LEARNING FROM THE ELDERS

Eco-spirituality, ritual and eco-calendars in climate change adaptation

The Institute of Culture and Ecology (ICE) is helping communities to bring back indigenous eco-spiritual practices that will support adaptation to climate change and education about climate change. With the changing rain patterns that are being experienced all over Africa, communities need to have adequate water to support their sources of food, be they agriculture, pastoralism, fisheries or even hunting and gathering. This project therefore, will facilitate community engagement in order to revive traditional practices that will strengthen local adaptation to climate change.

During 2010, the community has been holding dialogues on their ecological calendar and the ritual practices that go with the calendar. In the first phase of the project, ICE had supported the community in the following ways:

Eco-sanctity: From sacred sites to sacred ecosystems

ICE supported the Kivaa community to reintroduce agro-ecological farming skills; they prepared tree nurseries; acquired seeds for planting and devised a seed loaning scheme where farmers would get seeds to plant and then pay back from the harvests; and dialogues on community reconstruction are ongoing. They related their traditional farming with rituals to pray for rains as well as cleansing Kivaa sacred site and hill. ICE supported this project with the purchase of some local sheep to rejuvenate local indigenous gene pool. This project continues and now the herd is expanding.

Reinstating the ritual cycle

Rituals at the sacred sites were undertaken in August and September 2010 and will continue. Elders are conducting rituals with members of the community to prepare for the planting season later in September.  However, local sheep had to be re-introduced for the purpose of rituals and reciprocity. Sheep signify peace and are therefore offered when the community is praying for good health and planting new crops.

Having done the rituals at the lower potency sites, the elders will do the main ritual at the enchanted site. The elders are now educating the community on the benefits of protecting Kivaa hill. This includes reminding people on the consequences if one either cut trees or grazes animals on the hill.

In summary, the ritual at the enchanted sacred site has the following purposes, which are of critical importance in adaptation to climate change:

  • Pray for rains
  • Bless the seeds before planting
  • Revive potency of the sacred site and therefore protect the hill from destruction through cutting down of trees or grazing

The ritual time is also important since it provides space for inter-generational transfer of indigenous ecological knowledge in the community. The learning includes explanation of the customary conservation laws and consequences of breaking such laws.

‘Cutting the worm’: A single dose pesticide

Being a naturally hot area, the hot and wet conditions promote quick germination and growth of crops and soon the previously dusty farms become scenicly lush and healthy. The return of indigenous crops is a sure beginning of a seed revolution in the area if the community sustains this momentum. Insect pests usually attack crops in hot areas, and the community has a special strategy for dealing with insect pests. The appearance of insect pests defines a series of activities and consultations among elders which culminate in a ritual to protect the crops.

Reciprocity and community wellness: Blessing to cool the produce

Reciprocity is an important principle across diverse world views. Many indigenous communities believe that sharing with the Higher Being will elicit reciprocal returns on their generosity. Thus, many of them do rituals and offer the best of produce to seek blessings on their produce before harvesting.

In this community, a new crop is believed to be ‘hot’ and has to be ‘cooled’ to prevent diseases that may be caused by the ‘tenderness’ of the new produce. The same applies to fodder for livestock. The cooling process involves a ritual with strong participation of women. Men provide sheep and women prepare a meal of the best crops, and a ritual is conducted at the sacred site. Part of the meal is taken at the site and bowel contents of the sheep shared among community members to sprinkle on their farms and grazing areas. This act is meant to cool the crops and fodder. No incidences of human or animal diseases are reported after the ritual happens.

These practises maintain a healthy relationship between local peoples their sacred ritual practices, understanding of the changing climate and how this affects harvests.

ICE will be monitoring the effectiveness of rejuvenating sacred rituals and traditional eco-calenders on the crops and harvests in future and will report back to APE with further findings.  

“We are very pleased with this grant from APE. It will go a long way to support our work on eco-spirituality, which is a missing dimension in adaptation to climate change in Kenya. We are very grateful to APE”.
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