The distinction between indigenous and Western/scientific knowledge can present problems for those who believe in the significance of indigenous knowledge for development. This article examines some of the contradictions and ironies involved in accenting the importance of indigenous knowledge, with a view to eliciting a dialogue on the subject. The last part of the article tentatively explores a number of possible ways out of the dilemma.
In the decades since the Second World War, the rhetoric of development has gone through several stages–from its focus on economic growth to growth with equity, to basic needs, to participatory development, to sustainable development. Today indigenous knowledge is seen as pivotal above all in discussions on sustainable resource use and balanced development. This orientation is in stark contrast to the views of many earlier theorists, who saw traditional knowledge and institutions as obstacles to development. The focus on indigenous knowledge clearly heralds a long overdue move.