Wisdom from Nature in Zoosali, Ghana
Photographs by Ruth Leavett
Zoosali is a small rural community inhabited by the Dagomba people - one of Ghana's oldest tribes. Based in northern Ghana, the community have farmed in Zoosali for centuries and live intimately with the land. Like most indigenous communities, they have an innate understanding of Nature's cycles and teachings. Much of this wisdom is held by the elders of the community; they are recognised as knowledge holders, as well as the communities most potent link to the natural world.
For the elders of Zoosali, farming has traditionally been as much about observation and understanding as it is about labour and practice. Their feathered neighbour, the weaver bird, turns its nest to point downwards as the rainy season approaches; and so the community is given the welcome indication that they should start to plant their crops.
The elders also observe the behaviour of local indigenous plants as a guide for their farming practice. When the 'Gbrigu' - a local grass - starts to fruit, it's another sure indication that the rains are about to begin.
Knowledge such as this is passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition, and this has guided the people of Zoosali for centuries. But today's youth are less interested in these traditional practices and more intrigued by the lure of city living. The current education system derives from the colonial period; focused on western syllabuses and methods of teaching. Local traditional knowledge is excluded from the classroom and dismissed in the eyes of this mis-contextualised educational system. The children of Zoosali are rapidly losing their connection to the natural world, and this is creating an uncertain future for the rich indigenous knowledge held amongst the Dagomba people.
Reviving Traditional Knowledge & Practice
Gaia's partner, the Regional Advisoy Information and Network Systems (RAINS), are working alongside the African Biodiversity Network to revive and promote indigenous knowledge across Ghana. Regular workshps are coordinated by RAINS in order to stimulate dialogue and sharing between the generations. This in turn promoted a renewed confidence and interest in the indigenous knowledge and traditional farming practices of the Dagomba elders.
One such example of this revival of traditional practice can be shown through the use of Neem oil. Neem oil is made from pounded Neem tree seeds, which are prolific in Zooslali. Neem oil has been traditionally used in the area as a natural pesticide, but this practice was almost forgotten, with very few farmers in the area using Neem oil rather than modern chemical pesticides. Local organisation ORDF (Opportunities for Rural Development Foundation) has been working with the community to revive traditional knowledge such as this, and now Neem oil is being used regularly as part of a wider revival of traditional ecological farming practices. These practices promote a more sustainable and respectful dialogue with the land; and one which resonates with the way in which the Dagomba have lived on the land for centuries.
Today's generation have paid the price of industrialisation; a world rich in mystery. It is not only species of animal that die out, but species of feeling. If you are wise you will never pity the past for what it did not know, but pity yourself for what it did.John Fowles
With special thanks to the people of Zoosali, ORDF, RAINS and the African Biodiversity Network. Photography by Ruth Leavett.