May 3, 2014

Owls Want Loving Too. Ethno-ornithology from Zambian schoolchildren

This fascinating piece of ethnoornithological research explores the knowledge and beliefs of and about Owls by secondary and primary school-children in Zambia. I'd love to know if any of the students went on to become biologists or natural history workers later in life.

Bob Gosford — Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

Bob Gosford

Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

A few days ago a colleague over at the Ethnoornithology Research and Study Group uploaded a link to a fascinating piece of ethnoornithological research done in Zambia in the early 1990's by the Zambian Ornithological Society, now known as BirdWatch Zambia. The good people of the ZOS decided that they wanted to better understand how children appreciated - and what they knew about - Owls. As the Foreword to this modest publication notes, Owls:
...are killed by all kinds of people. They are killed by farmers, villagers and townspeople. The ornithologists wanted to know why. They wanted to know other things as well. Do all people have the same fear of owls? Do the people of Northern Province have the same fears as people from Eastern Province? Do people in Chipepo tell the same stories as people from Kasama? How could the ornithologists find answers to all these questions?
The Society figured the best way to hear what children thought about birds was to ask them to write and draw what they knew of this most charismatic family of birds..
School children could help. During the holidays they could go home and ask their elders some questions about owls. The answers could be written down and sent to the Zambian Ornithological Society. What about young children? Young children are not able to write a lot of things. Young children like drawing. They, too, could take part, by sending their drawings to the ornithologists. This is how children from all over Zambia became a part of the Owls Want Loving Survey. One result is this book, written by Secondary School pupils and illustrated by Primary School pupils.

There is a very serious message to this book that treads the boundary between scientific "facts" and traditional knowledge.

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