The linkages between people and nature; reflected in the life of the Indigenous people worldwide is as old as humans themselves. Long before the rise of modern global society, communities throughout the world prospered by studying natural resources in an attempt to adapt to the local natural environment.
In the process, a wide-ranging body of knowledge, innovations and practices evolved, inextricably linked to the use of natural resources. It enabled most communities to live within the limits of their local environment and contributed to shaping their cultural and spiritual identity as well. Any effort to conserve nature and ecosystems, therefore, must take into consideration the interface between nature and culture.
Local communities represented a significant part of India’s population. They were rooted in their immediate environment and their social organisation were woven round the management of their environment with their culture, elaboration taking place primarily through interaction with the immediate natural environment. These communities depended on local natural habitats for their biomass needs and natural resources. They relied on their immediate natural environment for their survival for long and consequently developed a stake in conserving the local resources base.
Dependence on their habitat was for more than mere survival for the compact forest communities. These communities had to use their terrestrial, marine and aquatic bio-resources for a variety of economic, cultural and religious purposes. The rich oral library of indigenous knowledge and cultural control processes had co-evolved with the customary use of natural resources, helping most of the communities avoid over-exploitation and live within the limits imposed by their availability.
Self-imposed limitations on forest clearance, restriction on hunting, taboos on hunting or harvesting certain species, protection of sacred groves for religious reasons, rotational use of catchments areas (hunting and fishing reserves), lineal ownership of nature zones and use of appropriate local technologies, which lowered the impact of use or even increased biodiversity, were some examples of cultural controls. Traditional and customary practices of local communities in the usage of natural resources, on the whole, were conducive to the conservation of natural environment.
As a result of long and continuous usage of natural resources, these communities had acquired a broad know-ledge base of the behavior of complex ecosystems of their locality. This cumulative body of knowledge and beliefs handed down through generations by cultural transmission about the relationship of living beings, with one another and with their natural environment, is the indigenous knowledge. The indigenous knowledge and belief system determined the cultural ethos, value system and worldview of the community. This worldview, treating man as a strand in the web of life, was naturally conducive for nature conservation. This was the ‘indigenous wisdom’ of, which the indigenous people of the world are proud inheritors.
On this International Indigenous People’s Day let us celebrate and imbibe this indigenous wisdom of symbiotic relationship of Man and Nature- if this world is to be a happy place for all – then we must respect the Earth.