For more than two decades they worked together to document the traditional knowledge on the catfish of the Colombian Amazon; Luis Angel Trujillo (a fisherman), Confucio Hernandez (an Uitoto indigenous biologist) and Carlos Rodríguez (director of Tropenbos Colombia). The resulting book titled “Piraiba: Ecología ilustrada del gran bagre amazónico” (Piraiba: Illustrated ecology of the great Amazon catfish), has now received the highest award in Colombian sciences of the Foundation Alejandro Ángel Escobar. The award ceremony will take place on 10 October 2018 in Bogotá, Colombia.
For the first time the award will be given to local research and traditional knowledge. It is an important recognition of the extensive knowledge that local communities hold about their environment, which is reflected in the book. It showcases the level of understanding about the anatomy, life cycle, ecological relationships and eating habits of the Piraiba, the largest of the great catfish in the Amazon basin.
The publication clearly shows the contribution of traditional knowledge to science. It demonstrates, for example, that the great catfish feeds on more than 60 species, while scientists have so far only registered 17 species. According to Javier Maldonado (director of the biology department, Javeriana University) this work as well as other initiatives with local communities, contributes to the generation of new knowledge that complements the information and insight generated by academic research.
In order to visualize this traditional knowledge, Confucio Hernandez made ecological illustrations of each species of cat fish species and their prey, under the guidance of Luis Angel. The great level of detail in the illustrations shows the depth of their understanding of the world of these fishes, their habitats and their behavior, as well as their anatomy, physiology and even their body movements. The illustrations also show the prey-predator interactions and their variations across biotypes and seasons.
Carlos Rodriguez, Director of Tropenbos Colombia and co-author says that “this type of illustrated books, with such a high aesthetic level and with the deep knowledge that it contains, is the best way to portray traditional knowledge. It is valuable for the dialogue between traditional and academic knowledge, so much so that fish specialists already highlight it as the best contribution to the knowledge of the catfish.” It is hoped that this display of traditional knowledge and talents will inspire public institutions to open spaces for fishing communities to share their knowledge and take part in decision-making processes regarding fish resources.