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Darrell Addison Posey
BornMarch 14, 1947 (1947-03-14)
DiedMarch 6, 2001 (2001-03-07) (aged 53)
Oxford, UK
Alma materLouisiana State University
B.A., M.A.
University of Georgia
Ph.D. Anthropology
Known forDefense of Amazonian Indians
and indigenous intellectual
property rights
AwardsUN Global 500 award
Scientific career
InstitutionsMuseu Paraense
Emílio Goeldi
Doctoral advisorMichael D. Olien
Other academic advisorsWilliam G. Haag

Darrell Addison Posey (March 14, 1947 – March 6, 2001) was an American anthropologist and biologist who vitalized the study of traditional knowledge of indigenous and folk populations in Brazil and other countries. He called his approach ethnobiology and combined research with respect for other cultures, especially indigenous intellectual property rights.

An obituary described him as an "anthropologist who gave up scholarly detachment to fight for the rights of native peoples."[1] He never married and was survived by his parents and brother. He died of a brain tumor, at 53 years of age, in Oxford, England, where he made his home after 1992.

Early life

Darrell A. Posey was born on March 14, 1947, son of Henry and Pearl Posey, in rural Henderson, Kentucky. From an early age he was a member of the Anglican Church. Educated at Henderson County High School, he had a biology teacher, Mr. Ned Barra, who encouraged his interest in insects.

University studies

In 1970, Posey was graduated with a B.Sc. in Entomology, by the Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He obtained a M.A. in Anthropology, in 1974, also at the Louisiana State University, with the thesis The Fifth Ward Settlement: A Tri Racial Marginal Group. He obtained a Ph.D. in anthropology, in 1979, at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, with the thesis Ethnoentomology of the Gorotire Kayapó of Central Brazil.

Posey's switch from entomology to anthropology was due to his friendship with anthropology professor William G. Haag at Louisiana State University. This is explained in a memorial by Posey.[2]

Even after his move to anthropology, Posey did not cut his ties with entomology. At the University of Georgia, he was a close associate of entomology professor Murray S. Blum. Years afterward, he continued to research the ethnobiology of insects, a field he termed "ethnoentomology" in his 1979 doctoral thesis.

Kayapó studies

Arriving in Brazil in 1976, Posey made lasting friendships with researchers at the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, in Belém, and the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, in Manaus.

After his graduate studies, Posey returned to Brazil in 1982, as a professor in the Department of Biology at the Federal University of Maranhão in São Luís, then reorganized under the chairmanship of geneticist Dr. Warwick E. Kerr. He mounted an interdisciplinary ethnobiological research project, called the Kayapó Project, that would eventually involve over 30 specialists in fields such as agronomy, botany, entomology, plant genetics, astronomy, soil sciences, human geography, anthropology, and linguistics. To document the extensive traditional biological knowledge of the Kayapó Indians, Posey and collaborators spent months in the field with Kayapó specialists such as chiefs Uté, Toto-i, Kanhunk, and Paulinho Paiakan. Pajés Beptopup and Kwyre-ka also offered their experience. Many conferences with scientific and indigenous project participants served to disseminate project results, especially at Brazilian scientific conclaves.

The Kayapó Project continued when Posey relocated in 1986 to the Goeldi Museum in Belém, Brazil, at the invitation of museum director Dr. Guilherme M. de La Penha. In 1988 he organized the First International Congress of Ethnobiology, in Belém, during which the Kayapó Project and its results were highlighted.

Ethnobiological research

Although the term "ethnobiology" had been used in the past for a different idea, Posey adopted this for his study of indigenous and folk knowledge about plants, animals, and ecosystems. To designate other areas of indigenous and folk knowledge, the term "ethnoscience" can be used in an analogous manner.

In the past, anthropology had been wed to biology in the unholy union of biological determinism, in which Man is treated wholly without culture or the ability to learn. Posey repudiated this view and dared to see indigenous and folk societies as the inheritors of a vast corpus of useful knowledge for the sustainable utilization and management of natural resources. As can be seen in his review of Diamond's best-seller Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies in 1999, Posey would have biological determinism laid to rest. After all, where can one find human groups without culture?

Posey's concept

For ethnobiology to be scientific, testable hypotheses are generated from information offered by indigenous and folk informants. The emic-etic filter has to be respected, and a decoding of traditional knowledge is necessary to bridge the two cultures.

Field research methods

Participant-observation in the field with indigenous and traditional communities was always part of Posey's work plan.

Interviews with informants were always unstructured and conducted according to the generative method, specifically designed not to elicit information offered in support of researchers' perceived biases.

Examples from Posey's work

Do the Kayapó Indians manage their natural resources? Do they plant forest islands in the savanna? Do they recognize eco-zones and know what resources are to be found in each? Is their agriculture sustainable? Their hunting? What about their medicine? Does what they know constitute a science?


In his activism, Posey incurred opposition not only from those who would exploit natural resources belonging to Indians but also from scientists and academics who were callous in their disregard for indigenous intellectual property rights. One Brazilian weekly news magazine, Veja, referred to him as a "gigolo of the Indians" for his defense of Indians' human and civil rights.

