on ‘Use of Local Languages in Uganda’s Education Systems: Experiences from the Indigenous minority Groups’. This showed the contradictions that exist in the tendency of replacing the indigenous languages that are understood better at the local level by English.

There were six special sessions that run concurrently:

  • Rural Japanese People Seeking Wellbeing and Livelihood through continuity and innovation with their environment
  • Living on the margins, indigenous food systems, biodiversity and food and nutrition
  • Indigeneity in Africa: Securing control of natural resources for food security and wellbeing of marginalized ethnic groups
  • The future of agrobiodiversity in Ethiopia
  • Children’s ethnobiological knowledge
  • Income generation through cultivation and marketing of ethnobotanical plants and products

In addition there was a special evening session on ‘Next steps for achieving food and health and energy sovereignty: a collaborative effort’.

The ordinary sessions that also run concurrently were:

  • Ethnozoology
  • Ethnobiological knowledge transmission and survival of indigenous languages
  • Ethnobiological knowledge and intellectual property issues
  • Culture at cross roads
  • Traditional medicine and modern medicine
  • Traditional medicine, spirituality and the law
  • Indigenous knowledge systems and food security
  • Ethnobiology and economic development
  • Ethnobiological knowledge and natural resources management

While normally sessions were 90 minutes each, the ones for Indigenous Knowledge systems and food security, and Traditional medicine and modern medicine were for 180 minutes each. The longest was Ethnobiological knowledge and natural resources management that had 270 minutes.

All the sessions were comprised of interesting papers some of which will be published in a special book of the Congress Proceedings.

There was a morning of films one of these, ‘Rainmaking: a disappearing practice’ by Dominic Dipio taken in Northern Uganda interestingly showed the science behind traditional practices.

The best poster in the poster session was that of Marcin Andrzej Kotowski of the University of Rzeszow, Poland entitled ‘Traditional knowledge of wild mushroom uses in the historical region of Mazovia, Poland’.

Keeping with the congress theme, there were exhibitions of some medicinal and food plants and their products, and arts and crafts, including demonstration of barkcloth making.

The midweek trips took participants to three destinations: a) the Mabira forest of special conservation interest, Ssezibwa falls of cultural and conservation interest, this trip had a stop-over at Namugongo Martyr’s shrine; b) Entebbe Botanical garden and Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, this trip passed through Bulange, Buganda’s Administrative seat and Parliament, Twekobe, Kabaka’s palace and Kabaka’s man-made lake of 1880s; c) Mpanga forest with rich birdlife, a visit to the Royal drum makers, and the equator; this trip also took participants to Naggalabi, Buddo coronation site for Kabakas of Buganda.

At the closing ceremony a ‘Kampala Statement’ was made regarding Children’s ethnobiological knowledge and education under different settings. It is hoped that this statement is sold to Policy makers in governments and UNESCO.

This statement was worked on by participants from the session on Children’s Ethnobiological Knowledge: Edmond Dounias (IRD-CIFOR, France), Sandrine Gallois (Institut de Ciència I Tecnologia Ambientals, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain and Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France), Velina Ninkova (Institute for Archaeology and Social Anthropology, University of Tromsø, Norway), and Xiaojie Tian (Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies (ASAFAS), Kyoto University, Japan)

As per ISE custom, the Darrell Posey Walking stick that goes from congress to congress was handed over. As there was no representative from Brazil, the 2018 Congress hosts, Owekitiibwa (Honourable) Mahmood Ssekimpi Ssemambo, elder for 2016 Congress handed the Walking stick over to the new ISE President, Mrs. Verna Miller to pass it on to the elder in Brazil.

The congress was closed by Prof. John Ssentamu-Ddumba, Vice Chancellor, Makerere University.

The congress was small as it was attended by 135 participants from 29 countries, representing Asia, the Americas, Europe and Africa. Nevertheless it met the expectation of demonstrating the relevance of ethnobiological knowledge in human wellbeing and development. It reinforced the energies put in education and learning, research and applications of this knowledge for the present and future generations.

The congress took place at a time when there was consideration of changing the ethnobotany program that has been running in Makerere for about 20 years. The congress deliberations resulted in talk of reconsideration on the matter and see how it could even be made stronger.

It is hoped that the networking for ethnobiology, that began at the cocktail on the first day, continuing throughout the week and ending at the congress dinner at the Grand Global Hotel on the last day, will continue to make the spirit and working of Ethnobiology in the future.

As a conclusion, it must be pointed out that organizing this congress was difficult as we did not manage to get a sponsor. In fact we consider it a miracle that it actually happened at all!

The Congress Organizing Committee is thankful to the participants and is especially grateful to the energetic team of volunteers.