An understanding of traditional knowledge and how it differs from non-indigenous knowledge is an important basis for determining how to use it.  Knowing what it contains and how it is acquired and held is fundamental to being able to make good use of the knowledge and to encourage all parties to be aware of the added value its use will bring.

The Director General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Mayor, 1994) defines traditional knowledge:

The indigenous people of the world possess an immense knowledge of their environments, based on centuries of living close to nature.  Living in and from the richness and variety of complex ecosystems, they have an understanding of the properties of plants and animals, the functioning of ecosystems and the techniques for using and managing them that is particular and often detailed.  In rural communities in developing countries, locally occurring species are relied on for many - sometimes all - foods, medicines, fuel, building materials and other products.  Equally, peopleís knowledge and perceptions of the environment, and their relationships with it, are often important elements of cultural identity. 

Most indigenous people have traditional songs, stories, legends, dreams, methods and practices as means of transmitting specific human elements of traditional knowledge.  Sometimes it is preserved in artifacts handed from father to son or mother to daughter.  In indigenous knowledge systems, there is usually no real separation between secular and sacred knowledge and practice - they are one and the same.  In virtually all of these systems, knowledge is transmitted directly from individual to individual.