Thursday, July 25, 2024

Indigenous Knowledge Is The Unheralded Pillar Of Sustainable Human Advancement


By Chainga Zulu

The narrative that human advancement can only be framed under the aegis of western ken must be

Throughout Zambia’s history, indigenous knowledges (sometimes called Traditional Ecological Knowledge) have been responsible for the development of many technologies and have substantially contributed to science.Before you start disputing, remember that science is just the pursuit of knowledge. Approaches to gathering that knowledge are usually culturally relative and subjective. Indigenous science incorporates traditional knowledge and technologies, while non-indigenous science is commonly recognized as Western science. Together, they contribute substantially to modern science and cannot be sequestered.

Tradition practices have played an inviolable and inalienable role in people’s lives to solve problems and
thrive in the face of challenges. From the intricate basketry and woodworking commonly found at Luangwa Bridge of the Chikunda people to the vibrant textiles and pottery of the Lundas and Tongas,Zambian communities have demonstrated exceptional ingenuity and creativity. The famous Kabwata Cultural Village, a showcase of indigenous architecture and craftsmanship, testifies to the excellence of traditional construction, art, and history.

Having used the village as my classroom and laboratory in my formative years and as my office in my current years, I can proudly say that indigenous knowledge and technology is the last redoubt of humanity and sustainability that is waning. Indigenous knowledge and technology can provide insight into management and mitigation of environmental change, healthcare, agricultural practices, social behaviour, economics and so much more. Traditional knowledge is used to maintain resources necessary for survival.

My grandmother who never had the opportunity to attend school had a simple yet effective use of indigenous knowledge. For example, for healthcare, she would often rely on a traditional remedy called Ukufutikila (steam therapy) to alleviate various ailments, and it would work wonders. Years later, I learned through formal education that steam therapy has scientific benefits, including relaxing the body’s muscles, improving blood circulation, and stimulating the release of endorphins (body’s natural painkillers). Nordic countries repackaged this practice and sold to the world as ‘sauna’.

When it came to treating Menso (conjunctivitis), my grandmother would swear by salt water as the
answer. Her approach may have been unconventional, but it was effective.In agriculture, this lady would use of natural pest control methods like neem and chili which – as I later learned is crucial in developing sustainable farming practices and ultimately soil fecundity and food security. She would observe leaf budding on trees and other phenomena to correctly predict the rainfall pattern and other environmental changes. The timing and intensity of leaf budding can be used to predict the onset and duration of the rainy season. Even leaf shapes, size and colour indicate an impending rainy or dry spell. This is because for the El Nino – the cause of Zambia’s current drought –causes stomata closure and reduced photosynthesis on tree leaves.

Moreover, my grandmother had a remarkable ability to predict the weather. Whenever the skies were cloudy, she would predict that the nights would be hot. I later learned in school that clouds produce a greenhouse effect, trapping the earth's warmth, which is why deserts can be cold at night despite being scorching hot during the day.

Why am I waffling about all this, you may ask?

First, its to pay homage to lady who was way ahead in time with the unflinching usage of indigenous knowledge to make corrective and preventive decisions. This surprisingly had a very small margin of error and over 90% confidence level.

Second, it is to highlight how life was simpler and linear before modernization. Our ancestors relied on traditional knowledge and natural remedies to solve everyday problems. I've even seen a video of a tribe performing successful brain surgery without conventional anesthesia or equipment, a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of our forebears.

While modernization has brought many benefits, we must not forget the wisdom and effectiveness of traditional practices. It is also dangerous and fatuous for us to just use conjecture to dismiss these ideas.

Elders must display of noblesse oblige and relay the traditional knowledge and technology to the young and youth, it is a debt they owe those who have gone before them and the rich cultural heritage they bequeathed them. By embracing and valorizing both traditional knowledge and modern science, we can individually and collectively lead healthier, more sustainable lives.


  1. ………..

    Very on point……..

    It is mostly africans who use other races ways more than their own……….

    Indians, chinese , asians , even arabs insist on using their languges in most communication.

    We africans its either english or french…….

    Thats why there are no maths or science books in local languges , only ……..

    The bible……

    No wounder we are brain washed.

    Forwadee 2031……..

  2. Not entirely true on that . Our lower GDP per capita and lower life expectancy of 61.2yrs compared to much of Asia and the Americas says otherwise.

    Life isn’t all about wood carvings and art. These simple skills never saved us from invasion/colonization and such.

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