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Savoirs autochtones et biodiversité



En Amérique latine



Mayangna – Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, Nicaragua


Summary: The BOSAWAS Biosphere reserve in north-central Nicaragua is one of the centrepieces of the 'Heart of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor'. The area is renowned for its rich biodiversity and numerous rare or endangered species. Occurring there are some of the last populations in Central America of Giant Anteater, Baird’s Tapir, Central American Spider Monkey, Jaguar, Harpy Eagle and American Crocodile, and among the world’s last populations of Baird's Tapir and Central American Spider Monkey.

This territory is also the home of the indigenous Mayangna, or Sumu, people, who have lived here for centuries.

They have developed an intricate and extensive knowledge of the local flora and fauna and have shaped the biological system through their cultural practices.

Today these interlinked biological and cultural systems are under threat by a rapidly advancing agricultural frontier, increasing contamination of watercourses originating outside the reserve, illegal logging, as well as some trade in endangered animal and plant species. read more...

The LINKS project seeks to ensure that the knowledge possessed by the Mayangna, as well as their unique ecological, social and cultural relationship with the natural environment, are appropriately recognized and fully incorporated into the design and implementation of resource management processes in the BOSAWAS Biosphere Reserve.

As a first step to understanding Mayangna relationships with their natural environment, the animals, plants and other natural entities that Mayangna people recognize were compiled in a book entitled 'Conocimientos tradicionales del pueblo Mayangna sobre la convivencia hombre y naturaleza: Peces y Tortugas'. This project was undertaken in cooperation with the International Center for Tropical Ecology (ICTE) at the University of Missouri Saint Louis (USA) and with support by the Norwegian Embassy in Nicaragua.

After extensive consultation and in agreement with the local Mayangna leadership, the documentation focused initially on fishes and turtles, two important food sources in the reserve. We compiled a photo library of the thirty-two taxa of fish and six turtles that the Mayangna identify. For each of these animals, we documented Mayangna names, knowledge and know how on natural history, harvesting techniques and use, as well as legends and myths, using both one-to-one interviews and interactive assemblies. We also investigated the correspondences between Mayangna and other naming systems, including scientific terms for these taxa, as well as names in the Miskitu language and locally spoken Spanish. This was part of a broader endeavour through which names were collected for 787 plants and animals, organised into nineteen Mayangna categories.

This project was initially carried out by the habitants of the Lakus River, one of the five Mayangna groups in BOSAWAS, under the joint supervision of Nacilio Miguel of Arangdak, Lakus, and Dr. Paule Gros Faculty Associate with ICTE. It later extended to the entire Mayangna community within BOSAWAS. The encyclopedia was launched in its Spanish language version in January 2010 in Paris and in its Mayangna language version in Managua on 29 July 2010.

In 2010, the project entered into a major new phase, during which materials on local knowledge in the Mayangna language will be developed, with a view to introducing them into the school curriculum in BOSAWAS and eventually elsewhere in Nicaragua. Ultimately, it is expected that by bringing recognition to their knowledge and practices, and demonstrating their influential role in natural resource management, the Mayangna people will be conferred an increasingly prominent role in the sustainable development of the region.  For more on the indigenous education component of the Mayangna project, please go here.


Broschure & Posters

Brochure (English & Spanish)




Mayangna Knowledge of the Interdependence of People and Nature: Fish and Turtles

By Paule M Gros and Nacilio Miguel Frithz

The Central American tropical rainforest along the border between Nicaragua and Honduras has been the home of the indigenous Mayangna and Miskito for centuries. Through their livelihoods based on slash and burn agriculture, fishing and hunting, they have both shaped the local ecological system and sheltered it from destruction. Their knowledge about the local flora and fauna is extensive and in-depth. This 450 page book – divided into two volumes - captures in meticulous detail the breadth and depth of indigenous knowledge about the aquatic world. A wide range of information about the 30 fishes and six turtles that frequent Mayangna waterways are presented, weaving together empirical observations on behaviour, habitat, reproduction and migration patterns, with social commentaries on sharing, learning or harvesting, and cosmological reflections on human-animal relations and master spirits. For the Mayangna and UNESCO, the book has two goals: it contributes to the transmission of indigenous knowledge of the natural world to subsequent generations of Mayangna and it demonstrates to the scientific community, and the general public, the unique nature of local knowledgeand the key role that the Mayangna play in sustainable resource use and biodiversity management of the BOSAWAS Biosphere Reserve.

The Spanish version (in 2 volumes) of the book was launched on 29 January 2010 at the UNESCO Conference on Biodiversity Science Policy for the International Year of Biodiversity. The Mayangna version (in 2 volumes) was successfully launched in July 2010 in Managua, Nicaragua.

To order a copy, contact links(at)



Mayangna people try to safeguard their culture

News published on the UNESCO San José website on 30 November 2010 [Spanish only]


Mayangna knowledge deep in the heart of Mesoamerica

A World of Science, Vol. 6, No. 4, October-December 2008 By Paule Gros and Douglas Nakashima


Unesco Encyclopedia highlights the knowledge of the Mayangna community

News published in El Nuevo Diario on 27 November 2010 [Spanish only]


One size does not fit all

A World of Science, Vol. 6, No. 4, October-December 2008 Editorial by Walter Erdelen on the Mayangna people


International Mother Language Day

21 Feb 2012

Revitalizing Mayangna Language and Culture: The importance of Mother Tongue Education in Nicaragua


Reinforcing Transmission of Mayangna Knowledge and Language in the BOSAWAS Biosphere Reserve

Managua, Nicaragua, 24-28 January 2012

The LINKS programme, with support from the Royal Embassy of Norway to Nicaragua, launched the classroom pilot of a set of classroom materials which will incorporate the contents of the UNESCO book, “Mayangna Knowledge of the Interdependence of People and Nature: Fish and Turtles” into the curriculum of Mayangna schools...


Celebrating the indigenous knowledge of the Mayangna people

Book launch - July 2010

The book “Conocimientos del Pueblo Mayangna sobre la Convivencia del Hombre y la Naturaleza” was successfully launched in July 2010 in Managua, Nicaragua. Available in Mayangna and Spanish, the 400-page book in two volumes captures the knowledge, know-how and worldview of the Mayangna people...

Bosawas Biosphere Reserve (in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves: UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme - MAB)

Revitalizing Mayangna Language and Culture A slideshow on the importance of mother tongue education in Nicaragua

UNESCO Green Citizens: Promoting and Transmitting Indigenous Knowledge