Forests are sacred!

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Tshilidzi Netshidzivhe, from Vhongwaniwapo, Clan of the Sacred Forest, will take part in the (“intergenerational-interviewee” slot during the youth special event) 9 September 2015, 16:15 – 18:15.

Tshilidzi’s intervention focuses on indigenous youth’s perceptions of forests, and the traditional knowledge and values associated with them. Tshilidzi shares her experiences ahead of the youth session which you can join onsite or via the webcast.

The forest is a sacred site, belonging to a certain clan. It is a “no go” area, and only the clan may go there during a certain period, and not every day. We go there during the times of the rituals.

No domestic animals go there; you will only find wild animals such as the white lion, so called because it is an ancestral lion, and a few leopards.  Most of the wild animals are our totems.  Our forest, together with Lake Fundudzi, attracts rainfall. Crocodiles and fish are taboos of Venda people because they are animals of the water, as are the frogs that, when they cry, tell us the rain is coming.  That is when we know to proceed with our ritual.

In our Venda culture we do not cut down trees because we are connected to the indigenous forest. Our life is in our indigenous trees. Our ancestral spirit also lives in the indigenous trees like the (MUFULA) Amarula tree. We must remember that we are not the only ones to live on this planet; we share it with the smallest ants and the domestic and wild animals.  They too, depend on our indigenous forest.

Food, energy and water for all

We need to understand the traditions behind our indigenous food.  Seed rituals are very important. When planting the maize seed we put it in our mouths, connecting the seed to us to plant later.

We have many seeds that we conserve to plant according to the ecological calendar. These seeds depend on the rainfall and moist, undisturbed soils of the forest and are grown using perm culture practices – known to us as Parma culture – using our own cattle manure and compost. No chemical fertilizers are used to preserve our natural ecosystem.

In our communities we look to the natural elements – the sky, the water, the forest – for our ecological calendar. Our indigenous trees tell us about the change of seasons and help us produce food. We even know the time of planting and the time of harvesting. There are times when some of the trees die off, especially so during winter, when we gather fire wood for cooking and warmth. This is also the time for storytelling.

Water is essential to life on our planet. We cannot survive without water. All our streams come from the shade of the sacred forest in Venda. The forest is the only sacred site with more than 24 rivers, like Mutale river which flows up to Kruger National Park, flowing from north to south, east to west of Venda.

The role of youth and government

Let us keep our seasons in order, to avoid climate change. Let us follow the ecological calendar and stop destroying our indigenous forests.  Many young women dump waste in the indigenous forests and river, while mining and grazing stock are also taking their toll on ecosystem of the rivers and forest.

The departments for water affairs, and forestry and education should work together to solve this problem. What we need are awareness campaigns targeting youth around South Africa, about the importance of the indigenous forest to them and to future generations. The water department themselves need to understand the importance of the indigenous forest. Without the forest there will be no water – which means no jobs for them.

The department of education could create extracurricular sessions in schools where young people can learn about the importance of indigenous knowledge.

Every young person needs to know about his or her own culture, to learn from their elders, so as to better understand the importance of the forest and the need to respect it as a sacred site. That could help them to live longer, and to transfer the knowledge to future generations.

Our youth and elders must continue to be involved in meetings like the World Forest Congress so that all the people of South Africa they can know and understand that indigenous forests are not only for indigenous people, but for all the living creatures on this planet.

When the rain comes, it falls for everyone. People need to respect the indigenous forests as sacred sites because their lives are so closely dependent on them.

Blogpost and picture by Tshilidzi Netshidzivhe

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