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Ethnobotany in Micronesia – Marianas Variety

DANA Lee Ling, a professor at College of Micronesia-FSM, teaches ethnobotany.

“Back in 1999,” he said, “I was teaching SC 250 Botany at the College of Micronesia-FSM. The course was a four-credit science class with laboratory and a pre-requisite of SC 120 Biology, another four-credit science with laboratory course. With most majors at this two-year institution only needing a single science with lab, the course was effectively an elective. Enrollment was low.”

College of Micronesia-FSM professor Dana Lee Ling, right, talks about Piper ponapense during an ethnobotany field trip. COM-FSM photo

He said Dr. Michael Balick of the New York Botanic Garden and Dr. Roberta Lee, then of the University of Arizona, visited Pohnpei as part of the start-up of a project to document the ethnobotany of Pohnpei.

Dr. Balick and Dr. Lee reached out and contacted Ling, resulting in their leading two of his laboratory classes in the fall term of 1999. In discussions over the low enrollment, Dr. Balick suggested the development of an ethnobotany course, Ling said.

At four-year institutions ethnobotany often has a biology and/or botany pre-requisite. Working with Dr. Balick’s guidance and mentoring, Ling said he designed a course that would not require a pre-requisite and would run as a three-credit, non-laboratory science.

He said the course was designed to combine the natural sciences of botanic diversity (taxonomy and morphology) with the social science of the ways in which local plants are used within the cultures of the Federated States of Micronesia.

Ling said the course was first taught in the spring of 2002 and continues to be offered in the spring and fall terms and has appeared to be popular, with enrollment hitting the course capacity cap each term.

Ling believes that the course is important because it involves interaction with the community in different ways.

The class includes visits to the Island Food Community of Pohnpei to learn about the nutritional benefits of local plants; visits to the Vital Energy Coconut Development Unit to learn about the many commercial uses of coconut oil; and visits to a family in the community to observe and learn about the ceremonial, cultural uses of Piper methysticum, also known as kava or, in Pohnpei, sakau.

“Anecdotally,” Ling said, “the students themselves become much more aware of the role of ethnobotanical knowledge in their culture, and some appear to be stimulated to continue to learn in the years after they leave the college.”

Ling said although the course is not a “laboratory science” course, the class is a mix of time spent out in the field and presentations in the classroom.

According to Ling, “The course owes a debt of thanks to Dr. Michael Balick. Without him there would be no ethnobotany course at the College of Micronesia-FSM. I am continually grateful for the ongoing support the college has shown for the course. Delivering the course requires a team effort that includes the support, among others, of the division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, the division of Social Sciences, the Agriculture and Natural Resources program, and the division of Facilities and Maintenance. The course also enjoys the support of the New York Botanical Garden and the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kauai.”

Source: Google News : http://www.mvariety.com/regional-news/94692-ethnobotany-in-micronesia

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