Friday, December 16, 2011

Indigenous Vs. Scientific Soil Classification

The Western scientific approach to soil classification includes many elements of the indigenous methods of the Kayapo indian of Para Brazil (Cooper, Sparovek, Teramoto, & Vidal-Torrado, 2005). The reasons for classification between the two are similar and defining features of the classifications, themselves, are loosely in tune (Cooper, Sparovek, Teramoto, & Vidal-Torrado, 2005).
The major components of the Kapoyo classification are color, texture, moisture and mineral content. Kayapo classification is grouped according to the different combinations of those components (Cooper, Sparovek, Teramoto, & Vidal-Torrado, 2005). Western scientific classification adds to the depth of each classification, taking extra steps to clarify the particular minerals groups, organic material groups and organism groups within the various types of soils (“Soil survey laboratory,” n.d.). For example, folistic epipedon, a surface soil, consists mostly of mossy organic material but frangipan is a term that describes soil that is well drained, the specifications of which may vary (“Soil survey laboratory,” n.d.). By way of the Kayapo classification, minerals and moisture are the focus of texture classification and there either are or are not minerals or moisture within the soil, while organic material is not considered (Cooper, Sparovek, Teramoto, & Vidal-Torrado, 2005). More information is required to determine whether or not the Kayapo explore their soil to the depths with which Western science ventures, as Western scientific classification tends to list a range of color values for each soil classification, which is indicated by a number, unlike the Kayapo (“Soil survey laboratory,” n.d.).
The soil serves a purpose for agriculture here as well as with the Kayapo Indians. In Western culture forests are reduced or destroyed to cultivate land for farming or building because of the soil contained where forests occur naturally (Faiez, 1996). Conservation and living in harmony with the natural world is of the utmost importance to the indigenous people of Para Brazil (“Conservation international,” 2011). In the Amazon, the Kayapo collect and distribute the native soils to apetes or small islands used for reforestation that can be used for increasing biodiversity by attracting game and planting vegetation that can support the people as an integral part of the environment (Faiez, 1996).


(2011). Conservation international. (2011). [0]. Retrieved from

Cooper, M., Sparovek, G., Teramoto, E., & Vidal-Torrado, P. (2005). Learning soil classification with the kayapo indians. Agricultural Science, 64(6), 604-606.

Faiez, S. (1996, July 09). When the local people know best. New Straights Times, p. 2.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service. (n.d.). Soil survey laboratory methods manual (42). Retrieved from website:

Picture Source:

Verswijver, G.. KayapĆ³. N.p., 2002. Web. 16 Dec 2011. .