The role of sacred natural sites (SNS) and related traditional ecological governance systems and their legal recognition to enhance community wellbeing and resilience

Zeleke, Mersha Yilma (2019-03)

Thesis (MCom)--Stellenbosch University, 2020.

Thesis

ENGLISH SUMMARY : Sacred Natural Sites (SNS) are natural areas on land or water bodies having special spiritual and cultural significance for local and indigenous communities that conserve them. They are places where nature and humanity get connected in a deeper and abstractly meaningful way to those who accord reverence to the places. As such, SNS are often considered as expressions of the intricate relationship between nature and humanity and also show the dedicated efforts of traditional belief systems and cultures that have specifically, if not always consciously, cared for nature in various ways. Because of the spirituality and special reverence attached to them, SNS have been well protected over long time periods and have seen low levels of disturbance. Local and indigenous communities have established complex traditional governance and cultural belief systems via norms, myths, taboos, totems and closed seasons to preserve, conserve and manage their SNS. Because of this, many SNS are considered as the world’s oldest conservation areas playing a key role of conserving important biodiversity, ecosystems and habitats. In light of the increasing trend of extinction as a result of the degradation of habitats and ecosystems, SNS are serving as reservoirs of rare plant and animal species. Even though traditional communities conserve SNS primarily for their spiritual and cultural purposes, the areas also play a significant role in the provision of social, economic and ecological functions, which combined with the spiritual and cultural functions, form the important pillars in the construction of stable, peaceful, happy and resilient communities. The important roles of SNS and related traditional ecological governance systems in the conservation of biodiversity, ecosystems and habitats that underlie the wellbeing and resilience to shocks of traditional communities are, however, being undermined by modern conservation approaches that focus on the material value of nature and government land and natural resource management policies dictated by these approaches, mainstream religions and the idea of western civilization. As a result, SNS in many parts of the world are facing threats of human intervention causing degradation of the sites at an alarming rate. Traditional governance and belief systems relating to SNS are being considered by the modern approaches and dominant mainstream religions as backward and demonized. This study is thus intended to add to the body of knowledge that analyses the significance of SNS and related traditional ecological governance and belief systems for efficient management and sustainable conservation of nature thereby contributing to enhancement of the wellbeing and resilience of the traditional communities. Discussions with community members who had close links to SNS as well as participant observation made in the community selected for the study has revealed that SNS were places for deep spiritual connections, sources of water and healings and at the centre of the their social cohesion and stability. Hence there is a need to revisit, particularly in the African context, the role of SNS in the management, preservation and conservation of natural resources needed to address the wellbeing and resilience of traditional communities and accord them the required legal and policy recognition.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Heilige Natuurgebiede (HNG) is liggings hetsy land of water met unieke spirituele en kulturele belang vir die plaaslike en inheemse gemeenskappe wat hierdie gebiede bewaar. Dit is waar die natuur en die mensdom met mekaar verbind word op ‘n wyse wat diep en betekenisvol is vir diegene wat die gebied eerbiedig. HNG word dus dikwels as ‘n voorbeeld voorgehou van die ingewikkelde verhouding tussen die natuur en die mensdom, en dien as bewys van doelgerigte pogings deur tradisionele waardesisteme en kulture wat deurentyd die belang van die natuur op verskillende maniere handhaaf en eerbiedig; alhoewel nie altyd noukeurig nie. HNG word oor die eeue heen en, as gevolg van geestelike eienskappe en eerbied wat getoon word, goed bewaar en selde versteur. Plaaslike en inheemse gemeenskappe behou komplekse kulturele bestuurs- en bewarings- sisteme deur middel van norme, mites, taboos, totems en geslote seisoene ten einde hulle HNG te beskerm, bewaar en bestuur. As gevolg hiervan, word baie HNG getel onder die wereld se oudste bewaringsgebiede, wat sleutelrolle in die bewaring van ekosisteme, biodiversiteit en habitat speel. In lig van ‘n groeiende tendens van spesies uitwissing as gevolg van die afgradering van habitat en ekosisteme, dien HNG as plekke van bewaring en van rare plant en dier spesies. Ten spyte van die feit dat inheemse mense HNG hoofsaaklik vir geestelike en kulturele doeleindes bewaar, speel die gebiede ‘n aparte belangrike rol in die voorsiening van sosiale, ekonomiese en ekologiese funksies. Tesame met hul geestelike en kulturele funksie, bly hulle steun pilare in die daarstelling van stabiele, gelukkige en selfstandige gemeenskappe. Die belangrike rol van HNG en verwante tradisionele bestuursisteme in die bewaring van biodiversiteit, ekosisteme en habitat, wat die welstand en weerstand van tradisionele gemeenskappe ondersteun, word deur sekere moderne bewaringsneigings ondermyn. Hierdie bewarings-tendense plaas klem op die materiële waarde van die natuur en staatsgrond, en ondersteun hulpbronbestuursbeleid gebaseer op en beinvloed deur Westerse beskawing en godsdiens. As gevolg van hierdie tendense, word HNG in vele gedeeltes van die wereld deur menslike indringing bedreig wat lei na die kommerwekkende skending van die terreine. Tradisionele bestuurs- en bewarings- metodes word deur moderne wereldsiening en godsdienste beskou as agterlik en selfs as boos. Die doel van hierdie studie is om die bestaande kennis ten opsigte van die waarde en belang van tradisionele bestuurs- en waarde- sisteme, spesifiek rakend hul bydrae tot doeltreffende bestuur en volbehoubare bewaring van die natuur, wat tot die welvaart en selfstandigheid van tradisonele gemeenskappe lei, te ondersoek. Besprekings met gemeenskapsleiers nouliks betrokke met hul HNG, asook deelnemende waarnemings in die geselekteerde gemeenskappe, lei tot ‘n gevolgtrekking dat HNG diep geestelike bande bewerkstellig, bronne van water bewaar, genesing daarstel, asook sosiale stabiliteit en samehang bevorder. Daar word dus aanbeveel dat die rol van HNG in Afrika, en meer spesifiek met betrekking tot die bestuur, beskerming en bewaring van natuurlike hulpbronne, heroorweeg word, ten einde die welsyn en selfstandigheid van tradisionele gemeenskappe te verbeter, en om vir die terreine regs- en beleids- beskerming te voorsien.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/105620
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