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AZIBUYE EMASISWENI (article first published : 2003-07-16)

Culture is as integral a part of the treasure of the South African landscape as its fauna, floral and marine resources. Songs, dances and ritual processes provide local knowledge about the environment that cannot be learned through apprenticeships or oral tradition.

Until recently, protected areas in South Africa were constructed and sustained as bastions of the state, reserved for the conservation and consumption of the natural environment only. Communities within areas designated for National Parks and Forests were forcibly removed, with no consideration given to the value of local knowledge in environmental decision-making.

Today, the policy of enforced exclusion is being replaced by Community Based Natural Resource Management Models (CBNRM). The CBNRM aims to include local communities in decisions which affect the conservation and management of their local environment. It draws on indigenous knowledge as the basis of a management system.

However, the CBNRMs have yielded little success. Culture and local knowledge systems remain outside the expertise of environmental managers.

The Azibuye Emasisweni (an isiZulu expression meaning 'to recover our culture') Project started by Dr Angela Impey of the University of Natal's School of Music has set out to remedy this situation. The project documents narratives, songs and cultural information from community elders in the Maputaland Region of northern KZN.

Azibuye Emasisweni was established in 2001 at the Selithukukhanya High School in the Dukuduku Forests in the southern Greater St Lucia Wetland Park. Run in partnership with the School of Music and the University of Oslo, Department of Anthropology, the Project will soon extend its operations into KwaJobe in the central region of the Park, and Thembe Elephant Park, which borders on Mozambique in the north.

By focusing on the documentation of music, dance and rituals processes the Project aims to encourage the re-memorisation of indigenous culture and encourage public reflection on the histories, identities and cultural values of formerly displaced people.

It will also explore indigenous ecological knowledge, with regard to the way land and natural resources are manifest in Zulu symbolic practices. The building of skills will also be increased in the community through documentation in the form of digital audio and video recording, sound archiving, and computer literacy.

Sound archives will be constructed at senior schools for educational purposes and scholars from tertiary institutions wil be encouraged to conduct ethnomusicological and environmental research. Community income-generating initiatives, such as eco-and cultural tourism, will be encouraged and the project will be linked to international research through the establishment of a project website, the production of a CD series, and a documentary film.

Contact Angela Impey on 031 261 2923 or 082 491 0568 or e-mail: impeya@nu.ac.za




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