Traditional knowledge is defined as Indigenous knowledge and, unless otherwise indicated, refers to the knowledge and practice  of indigenous people and local communities embodying traditional lifestyle relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity [1].

Indigenous knowledge is defined as the local knowledge that is unique to a culture or society. This knowledge is passed from generation to generation, usually by word of mouth and cultural rituals, and has been the basis for agriculture, food preparation, health care, education, conservation and the wide range of other activities that sustain societies in many parts of the world [2].

Ethnobiology is define as the scientific study of dynamic relationship among peoples of various ethnic groups, biota and environments.

  • It is an area of inquiry exploring in different settings of the cultural knowledge of local plants and animals and their use for variety of purposes [3].
  • It include multidisciplinary field: Including representatives from archeology, geography, systematic, population biology, ecology, mathematical biology, cultural anthropology, ethnogeography, pharmacology nutrition, conservation & sustainable development.
  • As an example to describe the definition of ethnobiology, different indigenous group may be using some plant or animal for the same or different purpose;
    • Ginger is used as culinary ingredient in other parts of the world and also commonly used by several ethnics like the Malay, Indian, Chinese to ease flatulence whereas for Orang Sungai ethnic, they use ginger as post partum tonic to rejuvenate the body [4].




  • The diagram above descibe the classification of the subset in Ethnobiology.
  • The term Ethnobotany denotes the knowledge on plants as understood, accepted, used and preserved by an ethnic group, indigenous to a geographical region. It encompasses all studies which concern the mutual relationship between plants and traditional peoples [5].
  • Ethnozoology refers to the traditional knowledge of certain ethnic group about animals and uses of these animals in their culture and daily life. Since ethnobotany is concerns with how plants are useful to people and ethnozoology of animals, these two disciplines share many methodologies and theorical frameworks. Both of them are the subset of Ethnobiology as mention in the diagram above [6].
  • Ethnoentomology is the the studies onhow different ethnics in Malaysia use insects in their daily life. More than 60 species of insects had been recorded useful to various ethnics in Malaysia especially in Sabah, and more than 80 species in Borneo [7].




Updated on: 29 September 2014



1. AIPP Foundation. Proceeding of the Asian Regional Conference on Indigenous Knowledge and Biodiversity; 2003 Sep 30 – Oct 3; Hanoi, Vietnam. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact Foundation; 2004.
2. UNESCO. Indigenous Knowledge & Sustainability. [updated 2010; cited 2014 September 17]. Available from:
3. Cotton C.M. Ethnobotany Pinciples and Application. England: John Wiley and Sons Ltd; 1996.
4. Mashitah Mohd. Yusoff, Julius A.,Maryati Mohamed. Plants Used in the Traditional Healthcare of the Orang Sungai Communities in the Kinabatangan Floodplain  In: Maryati Mohamed, Takano A., Goossens B., Indran, R. Lower Kinabatangan Scientific Expedition 2002. sabah: Universiti Malaysia Sabah; 2003. pp: 121-139
5. C.M. Ethnobotany Pinciples and Application. England: John Wiley and Sons Ltd; 1996.
6. Cotton C.M. Ethnobotany Pinciples and Application. England: John Wiley and Sons Ltd; 1996.
7. Chung A.Y.C. Edible insects and entomophagy in Borneo. Paper presented at UN-FAO Workshop on forest insects as food: Humans bite back. 2008 Feb 19 – 21; Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United nations.  p. 141