The discussion moves from wetlands and the importance of preserving them to the plight of indigenous peoples – how populations have been decimated by colonialism and migration, and their knowledge systems, cultures and spirituality destroyed.
Previously wetlands were drained and turned into paddy fields. Anaerobic microbes take a long time to benefit the wetland. It is important for it to receive water especially during the growing period. There are massive wetlands in Africa such as the Okavango Delta. A wetland in Sudan was 200,000km and now it is only 200km. The wetlands between the Euprates and Tigris rivers there is a people who live there called the Marsh Arabs who live on islands. Sadam Hussein diverted the river to drain these wetlands so the water started to flow quickly and the wetland dried out, leaving huge deposits of salt. If it now went into the Persian Gulf it would be devastating. There are political and development issues that affect the fate of wetlands.
With regard to the Bushmen, a lot of knowledge is not being passed on to the younger generation. Alcohol has devastated the society. Genetically they are not able to handle alcohol as well as Western people. The San have their own beverages using indigenous plants. These have a unique kind of yeast that is used in the fermentation process which results in a different kind of alcoholic beverage to that of the West. The colonial authorities banned indiginous alcohol in order to bring in their commercial varieties.
At the turn of the last century it was estimated there were around 100 000 Bushmen in the Kalahari and now estimates maximum 2000 left. Botswana has been waging a genocide against the San. The parks and farms and diamond mines have encroached on Bushmen land. Government introduced water points where people congregated but then the well points were filled in. The government wants the Bushmen to be integrated into the rest of the population. People were moved into “protected villages” which are like concentration camps. This made it very difficult for people to maintain their traditional lifestyle because they weren’t allowed to keep water. The Botswana San did win a court case against the government but this has not resulted in improved conditions.
During the 1920s and 30s it was still legal for people to hunt the San like animals. There was also the Nama-German war late in the 1800s where people were chased from one place to another and many were killed.
Wherever there are hunter-gatherers and pastoralists there is always a clash over land. In South Africa there was migration about 2000 years ago where pastoralists moved down from central Africa. There was a lot of integration then but 800 years ago the Bantu tribes came down from east and central Africa and there was conflict between the hunter-gatherers and pastoralists. Those Bantu tribes continued to move south until they encountered the European colonials in the Cape.
John Turner talks about lessons from nature and Alan Savoury. He worked in game management – where there were large herds of animals transversing the plains and constantly on the move with a relationship with predators. Animals would eat, compact and recycle organic matter. The African plains consist of dry material or “soetveld” sweet grazing. It is important for the organic material to be recycled for organic grazing. Animals are held in high concentrations but kept moving to keep the recycling process going. Where areas are fenced off you get areas that degenerate which results in desertification.
There was a nomadic movement of people. The animals would come first and then a secondary wave of birds, game and then people. In Botwana fences were put up to control foot and mouth disease to protect the beef industry. The main sources of revenue in Botswana are diamonds, tourism and the sale of beef. There are only two abotoirs in Africa that meet European Union standards – one in Durban and the other in Lobotse. So it is the European demand for beef that is the problem and this colonial pattern of destruction of local environments to feed European demand has been in action for hundreds of years. One example is the decimation of buffalo population in the US. Wherever the dymanic movement of nature – animals, birds etc. is stopped, the result is destruction.
Indigenous peoples around the world are very concerned with the loss of their environments, culture and spirituality. They are mobilising to hang on to their indigenous knowledge systems and looking at how such knowledge can be used for the future.