TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 18:00-19:00 UTC
Language: English

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 practice 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 cultivable land. The ashy and fertile soil is then ready to plant maize, beans, squash, from a basketful of 100 other polyculture crops. After a few years of use, these areas strategically regenerated, creating forest gardens maintained to grow perennial plants and trees to supply all the needs of everyday life. Ironically, the modern perception of this method – shifting slash-and-burn agriculture – does not recognize the cycle and the importance of the annual and perennial components.  The push to transition to industrial monoculture agriculture exhausts lands and has grown to cause serious environmental issues. Changing trends in land use and land cover threaten upland and wetland forest ecosystems.

When forests are cleared permanently and the land is used with petrochemical inputs to stave off exhaustion, noticeable changes in the weather patterns occur. The rejection of traditional agricultural methods leads to a depauperate agricultural and biological landscape.

Video Clips
To collect a sample of 6 video clips, each of 3 minutes max in length, that illustrate indigenous knowledge practices. An example is this one on hand-washing and health:
Video Clip Sample: Handwashing and health
We have many more we can select from, but it would be nice to collect examples from other parts of the world.

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.


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.

Rob O’Donoghue is Professor Emeritus at the Environmental Learning Research Centre
(ELRC), Rhodes University. In his research in environment and sustainability education, he
has given close attention to indigenous knowledge practices in learning actions within
post-colonial curriculum and community contexts. Recent work with critical realism has
been centred on transformative social learning and expanding the scope of evaluation in
ESD. His most recent work on ethics-led transformative learning has been an ESD Expert-Net
initiative on Handprint-CARE. This was undertaken within the ELRC T-Learning work with the
ISSC and in collaboration with colleagues in Mexico, Germany, India, Norway, Malaysia and

2. Lessons of the Past: Nature and Maya traditions at Pachamama, Belize by Felicita Cantun

Biography: I am Felicita Cantun a Maya Yucatec living in the community of Yo Creek, Orange walk District, Belize. In 2005 I retired from the teaching profession after serving for forty years. After retiring I tutored teachers all over the country. At present I am the president of “Kanan Miatsil, Guardians of Culture ” Association whose main objective is to keep the Maya Yucatec Culture alive. I work with children, youths and adults. I am the founder of “Ek’ Balam”, the Mayan Ballgame Poktapok team. We are the Mundo Maya champions. With the youths, I work on traditional Yucatec and Prehispanic dances. With the children I work on prehispanic music and hand embroidery and with the women on traditional foods. I am a Mayan priestess and perform Mayan Weddings, Mayan Baptisms, Sacred Fire Ceremonies, Energy cleansing and promote the use of medicinal medicines. I own “Pachamama”, a farm where close to one hundred species of medicinal plants are found in their natural habitat. I love myself and love what I do!

3. The Living Museum of El Pilar: Archaeology Under the Canopy by Anabel Ford and Cynthia Ellis Topsey

Anabel Ford, a Maya archaeologist, decoded the ancient Maya landscape by combining archaeological survey with traditional knowledge. Admiring the local knowledge of the Maya forest, when she encountered El Pilar, a major Maya city linking Belize and Guatemala, she envisioned a place of monument discovery in the context of the traditional knowledge of the people living in the region today. She recognized the Maya forest garden as a relic of traditional land use; accounting for ancient Maya settlement patterns.  She brings her extensive field experience and broad inquisitive mind to demystify the Maya.

Cynthia Ellis-Topsey is a community advocate who works to promote sustainable development by building on the achievements of previous generations for future generations. Much of Ms. Ellis-Topsey’s professional experience centered around placing women and families at the center of sustainable development. She began her career working in Kingston, Jamaica, where she trained in project management and development with the United States Agency for International Development and served in the Office of the Prime Minister as an advisor on women’s issues and women in development. Ms. Ellis-Topsey went on to join the United Nations as a representative of Belize where she worked to develop the first Five-Year National Development Plan for Belize. In the 1990s, Ms. Ellis-Topsey served as a Deputy Programme Manager for Women, Youth, and Community Development with the Caribbean Community in Guyana, and later, in 2005, she continued her work with CARICOM as a consultant at the Regional Forum on Youth, Crime, and Violence. She furthered her international engagement as the Board Director for Outreach for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Western New York Peace Center in Buffalo. From 2010 until 2019, Ms. Ellis-Topsey remained involved with the United Nations as a facilitator at the annual Commission on the Status of Women in New York. She has also remained involved with the El Pilar Four Pillars Project with Dr. Anabel Ford to study cultural preservation and support conservation of the El Pilar Archeological Preserve through utilizing traditional Mayan conservation methods.

4. My life depends on chocolate and chocolate depends on mother earth and mother earth depends on love by Julio Saqui

Biography: My name is Julio Saqui, an Indigenous Mopan Maya, Owner of Che’il Mayan Chocolate of Maya Center Village, Belize. I grew up with Dad, a farmer and one of the crops he plants that excites me, is cacao fruits. He uses it for his Rituals, ceremonies and drinks as well. I told him I want to make it into edible chocolate bars, which he gets to taste, before he passes away. Today, I find peace and wellness in chocolate, as I continue the art of chocolate making into Dark & Milk chocolate bars and other Che’il chocolate products.

5. Livelihood Enhancements in the Maya Golden Landscape by Marvin Vasquez

Marvin Vasquez has a Bachelor’s of Science in Natural Resources Management from the University of Belize. His work experience with the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance in Bonaire honed his networking, coordination and communication skills. His conservation work experience in Belize has been in project management, working alongside community-based organizations to strengthen their good governance practices. As Operation Director at Ya’axché, Marvin is committed to an integrated management approach, linking the community outreach and livelihoods, protected areas management and biodiversity conservation programmatic areas. As a team and community-oriented individual, his management experience remains centred at strengthening institutional capacities of organized groups.