…where cultural preservation is vital for environmental conservation
Tali is a small village with about twenty living households in Zhemgang. It is perched on a ridge and the residents live side by side with hundreds of wild boars. The locals have given up traditional cereal growing culture and most of their land is left fallow. Yet the people do not complain of the situation and wild boars do not bother them. But the members of the community have been worried about something, not about the wild boars roaming around. The locals have noticed that a lake regarded as the jewel basket, Buli Menmo lake spirit, is shrinking gradually. This, for the community, matters.
The lake, also known as Tangsibi Tsho, is the source of pride and dignity for the people of Tali. For the people, the beauty of their women and success of men are due to the blessings of the lake. The lake was Menmo’s precious jewel basket. Buli Menm is a female lake spirit with rich story, regarded highly and worshiped by many as a benevolent spirit of Buli village.
The people of Tali and Buli believe that many hundreds of years ago when Buli Menmo was journeying from Tibet to where she resides today, her last stop was on top of Tali’s ridge at a place known as Dharpa Tang where the lake spirit is said to have rested. Dharpa Tang is a basin where formally a large water body could have been. Even today, there is a small pond there from where animals drink. When the Menmo, moved from Dharpa Tang to the current location in Buli, it was said that she forgot her Baykur, a basket which later became the Tali’s Tangsibi Lake. The head point of the Buli Menmo Lake is also said to be directed towards Tali, which is believed to be the reason why people of Tali is blessed with beauty and success. People of Tali claim that compared with Buli the village has more people serving in the highest positions in the government. Naturally, the drying lake is a cause of concern for the people.
As is the jewel bakest in their local cultural narrative, looking from the social, economic and environmental perspective, this lake indeed qualifies a jewel basket of the community. It stands to be the health indicator and source of the water for the rice fields located downhill. Thanks to lake, which is the only water for irrigation for agriculture in the area, the villagers of Tali are happily rice self-sufficient. “Talips, the people of Tali, hardly eat imported rice,” the people proudly declare. The belief centered around the lake plays a vital cultural role in not only preserving its spiritual and agricultural practices, but also in maintaining the community cohesiveness and social vitality. This, special regard to the lake, was also the reason that brought the community together for a conservation project coordinated by Loden’s Shejun Cultural Programme under its Leveraging Culture and Scientific Knowledge and Practices for Environmental Conservation Programme. UNDP’s GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP) supports the programme. The project not only aims at mitigating possible causes of shrinking lake but also in preserving the culture and beliefs pertinent to socio-cultural and environmental safeguarding through local participation and partnership.
People of Tali are the key partner in the project. The reason for their partnership and participation is based on their deep belief system. This in turn allows us to also collaborate with scientific communities like the forestry officials and conservationists to provide scientific perspectives at grassroots level to strengthen the people’s cultural belief with scientific understanding of the natural ecology and its impact on our lives.
It is therefore inevitable that the understanding of people and their culture and integrating it into the modern conservation methodology is highly recommendable and worth practicing. Local beliefs and cultural practices rooted in the traditions of local people has played a vital role in the past and it is important in bringing locals on board for a successful and efficient conservation in practice at grassroots level even today.
If we lose this environment friendly culture and traditions, scientific communities could provide us with information, but conservation will have no local partners to practice. It is therefore important to support preservation of environmental friendly local culture and traditions to ensure efficient conservation of our environment that has now become critical for the world.
Contributed by Samten Yeshi
Program Manager (culture)