Culture, being a way of life in Africa, has borne the brunt of climate change. African customs and social practices, including medicine and religion, have been affected by climate change in the same way these practices effected climate change, the one most-mentioned socio-cultural or geophysical hazard in the world today.
Climate change, with its many sequels, has an occluded relationship with the African culture. On one hand, African culture is responsible for begetting climate change and, on the other hand, climate change is one of the factors behind the evolution of the African culture and is threatening to vanquish it.
SLASH AND BURN
The African culture, which is evinced in practices, rituals, folk tales, songs, myths, dances, liturgies, proverbs, names and pithy sayings, is responsible for climate change in several ways. These encompass construction of wooded structures, harvesting of fuel wood, scouring forests for herbal medicine, migratory agriculture and overstocking as well as other practices that reduce vegetation cover on the earth and allow greenhouse gases to accumulate in the atmosphere.
African woody constructions would comprise fences and hedges, shacks, goat pens, cattle sheds, the forest wickiups that young men reside in soon after circumcision and other homologous herbaceous frameworks. For a good stack of fuel wood, traditional Africans are known to girdle a live tree in order to kill it before batoning. Barks of medicinal trees are also chiselled out, causing the trees to dry up, the same way the roots of medicinal trees are dug out.
In the quest for virgin fallow fertile lands, Africans will burn down a natural forest or shrub land and subject it to the hoe till its fertility runs out. Then another fecund forest or shrub land will be sought and this is migratory agriculture or slash-and-burn farming.
Africans, being firm believers in tangible wealth as opposed to virtual wealth, keep large herds of livestock, which eat up volumes of grass, herbs and trees, causing aridity and desertification. These many ruminants also release methane gas into the atmosphere when they chew cud, adding to the pile of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Then there is the practice of livestock forever lodging and boarding in the forests, alongside the phenomenon of ‘cattle without borders’. They destroy young trees while the roaming trans-county pastoralist cattle eat up the paths they walk.
Upon the African culture, climate change has been brutal in its restitution.
The stated expressions of the African culture have all changed in tandem with climate change. The rain-making practice, for instance, is ebbing away because of the uncertainty of its results. The rainmakers, who wisely read nature before making a prediction, can no longer be sure of making rain. Again, circumcision, as a ritual, cannot find a true season in today’s climate because the ‘stars’ are never quite right.
Climate change has also changed most of the themes that coloured African song and dance besides wiping out the organisms that provided dance regalia and ornaments. Characters of ancient myths have also gone extinct. Talk of the mysterious creatures and lands that dominated folk tales and blood-cuddling stories narrated in the ’70s!
The loss of some sacred trees and animals, due to climate change, has discouraged certain rituals and celebrations in the traditional African set-up. Totems are lost to many young people.
Crop failure, one of the consorts of climate change, has discouraged thanksgiving festivals and the gifting of the less fortunate. People seldom have enough food to go around. In the same spectrum, heavy floods, a hallmark of climate change, do not only sweep away homes and lands but also wash away people’s shrines, leaving them muddled.
It is prevalent knowledge that the wisdom of a people lies in their proverbs. Climate change has mutated African proverbs, pithy sayings and names. It will not be a surprise to find a rise in disaster-related names in the African society, more so those associated with disastrous weather swings, which are a signature of climate change.
African herbal medicine has been crushed by the upscaling of biodiversity loss, besides being encumbered by the emergence of human diseases driven by climate change. They include Ebola, zoonotic flu viruses and new strains of cancer that chance on a climate change-weakened human body.
African culture is bound to evolve with climate change.
Dr Kipkiror, environmental consultant and lead expert in environmental/social impact assessment, is a lecturer at the School of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Kabianga. [email protected]