University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006
Traditionally Protected Forests and Sacred Forests of Zigua and Gweno Ethnic Groups in Tanzania
Doctoral dissertation, May 2006.
In Tanzania, indigenous forests can still be found whose existence is based on the management systems of precolonial society. This study covers material from over 900 forests. There are similar types of forests elsewhere in Africa, and similar forests can also be found in indigenous cultures on every continent. In this study they are called traditionally protected forests (TPFs). They have a high level of endemism and a rich biodiversity. The field study was carried out during the years 1997-2003 using participatory methods. An active debate is going on concerning the capacity of local communities to manage their environment. The role of indigenous people and their institutions in the development of the physical environment is a central issue in the debate. This study discusses the opportunities that the local people have had to decide on how to conserve, maintain, utilise, and manage their environment during different political periods. The study explains what kinds of changes have taken place in these forests and institutions in northeastern Tanzania among the matrilinear Zigua and patrilinear Gweno ethnic groups. About 2% of the land area of the communities was still protected by the precolonial structures. The communities have established their protection systems for different reasons, not only because of their beliefs but also because of different secular and clearly environmentally motivated reasons. There are different TPF types. Less than half of them are directly related to spirituality, and more than half are not. In earlier research elsewhere, it has been commonly understood that spiritual reasons played the main role in the protection of these environments. This study is also part of the postcolonial geographical discussion on the precolonial landscape and environmental management which was started by Carl Sauer.
In the Zigua case study villages, only two out of five first comer clans have performed rain rituals in the past 30 years. Many of the most respected sacred sites do not have a ritual maker or even a person who knows how to perform rituals any longer. The same is happening with male initiation rites. In all case study villages there have been illegal cuts in the TPFs, but variations can be seen between the communities. The number of those who neither respect indigenous regulations nor accept indigenous penalties is growing. Positive developments have also taken place. Nowadays, the Forest Act of 2002 is in effect, which works as a cornerstone of community-based land ownership and also allows elders to protect TPFs, and by-laws are created with the support of different projects. Moreover, during the field study it was found that many young people are ignorant about their village's TPF sites, but interested in learning about their history and values.
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© University of Helsinki 2006
Last updated 13.04.2006