Indian lands

Posey's support for indigenous peoples brought him into conflict with the Brazilian government in 1987, when Paiakan and Kube-l, two young Kayapó leaders he was accompanying in Washington, D.C., complained to World Bank officials of a planned hydro-electric dam on the Xingu River that would flood Indian lands. The threat of criminal prosecution from the federal government against Posey and the Kayapó chiefs, for interfering in Brazilian foreign affairs, caused a public outcry both in Brazil and abroad.

In February 1989, Darrell helped organize the "First Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples of the Xingu", the first joint meeting of Amazonian tribes to protest the destruction of the forest, in Altamira, Pará. This event focussed on hydro-electric dams on the Xingu River and caused these ecologically disastrous projects to be cancelled or at least reformulated. In 2008, however, these once-discarded projects are again being proposed by the Brazilian government, with slightly different packaging.

In 1992, Posey was the main organizer of the Earth Parliament, a parallel event at the United Nations' Rio de Janeiro Conference on the Environment (Rio Earth Summit), aimed at valuing indigenous knowledge and rights. The Earth Parliament was a 15-day assembly of indigenous and minority groups held during the 1992 Earth Summit.

Biodiversity conservation

For Posey, indigenous knowledge was a key to the sustainable use of natural biotic resources. major

Indigenous intellectual property rights

Like collective rights to land, Indians and other traditional societies have collective intellectual property rights (IPR) to their knowledge. Posey championed the cause of indigenous and folk intellectual property rights during the last decade of his life.

Bioethics of ethnobiology

Western society has appropriated indigenous and traditional knowledge without recompensation or even recognition. Posey questioned whether scientific research, even of the most disinterested sort, might not lead to the violation of indigenous intellectual property rights or bio-piracy.

Declaration of Belém

During the July 19–24, 1988 International Congress of Ethnobiology, organized by Posey in Belém, the following document was adopted.[3]

Declaration of Belém

Leading anthropologists, biologists, chemists, sociologists and representatives of several indigenous populations met in to discuss common concerns at the First International Congress of Ethnobiology and to found International Society of ethnobiology. Major concerns outlined by conference contributors were the study of the ways that indigenous and rural populations uniquely perceive, utilize, and manage their natural resources and the development of programs that will guarantee the preservation of vital biological and cultural diversity. This declaration was articulated.

As ethnobiologists, we are alarmed that: SINCE



Belém, Brazil, July 1988


Posey was a full researcher ("Pesquisador Titular") for the Brazilian National Council for Science and Technology at the Goeldi Museum, Belém, Brazil. He was Director of the Programme for Traditional Resource Rights of the Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics and Society and a Fellow of Linacre College, at the University of Oxford. He was Founding President of the International Society of Ethnobiology and was President of the Global Coalition for Bio-Cultural Diversity, under whose auspices he founded the Working Group on Traditional Resource Rights which he coordinated. He was the first recipient of the Sierra Club's "Chico Mendes Award for Outstanding Bravery in Defense of the Environment", and in 1993 he received the United Nations Global 500 Award for "Outstanding Achievement in Service to the Environment."

He had few formal students in Brazil or elsewhere, but his impact as a teacher is remembered by many who later became ethnobiologists. He presented many talks in Brazil and other countries, and his work was featured in several films and videos.

The International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE) created the "ISE Darrel Posey Fellowship for Ethnoecology and Traditional Resource Rights" in order to "promote understanding of peoples' complex and dynamic relationship with their environment, and supports indigenous peoples and local communities working to sustainably manage, and security rights to, their environments and resources. The Darrell Posey fellowship for ethnoecology and traditional resource rights was launched in 2004 with a grant from the Christensen Fund, and is administrated by the International Society of Ethnobiology, of which Darrell Posey was a founder.".[4]

The June 2008 11th International Congress of Ethnobiology in Cusco, Peru, explicitly explored the Darrell A. Posey legacy in a session titled "Ethnobiology and Traditional Resource Rights: Darrell Posey's Legacy." This session celebrated Darrell Posey's many contributions and influences in the field of ethnobiology over the past several decades, both direct and indirect.[5]

When Western scientists and other academics listen respectfully and learn at the feet of indigenous and traditional leaders, Posey's legacy will become reality.

Following his death, Posey's executors donated a large collection of photographs and other papers relating to his Kayapó research to the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. In 2017, the family of Posey donated artifacts and archival material belonging to Darrell to the Kentucky Historical Society located in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Films and videos

Selected writings

Books and edited volumes

Papers and book chapters

Book reviews

Further reading

See also


  1. ^ The Times of 31 March 2001 (p. 25)
  2. ^ Darrell A. Posey. 1991(1995). Memories of William G. Haag. Louisiana Archaeology, no. 18.
  3. ^ Text as seen on the Archived 2013-07-02 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "International Society of Ethnobiology". Archived from the original on 2008-03-06. Retrieved 2008-03-13.
  5. ^ 11th International Congress of Ethnobiology Archived 2008-03-23 at the Wayback Machine. Cusco, Peru, 25–30 June 2008. OR 11th International Congress of Ethnobiology Archived 2008-04-11 at the Wayback Machine