Sources on indigenous knowledge systems

Sources on indigenous knowledge systems

Not only should you be doing plenty of reading to build up your understanding of the area of knowledge, but one of the key characteristics of a good TOK essay is that it should have a decent bibliography to prove that you’ve been engaged by your prescribed title, and have gone beyond just flicking through the pages of one of the standard textbooks for TOK.
Being well-read in TOK also massively improves your university application profile. When you apply for a place at university or college, being able to refer to these titles will mark you out as a special candidate, and indicate that you are exactly the kind of person they’ll want. See more of our thoughts on how to make the most of your TOK credentials as you apply to universities here.


Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines Chatwin’s classic book not only provides a fantastic insight on Australian aborigne culture, but it also revolutionized travel writing in general. Chatwin himself was also a remarkable person, and should be known and esteemed by all TOK students and educators!
Jared Diamond, The World Until Yesterday This very readable book looks at the way in which indigenous societies all around the world approach the central challenges of life, from bringing up children to maintaining law and order in society, and forces us to question the assumption that our way of doing things are more sophisticated and effective.
Bruce Parry, Tribe This book accompanies a TV series in which Parry spent time living with 15 different indigenous peoples throughout the world. It provides a good account of the differences and similarities of human societies, and their outlooks on life.
Laurelyn Whitt, Science, Colonialism, and Indigenous Peoples Although this is an academic book, Whitt’s description of what defines indigenous knowledge, and how it differs from the west, is amongst the best you’ll read anywhere. She also investigates the extent to which indigenous societies are under threat, and their intellectual heritages in danger of being destroyed or stolen.


Marie Battiste, The struggle and renaissance of Indigenous knowledge in Eurocentric education in M.Villegas, S.Rak Neugebaeur, and K.R.Venegas (Eds.) Indigenous knowledge and education.
Marie Battiste, You Can’t Be the Doctor If You’re the Disease
Elizabeth Grice, “I don’t know where home is” [on Sabine Kuegler] Sabine Kuegler’s parents were German missionaries, who lived and worked in West Papua in the 1980s. Kuegler therefore grew up amongst the Fayu people, so gained a unique perspective on their life far more profound than any anthropologist or ethnographer. Her autobiography, Dschungelkind (Child of the Jungle), gives an account of her experiences.
Guardian Development Network, “Indigenous diets can help fight modern illnesses, say health experts” The article contrasts the West’s increasingly unhealthy diet with that of indigenous peoples, suggesting that this is one of many things we can learn from traditional societies.
K David Harrison, The tragedy of dying languages Harrison highlights the decline of indigenous languages, and why this matters.
Boris Johnson, The Margaret Thatcher speech Johnson is the mayor of London, and what he has to say on greed provides a perfect example of how Western values are so different from those found in traditional societies.
Jini Reddi, ‘What Colombia’s Kogi people can teach us about the environment’ The wonderful Kogi people in Colombia call themselves the ‘Older Brothers’, and the rest of us ‘The Younger Brothers’, a reflection on our distinctly different levels of understanding when it comes to understanding and protecting the earth.
David Singh, ‘The Wave That Eats People – The Value of Indigenous Knowledge for Disaster Risk Reduction’ Singh’s article demonstrates how indigenous knowledge can help to protect societies against natural disasters.
Who are indigenous peoples? Factsheet This UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues factsheet is an excellent place to start your exploration of this new area of knowledge.

Documentaries and online talks

Wade Davis, Dreams from endangered cultures This is probably the best introduction to indigenous knowledge that you’ll find. Davis is an inspiring speaker, and his knowledge of different cultures around the world is astonishing.
Wade Davis, The worldwide web of belief and ritual In an equally brilliant follow-up talk, Davis builds on his theme of diversity and achievement amongst indigenous peoples, and the challenges they face.
Alan Eredia From the Heart of the World – The Elder Brothers’ Warning This extraordinary documentaries involved the filmmaker being given unprecedented access to one of the most extraordinary cultures in the world. Eredia followed it up in 2010 by helping to produce Aluna, which was largely filmed by the Kogis themselves.


First Peoples Worldwide An organization that funds indigenous development projects.
The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs An NGO supporting indigenous peoples throughout the world
Living Tongues: The Institute for Endangered Languages
The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Cite this page as: Dunn, Michael. Sources on indigenous knowledge systems (14th May 2014). Last accessed: 19th March 2018


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