Sing to Learn: The Role of Songs in the Transmission of Indigenous Knowledge among the Tsimane' of Bolivian Amazonia

Victoria Reyes-García, Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares

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4 Citations (Scopus)


© 2019 BioMed Central Ltd.. All rights reserved. The transmission of Indigenous Knowledge occurs in large part through the encoding of sociocultural performance of everyday activities, local speech, and other oral manifestations, like stories and songs. Here, we examine the role of traditional songs in transmitting Indigenous Knowledge among the Tsimane' Indigenous Peoples of Bolivian Amazonia. We use the corpus of traditional Tsimane' songs compiled by J. Riester in the 1970s and our ethnographic work on the area over the last two decades to examine the content and context of Tsimane' songs in relation to wildlife and hunting. To understand the role of songs in the transmission of ethnobiological knowledge, our analysis pays attention to how traditional Tsimane' songs transmit information related to wildlife traits and behavior, hunting practices and skills, and cultural norms and beliefs around hunting. Fifty-two of the 140 songs compiled by Riester mention wildlife and/or hunting, featuring a total of 27 different wildlife species. All selected songs include either rich descriptions of wildlife characteristics (e.g., sounds and odors) or information about social practices related to hunting (e.g., arrow crafting and gender roles). We also analyze the content of 12 different ritual songs used to dictate human-animal interactions and teach about inappropriate cultural behaviors in relation to wildlife. Many songs we examined reveal conceptualizations of nature-culture relations that are substantially different from Western concepts. Considering that Tsimane' musical traditions are rapidly waning, we conclude by discussing several options for revitalizing traditional music-making among contemporary Indigenous Peoples exposed to rapid sociocultural changes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)460-477
JournalJournal of Ethnobiology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2019


  • biocultural revitalization
  • ethnomusicology
  • shamanism
  • storytelling
  • traditional pedagogy


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