|During my Anti-Plastic Campaign in September, I really encountered native people of southern Ghana. As I led Green Africa Youth Organization to educate coastal communities on the effects of plastic on the ecosystem, I was welcomed with native and traditional methods by which community leaders ensure nature protection.
In Ghana and many African counties, it is believed that everything within the environment (natural resources) has a spiritual significance. Just like Akans (people in Ghana belonging to the Ashanti Kingdom), there is a strong belief that all things were created by the supreme being or God for the purpose of human harmony and therefore needs to be used with caution while relating to some natural resources as deities and gods. A plant species in Akan is called ‘God?s tree’ (local dialect – Nyame Dua) this plant is named that way due to its identified medicinal purposes and thus preventing felling of the tree. Such an instance helps preserve trees and reduce the rate of deforestation.
In the Akan tradition in Ghana, smaller gods and traditional deity are represented by water bodies – streams, lakes and rivers. It is known that these places are the dwelling place of gods and thus, shrines are set up closer to the water bodies. Fetish priests then set rules and regulations depicting how and when to use the water. It was a taboo to dump rubbish, defecate or urinate in these dwelling place of deities (water bodies). For example, the ‘Asuo Akosua’ stream in the Ashanti region is believed to be inhabited by a beautiful woman goddess, a deity which is accordingly worshiped by the people with the water source of the stream carefully protected. Farming activities are not allowed in this area, nor is clothes washing or other types of pollution. Indigenous people worshiped the gods and it was feared that breaking any of the taboos, rules or regulations could trigger the gods to bring their anger upon you – in the form of diseases or plagues.
Although a cultural believe, these practices ensured the ecological health of water bodies. Community inhabitants rarely died from pollution induced water diseases/infections. Seen as a home for deity, communal labours were organized to clear weeds and unwanted junk along river banks. Today, all this practice is forgone Ghana still suffers disease outbreak such as Cholera which claimed over 150 lives in southern Ghana this year.
Land in also seen as a goddess among the Akans and they call it ‘Asaase Yaa’ (meaning, Thursday female born). People were restricted from going to farm on Thursdays and Fridays and it was believed that people who disobey and went to farm on these days will suffer the anger of the gods. In favour of the environment, these days ensured soil fertility and also allowed wildlife to freely live within their habitat without being hunted.
Over 80% of sacred forests in Ghana serve as watersheds for catchment areas where they protect sources of drinking water. So far about 1.5% of Ghana’s land is covered by some 2000 fetish groves and indeed, most taboos and beliefs surrounding many of these groves are conservationist in nature and approach (www.unngls.org).
Additionally, traditional rule places a ban on fishing on Tuesdays in most fishing communities in Ghana. This tradition has continued from ancient days until now. During our September Anti-Plastic campaign, we realized that fishing is a direct source of employment for most youth and thus, Tuesday is set aside to allow the sea to rest and for its resources to replenish. However, it is known by the traditional people that the sea is a goddess and Tuesdays are days the goddess spend time with her children – which are mostly fishes.
Also deep forests were regarded as a place of abode of the gods and ancestors. This belief contributed greatly towards conservation of biodiversity. These cultural beliefs were ideal to inhabitants of the lands on which these forests were, but they made significant contributions to the protection of wildlife. For instance, the Boabeng-Fiema monkey sanctuary, located within the moist forest deciduous zone in Ghana, is richer in monkey species diversity than most forests in Ghana. It inhabits the Mona monkeys and the Black and White Colobus. These species are considered sacred by the inhabitants of the surrounding villages. The monkeys are seen as “children of the gods” and are welcomed into the villages daily to eat and play. This has made the forest rich in plant species also.
I. Photo Credit: Joli Eco-Tours.
It is of no doubt that traditional cultural heritage aided in biological conservation and nature protection. Although we are in the 21st century, we should look back and develop a new strategy of adopting some of our old traditional methods, culture and heritage.