Amina highlights the power of traditional environmental knowledge and shares her worry that this valuable ecological heritage is being lost from society as our fixation with technology grows.
Photo Credit: Eugene Golovesov
When I was a child, my grandmother used to enchant me with stories about her simple yet adventurous life in an organic and nature-centred environment before the proliferation of modern industrialization and urbanization. All her stories depicted an outdoorsy lifestyle, roaming the mysterious lands and forests, climbing trees, eating fresh food right from the ground. Her fascinating narratives featured sophisticated agricultural activities, medicinal practices, and a deep understanding of the environment and climate cycles without the sophistication of modern science and technology. For this reason, I have always been curious to find out how different civilizations and human societies understood and interacted with their environments despite the lack of robust scientific measurements and models. Different societies and cultures developed sophisticated knowledge of and interaction with the environment; a tight-knit connectedness and appreciation of nature. This knowledge, appreciation, and connectedness with the environment is called “Traditional Environmental Knowledge” or “TEK” for short. Thus, we are mistaken if we think that modern technology and science are the sole source of environmental knowledge and accurate data about nature and the varying ecosystems on the planet.
What is TEK?
Traditional Ecological/Environmental Knowledge (or TEK) refers to the knowledge acquired by indigenous people over hundreds or thousands of years through direct contact with the environment. TEK can also be defined as the traditional ecological heritage and an invaluable important component of the world’s biocultural heritage. This knowledge that is shaped through space, time and culture includes the relationships between plants, animals, natural phenomena, and the landscape. Elemental constituents for people’s activities such as hunting, fishing, trapping, agriculture, reading weather patterns and forestry. TEK, in sum, is a holistic approach and a body of knowledge, practices, and beliefs that embody the world view and ontologies of indigenous people such as ecology, spirituality, human and animal relationships. TEK, as a body of traditional knowledge is transmitted orally across generations through stories, songs, folklore, proverbs, rituals, local laws, beliefs, lore, languages and practices. Despite its richness and value, there is minimal appreciation and understanding of TEK in the modern sense compared to the advanced technology models and scientific methods. Although this trend is incrementally changing given the environmental turn in the modern context, TEK is still held back compared to modern mainstream scientific approaches.
We are forgetting how to interact with our environment
Challenges to TEK
The current era is the epitome of human development, mastery, and technological advancement that provided human beings with the privilege of control and power over the environment. This privilege, however, disconnected human beings from nature which moved from a revered and respected entity to a tool or a mere constituent in the journey of power accumulation and advancement. Human beings have forgotten to appreciate the environment, to observe and learn how to interact with it. Accordingly, the value of TEK decreased as our appreciation of the environment declined. With the advent of globalisation, the industrial revolution and capitalism, TEK has seen a withdrawal and erosion from the mainstream science and discourse. Additionally, the influence of formal schooling and loss of local languages and urbanization set further challenges to the continuity of TEK and its validity.
Photo Credit: Akil Mazumder