Mazatecs in the 21th century

Information digital technologies for the study of biological and cultural diversity in the Sierra Madre Oriental, Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca. México.

Nisao Ogata, Evaristo Isauro Nava Martínez, Miriam Rafael Lucas, Elías García Méndez, Isrrael García Nava, Jumko Ogata.

The mazatec project


A project developed by the Universidad Veracruzana with collaboration of the group «Jchotja én níma” (People of their word, of the heart) and the support of the Red de Patrimonio Biocultural of Conacyt. English translation: Jumko Ogata.


One of the purposes of the Multimedia Laboratory of the Centre of Tropical Investigations (CITRO) of the Universidad Veracruzana consists in developing strategies that allow the co-construction of projects in indigenous contexts through the use of information digital technologies. These tools have become important vehicles, not only in order to document biocultural diversity, traditional knowledge and various expressions of art by indigenous communities, but also as platforms for reflection and discussion to answer questions related to indigenous and national identity, and their role in the rest of the world.

Since the late 90’s, biologic and anthropologic sciences have been favored by the development of laptops, internet, software, databases and the availability of accesible devices for the capture and distribution of images, audio and video in high definition. However, few efforts have been made to use these resources in relation to topics such as biocultural patrimony, the distribution of scientific knowledge, traditional knowledge, indigenous languages and the production of new information, making these available on different access platforms.

Information digital technologies in Latin America

In Latin America, the introduction of information digital technologies for the improvement of education has not had the expected results. According to UNESCO (2016), until 2015, in Latin America more than 22 million devices (such as computers and tablets) had been delivered to students and teachers. Nonetheless, according to the same report, there was no lineal relation between the economic investment made and most schools continued teaching the way they had for the last 30 years. Among the explanations for these results, they found that part of the problem consisted in the fact that many of the initiatives were undertaken as parallel activities, lacking a proper setting, without specifically educational purposes. Another explanation was that most of the initiatives were technocentric, investing more in equipment rather than in a sustained accompaniment by the teachers in order to achieve an efficient appropriation and a gradual use in the classroom.

In Mexico, the situation is not much better. In the case of the «EncycloMedia Project» introduced by Vicente Fox’s government (2000-2006), this became more of a business for those who sold the equipment rather than an effort towards technological inclusion. In this government of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), just in 2014, the federal government invested over 2,500 million pesos (138 million dollars) to acquire over 700 thousand tablets that were to be distributed amongst six states in the country (Notimex August 12th, 2014), without considering that before delivering this equipment it is indispensable to produce adequate content depending on local contexts and circumstances.

Delivering tablets in a political act. (date: 18/04/2016)

Due to the fact that these devices are usually delivered during political events to underprivileged persons, the products acquire an economic connotation, instead of being perceived as a work tool. Consequently, a week after making the announcement about the acquisition and delivery of the equipment, the government published a series of press notes warning pawn shops not to accept the tablets that had just been delivered to the students, preparing themselves for the possibility that many parents might consider pawning them (El Universal, August 19th, 2014).

In the case of indigenous communities we are unaware if there is data that demonstrates how the incorporation of information digital technologies, through the appropriation and empowerment they allow, have managed to document traditional knowledge, biologic and cultural diversity in native languages.

Our strengths

Mexico has a series of values that, if used altogether, may offer us strategies for development in the search for local communities’ wellbeing. During the last thirty years, enough scientific information has been produced and evaluated so that it may be used in the conservation, teaching, broadcasting and rational use of Mexico’s biological and cultural resources, though unfortunately this information rarely arrives at the places where it is needed the most.

Traditional knowledge is an encyclopedia about the use and management of natural resources and ways of appreciation and approximation to our environment, that needs to be documented so that, along with a scientific approach, we may produce new informations that will help solve local, regional and national problems.

In other words, in a country with such high biocultural diversity such as Mexico, the interaction between Science and Traditional Knowledge is a part of the enormous development potential that we have and that, until present times has been scarcely explored.

The interaction between the application of robust scientific methods and the approximations that traditional knowledge offers about the use and management of natural resources represents and exceptional opportunity to invent new ways to solve our problems as a biological species.


The purpose of this project is to introduce the use of information digital technologies to a group of rural teachers, to construct a work group and co-construct a platform for documentation, reflection and diffusion of the Mazatec biocultural diversity in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.

The goal is to contribute to the consolidation of a communication canal to listen, document and diffuse traditional knowledge that local communities want to share, for the local-regional improvement and empowerment of these communities, that until today were excluded, but where paradoxically carry out development models that should be emulated by other regions, considering the problematic of conservation biology and global warming that nowadays face our planet. This project also has the intention of becoming a forum for reflection, to answer questions related to the Mazatec identity such as: What does it mean to be Mazatec in the twenty-first century? Who are the Mazatec as a people? What do the Mazatec want? What are the plans and perspectives of the Mazatec for the near future in this twenty-first century?

The project is developed by Nisao Ogata, researcher and responsible of the Multimedia Laboratory in the Centro de Investigaciones Tropicales (CITRO) at Universidad Veracruzana and the collaboration of the group of rural teachers «Jchotja én níma” (People of their word, of the heart); Evaristo Isauro Nava Martínez, Miriam Rafael Lucas, Isrrael García Nava, Elías García Méndez of Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca; and Jumko Ogata, of the Latin American Studies program at UNAM, and the support of the Red de Patrimonio Biocultural del Conacyt.


El Universal, Martes 19 de agosto, 2014. Pedirán a casas de empeño no aceptar tablets escolares. Nota de Juan Manuel Diego, Villa Hermosa, Tabasco.

Notimex. LA SEP ENTREGARÁ MÁS DE 700,000 TABLETAS A ALUMNOS Y DOCENTES. Martes 12 de agosto, 2014.

Organización de la Naciones Unidas para la Educación, la Ciencia y la Cultura. Unesco Santiago. 2016. Tecnologías digitales al servicio de la calidad educativa. Una propuesta centrada en el aprendizaje para todos.

Study Area

The Project

Preliminary Results