UNESCO publishes East African case studies on living heritage and climate change

A villager working at his plantation down from the Dam (Eritrea) ©Eritrean Commission for Culture and Sports

UNESCO has prepared a PDF publication featuring seven case studies carried-out in 2021 as part of a pilot project to support research and documentation of traditional knowledge systems, as part of communities’ intangible cultural heritage, linked to biodiversity conservation, climate change and disaster risk reduction in Eastern Africa.

Intangible Cultural Heritage includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts. The UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage recognizes the contribution of intangible cultural heritage to environmental sustainability, including in the areas of sustainable natural resource management and the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

The case studies, which took into account guidance from an international Advisory Panel Research Brief based on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention and Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) Programme, include the following topics:

  • Eritrea: Research and documentation of Traditional Knowledge Systems on biodiversity conservation and climate change: experience from Lamza Village, Eritrea (Eritrean Commission of Culture and Sports);
  • Ethiopia: Indigenous Knowledge System and Biodiversity: the Case of Gedeo, South Ethiopia (Addis Ababa University);
  • Kenya: Role of Indigenous Knowledge and Practices in Biodiversity Conservation, Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction among Pastoral Communities in Kenya (National Museums of Kenya);
  • Uganda: Traditional knowledge systems and the conservation of water bodies and aquatic life in Uganda: The cases of Aquatic Biodiversity Conservation at the River Ssezibwa Cultural Heritage Site, and Fish stock Conservation in Panyimur on the River Nile and Lake Albert (Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda);
  • Somalia: Somali oral heritage as a vehicle for biodiversity conservation (Somaliland Youth Development and Voluntary Organization);
  • Seychelles: The Creole Garden and Kitchen Pharmacy in Seychelles (University of Seychelles);
  • South Sudan: The Role of Traditional Knowledge Systems on Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction in Eastern Africa: A Case Study of South Sudan Flood and/ or Desert Locusts Invasion in 2019 and 2020 (Mark Oloya Nekemiah).

UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa coordinated the pilot project in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM). The publication was produced in collaboration with the University of Seychelles, and features the seven case studies along with maps and photos. As part of the project, national teams also prepared short video documentaries and shared their experiences during an online regional conference on 30 April 2021.

We hope that these case studies will inspire other State Parties to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention to research and document their traditional knowledge systems linked to biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as disaster risk reduction. Traditional knowledge systems, oral traditions, rituals and practices, accumulated and renewed by communities across generations as part of their intangible cultural heritage, can play an important role alongside scientific knowledge and policies in sustaining, regenerating, conserving and governing biodiversity.
Prof. Hubert Gijzen, UNESCO Regional Director for Eastern Africa and Representative
…Living heritage is manifest in knowledge systems, which may for instance contain detailed knowledge about local flora and fauna, traditional farming techniques, healing systems and seasonal rituals. Yet, such knowledge and practices are embodied within broader social, historical and cultural contexts, which underlie our identity and how we understand and relate to the world. The transmission of these knowledge and practices, be it through words, songs, dances, ceremonies and so on, also carry and engrain our values towards nature, often fostering notions of respect, custodianship, and connectivity towards the environment.
Tim Curtis, Secretary of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the ICH
The current and future generations of our planet are challenged by an array of phenomena that have arisen from the processes of industrialization, colonialism and the emergence of a global economy that places greater attention on commodities and commerce, than it does on the sustainability of our planet. UNESCO is mandated to explore how indigenous and local knowledge provide us with alternative visions and tools for promoting greater sustainability, intercultural and transdisciplinary cooperation and learning opportunities.
Nigel Crawhall, Chief of UNESCO Section for Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS)

Please download the publication here and share widely.

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