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Ethnomedicine and the dynamics of knowledge transmission and plant conservation in Atiu, Cook Islands

Vougioukalou, Sofia Anthi (2008) Ethnomedicine and the dynamics of knowledge transmission and plant conservation in Atiu, Cook Islands. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94710) (KAR id:94710)

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This thesis examines the link between the traditional medical knowledge and medicinal plant use in Atiu, Cook Islands. Indigenous knowledge systems and medicinal plant populations have been reported to be under threat from international organisations, social and natural scientists alike. An interdisciplinary perspective using anthropological and ethnobotanical methods was used to empirically assess the effect of healing practices on ethnomédical knowledge transmission and medicinal plant conservation.

This study shows that despite socioeconomic changes and the decline of traditional practices in general, traditional medicine in the Cook Islands continues to be used across social and geographical boundaries without posing a threat to medicinal plant populations. This effect is attributed to the adaptive properties of the healing system that maintains some traditional elements such as family ownership of medical recipes and absence of monetary reward for healing while allowing for innovation as demonstrated in new recipes for new illnesses and flexible knowledge transmission patterns. The family ownership of medicinal recipes facilitated the conservation of both ethnomédical knowledge and medicinal plants as specific families operated as custodians of specialised knowledge and associated plant populations. The sense of obligation to the community’s wellbeing and divine guidance that accompanied the practice of traditional medicine contributed to the operation of a moral and spiritual driving force behind this form of cultural and biological preservation.

In short this study shows that engagement with traditional medicine is positively associated with the transmission of ethnomédical knowledge and the conservation of medicinal plants, as Atiuans strive to conserve medicinal plants in order to acquire the elevated social status associated with traditional healing. These findings contribute to the ethnobotanical literature on the conservation of biocultural diversity by highlighting the impact of knowledge transmission on plant management.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94710
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: Q Science > QK Botany
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Natural Sciences > Biosciences
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 25 Nov 2022 12:03 UTC
Last Modified: 25 Nov 2022 12:03 UTC
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