Tapping into the seasonal nature of indigenous knowledge

Tapping into the seasonal nature of indigenous knowledge

Every African community or ecosystem has embedded knowledge which sustains its development. That knowledge can be called local or indigenous because much of it is generated within the community or ecosystem and has been used over decades (if not centuries) for social cohesion, economic and environmental resilience as well as sorting existing politics. Most African countries have been using their own indigenous knowledge systems to shape knowledge sharing pathways, traditions and cultures for a very long time.

The best way to learn about indigenous fruits is when they are in season

Contrary to imported knowledge systems that have been allowed to drive formal educational curricula in all African countries, indigenous knowledge systems recognized the seasonal nature of knowledge.  For instance, they knew that the best way to learn about indigenous fruits, mushrooms, fish and other sources of food is when these foods are in season. You cannot teach young people about guinea fowl rearing when the guinea fowls are not laying eggs. Knowledge in action is more sustainable than de-contextualizing knowledge put in text books.

Unfortunately, the value of indigenous curricula continues to be suppressed by colonization in all its shapes and sizes. This is visible in how African policy makers have allowed colonial and imported knowledge systems to redefine the boundaries of communities and ecosystems. For example, religion like Christianity has been used to define communities while partisan politics has done the same by redefining communities and ecosystems into different constituencies. Development agencies have also imposed their own criteria for setting community boundaries, with some dividing their areas of operation into clusters. As if that is not enough, governments have adopted colonial ways of dividing ecosystems into natural regions based on imported crops and livestock, not based on indigenous food systems. Thankfully, climate change is forcing a revisit of such classifications towards restorative local economies and place-based solutions.

Toward an indigenous knowledge-informed curriculum

While there is no shortage of approaches on how to cultivate development in African countries, existing approaches have ignored indigenous pathways. Developing an indigenous knowledge curriculum starting from community to tertiary education level is long overdue and can take the following route or steps:

Contextualizing the learning process: This involves harvesting community voices through their participation in framing key issues based on local priorities. For instance, local people can participate in an action-oriented inquiry to answer a question such as how can we integrate indigenous knowledge in the current development trajectory? Currently, all development approaches do not consider indigenous knowledge as a key resource. Instead, development agencies mostly consider physical resources for building infrastructure like dams and irrigation systems as key resources at the expense of intangible resources like indigenous expertise, perspectives and knowledge.

Preserving indigenous knowledge is more important for some African communities than employment creation that happens through the destruction of local natural resources by outsiders. For instance, there have been several cases where the Chinese trying to mine black granite in countries like Zimbabwe have run into conflicts with local communities who would rather have their cultural symbols like local mountains kept intact than exchanging them with employment opportunities brought by the Chinese or other outside investors.  Similar conflicts are simmering in many African countries.

A good inquiry at community level can give birth to indigenous knowledge for development pathways designed to ensure the development sector is guided by indigenous knowledge. Getting the voices of local communities will ensure priorities are not diluted by external informants. That will be a good sign of knowledge decolonization as ultimately the inquiry will lead to an African definition of development based on Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Eventually communities will be able to package knowledge into products and services that benefit the community using indigenous knowledge principles.

Community mapping:  This is can be a powerful way of surfacing valuable information about local features such as mountains, forests, rivers, wetlands, dams and others including what influences the location of villages.  Some community members can even identify places or forests where rain-making ceremonies were conducted before man-made structures like dams were built.

Facilitated community conversation: This is where communities discuss issues like changes that they have seen in rainfall patterns as well as the relationship between food systems and cultural events like rain-making ceremonies over the years.  Other critical discussion themes can include:  farming, fishing, household practices, leadership roles and structures, decision making patterns from household all the way to high leaders, health practices and delivery systems, traditional medicines, labour sharing arrangements as well as local indicators of poverty and socio-economic standing. For instance, how communities define a poor person in the local context.  What good practices have you lost that you want back and which bad practices do you wish away?

Historical time line comparison: This is where communities describe conditions and techniques between different time periods, showing how local practices and processes have shifted. Such details can become part of the baseline for future inquiries.  Community members can be asked to take the conversation back to as far as they remember, for instance, in terms of practices that were used in breeding, farming as well as the evolution of food harvesting methods.

Seasonal pattern mapping: This will help show community activities during different times of the season. From this exercise it becomes possible to see the extent to which community activities are still aligned with indigenous knowledge or they have shifted markedly. For instance, if August-September was traditionally reserved for rain-making and in November marriage ceremonies were traditionally outlawed, how far are these practices still being respected? Communities can actually see how westernization is taking over traditional practices such that there is increasingly very little to show that the communities are still purely African or local. 

Activities done in winter and crops grown during that period can reveal the extent to which indigenous food is no longer occupying local people’s time and knowledge. Communities may be rapidly losing indigenous knowledge systems but have no one to tell. How can they be assisted to integrate indigenous knowledge systems into external knowledge without losing their local identity and associated indigenous knowledge?   The power struggle between indigenous knowledge systems and external knowledge is centred on the struggle for livelihoods. Gold panning is increasing not because people want to destroy their environment but due to lack of livelihood options. How do we help communities balance livelihoods with conserving their natural resources and indigenous knowledge systems? Using imported technologies to build plantations for indigenous fruits can be an example of steps in the right direction.

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

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