Modernising processes have little time or respect for indigenous knowledge practices or ‘ways of knowing’. This is the case even though indigenous practices have enabled people to cope with issues such as healthy eating, illness challenges, as well as extreme weather events, for many years. Such practices offer decision making options, relating to village-based risk avoidance, that enable more sustainable living. This is particularly apt when considering that humanity requires more sustainable development trajectories that embrace complexity, while, at the same time, moving away from top-down technocratic approaches to a more participatory governance, research and political agendas. This, in short, is all about ‘just transitions’ as we seek to move towards sustainable living without compromising people. Within this milieu, scientific knowledge is still limited in securing a deeper understanding on how such change can be achieved. This begs the question that if modern science should embrace indigenous knowledge as a legitimate form of knowledge generation, could it bring about a deeper understanding of sustainable practices and a move towards participatory governance, research and political mechanisms?
Hand-washing and health – An Example from Africa
To put this question into context, elderly Nguni people, for example, describe how, in the past, when a stranger arrived at a village, a complex hand-washing ritual was followed before greetings were exchanged. Such a ritual has relevance to the current COVID-19 crisis where the spread of a virus can be inhibited by careful hand-washing. Interestingly, the tradition held that it was unwise to dry ones hands on fabric after washing. This is because the fabric could further harbour germs. Hands were simply allowed to drip-dry which meant that any germs would simply pass into the soil where natural microbial processes would neutralise any possible pathogens.
Unfortunately, indigenous knowledge practices and indeed natural and cultural heritage have at times been denigrated. In response to this the Southern African Journal of Environmental Education produced a dedicated edition, Volume 35, on this topic (Pesanayi et al., 2019). Pesanayi et al. (2019) describe how education in colonial southern Africa has dominated and marginalised indigenous heritage, cultures and practices. This occurs through assumptions of western modernisation, and, by default, modern scientific practices.
Milpa/forest garden cycle – An Example from Belize
Milpa/forest garden cycle has been a characteristic method of cultivating the land by the Maya people of Central America for thousands of years. This technique involved clearing the jungle with controlled fires to create arable land. The ashy and fertile soil then allowed to plant maize, beans, squash and other crops. After a few years of use, these areas were left for years to regenerate, and forest gardens were maintained to grow various plants and trees for sustenance. Ironically, the modern adaptation of this method – shortened or no fallow slash-and-burn agriculture – by different cultural groups and the transition to industrial agriculture exhausts lands and has grown to cause serious environmental issues. Changing trends in land-use and land-cover threaten forest and wetland ecosystems.
In some areas, rainforests are cleared permanently, after which the land is used till exhaustion, making it necessary to use large amounts of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides (Doyle et al., 2021). As a result, deforestation triggers noticeable changes in the seasonal weather patterns. In other cases, research reveals how the rejection of traditional agricultural methods by the Mopan Maya in Southern Belize, due to socio-economic and political changes, is leading to “a less diverse agricultural and biological landscape (Steinberg, 1998:407)”.
To collect a sample of 6 video clips, each of 3 minute max in length, that illustrate indigenous knowledge practices. We have a number to draw on including one on hand-washing and health.
We have many more we can select from, but it would be nice to collect samples from your (other) parts of the world.
Video Clip Sample: Handwashing and health
Jim Taylor, Former President, The Environmental Education Association of Southern Africa (EEASA).
Ella Erzsébet Békési, Director, Cultural Heritage & Tourism Professional of the Heritage Education Network Belize (HENB).
Dawson Munjeri, Professor, Culture and Heritage Studies at the University of Great Zimbabwe.
PROGRAM & SPEAKERS
1. Lessons of the Past: Nature and Maya traditions at Pachamama, Belize by Rob O’Donoghue
The presentation will explore indigenous knowledge practices as a foundation for
emancipatory learning transactions at the margins of colonial modernity. Examples of
heritage practices are contemplated as transformative learning actions from below, together,
emergent through the re-discovery and recovery of indigenous knowledge practices for
learning-led innovation towards more sustainable lifestyles and livelihoods,
Indigenous agro-ecological and socio-economic practices in southern Africa have enabled
people to historically cope with and adapt to issues such as healthy eating and other
livelihood practices despite a colonial history of exclusion and a continuing socio-cultural
and economic marginalisation in modern settings. An adaptive resilience is evident amongst
many indigenous peoples who have been culturally and socio-economically consigned to the
margins in the modern nation states in southern Africa and elsewhere.
Within this abjection, many subjugated communities, have commonly been confronted with
education as a modernising development process. Here modern education is designed to
empower participants so that they can extract themselves from what are commonly seen as
historically embedded conditions of underdevelopment confronted by many intractable
challenges to future sustainability. Another reading of these sociocultural conditions is that
colonial modernity has produced complex conditions of risk to future sustainability and that
indigenous peoples have an intergenerational cultural capital for learning-led innovation in
relation to many sustainability concerns, for example:
· Handwashing in the face of cholera and COVID-19 (Gaze izandla) – SDG
· Composting organic waste for carbon sequestration (Izala & ukuthatha ihlathi lomthi.)
· Leaf harvesting of green vegetables for nutritional health (imifino & umfuno)
· Home fermented milk and grains for dietary health (Amasi & maRewu)
· Clarifying spring water to collect sweet water (uthuthu & Amanzi mNandi)
A culturally situated and emancipatory learning approach to future sustainability
contemplates ESD as an action learning arena for regenerative just transitioning struggle in
these challenging times of a COVID-19 pandemic and climate change that are currently
playing out on a global scale.
This perspective has emerged within a participatory turn in education that has been slow to
emerge as open, co-engaged learning actions that is no longer constrained by a dialectical
epistemic gulf between Indigenous and Western. What has charaterised many current
approaches to ESD is a retention of an ‘outside mediating hand of modernity’ that has
always known best for The Other as ‘target group’ for an educational intervention. A parallel
‘knowledge practices’ oeuvre of critical realism has resolved much of the latent ambiguity
here to enable a re-visioning of education (ESD) as a realist dialectic of co-engaged learning
for emancipatory transitioning.
Education re-framed as co-engaged innovative work around indigenous knowledge practices
as learning from below, together, is explored to clarify education as realist epistemic
processes of dialectical emancipation. ESD is thus being explored as emergent and
learner-led around indigenous knowledge practices in relation to healthy lifestyle and
sustainable livelihood practices through a Hand-Print CARE approach to learning actions
from below, together.
The above examples illustrate that a cultural historical approach embedded in a critical
realist episteme can, for example, enables us to re-imagine ESD as co-engaged dialectical
learning at the intersection of indigenous knowledge practices and the disciplinary sciences
in school settings of ESD. Illustrative examples of indigenous knowledge practices in
southern African eco-cultural settings are used to explore how education can be reframed as
emancipatory epistemic processes that are staged and engaged by participants within the
sustainability challenges that they face and around those that we all share in this modern
era of transformative learning towards a just recovery from the current pandemic.
2. Lessons of the Past: Nature and Maya traditions at Pachamama, Belize by Felicita Cantun
3. The Living Museum of El Pilar: Archaeology Under the Canopy by Anabel Ford and Cynthia Ellis Topsey
4. My life depends on chocolate and chocolate depends on mother earth and mother earth depends on love by Julio Saqui
5. Livelihood Enhancements in the Maya Golden Landscape by Marvin Vasquez