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Revisiting proverbs that can be applied to environmental conservation

Opinion & Analysis
Since time immemorial, indigenous communities have depended on forest resources for their livelihood options and cultural practices.

PROVERBS have been a useful component of oral tradition passed from generation to generation to educate, remind and teach local communities on the virtues of life.

Proverbs became an important part of indigenous knowledge systems and human wisdom that could also be applied to environmental conservation to forewarn, save lives, nurture and preserve forests through cultural identity, worldview and heritage-based education.

Since time immemorial, indigenous communities have depended on forest resources for their livelihood options and cultural practices.

Therefore, forests needed to be protected not only through participatory practices, but also through wisdom crafted as vital communicative and inclusive tools with rich didactic components.

Although local communities sometimes appeared as if they undervalued forests through careless destruction of trees, water resources and physical landscapes, they cherished nature as a vital resource for survival.

In this regard, that is why nature is described as mother nature, mother land, with the qualities of a woman of endless love and caring.

Nature became the symbol of life, fertility and production of forest resources and ecosystem services.

Traditional ecological knowledge thrived on the use of proverbs some of them depicting nature, animals, human behaviours, attitudes and belief systems.

Aive madziva ave mazambuko (What used to be great now looks ordinary). Although this proverb can be applied to situations or people who were once invincible, powerful and scaring, it can also literally apply to the physical world where the once mighty rivers have now been affected by soil erosion, siltation and human activities.

There are situations and lived experiences where even great lakes in Chad, Middle East, South America, among others, have been reduced to mere ordinary pools.

Chisi hachieri musi wacharimwa (The consequences of bad practices are not felt immediately; they are revealed with the passage of time).

With reference to the current accelerating global warming scenarios, they are not a result of what happened yesterday, but what has happened for many years while accumulating and building up in the atmosphere resulting in disasters, extreme heat, flooding, moisture stress, lack of precipitation, droughts, diseases, just to mention a few.

In this regard, these proverbs are part of the broad network of the indigenous knowledge systems, embodying knowledge of natural resources use against human perceptions, beliefs and worldview.

Therefore, cultural factors affect the people’s actions and need to be understood in terms of people’s belief systems.

Indigenous knowledge systems linked proverbs play vital roles in environmental stewardship by touching on forest participatory behaviours and humans’ interactions with nature.

This also enables such proverbs to contribute to environmental protection, behaviour modification and livelihood recovery.

Kamoto kamberevere kanopisa matanda mberi (An uncontrolled process can degenerate into an unmanageable situation). In this view, what started as small-scale harvest of wood and cutting down of trees, degenerated into large-scale deforestation.

What started as small-scale burning of fossil fuels generated into a global scourge of climate change.

What started as small-scale mining, contributed to large-scale land degradation, unsustainable land use practices and irreparable deep scars on the earth surface.

As such, unregulated human activities start on a small scale, but they are nurtured directly or indirectly into widely acknowledged global problems which require international conferences to solve.

Proverbs applied to environmental situations have the power and intellectual attributes designed to create order out of disorder.

Charovasei chando chakwidza hamba mumuti (extreme situations can cause people to behave in unexpected ways). This is a situation where trees are used as symbols for protection and refuge, hence they need to be protected, conserved and nurtured into sanctuaries.

They need to be protected because they provide livelihoods, peace, tranquility and harmony, beauty, natural order, among others. Through proverbs, conservation behaviours are not a random process, but are done according to the dictates of the natural order of events.

In this regard, proverbs are communicative and interactive tools, contributing to a broad network of understanding the whole system that constitute conservation activities.

Through proverbs, local people are empowered to take control and be in charge of their environment.

Proverbs have an intrinsic value to inspire, regulate and value the natural environment thereby strengthening the relationship between humans and nature.

In this regard, proverbs are still useful while negating them results in communities undermining natural systems, cultural attributes and values which have sustained livelihoods for generations.

They have defined human systems and behaviours, helped people to see meaning in their survival and aspirations.

The gradual disappearance of proverbs as cultural symbols and indigenous knowledge systems has contributed to the dearth of forests and environmental growth.

Therefore, once lost, oral-based knowledge can be difficult to retrieve.

Foregrounding traditional knowledge, culture and language, can enhance community empowerment, identity and cohesion. Proverbs will continue to act as powerful cultural-environmental models determining behaviour towards environmental sustainability.

Peter Makwanya is a climate communicator. He writes in his capacity and he can be contacted on: [email protected].

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