Categories Africa, Historical and cultural roots of ICCAs, ICCA on the regional level, Recent regional studies, World

Pre-colonial and colonial conservation practices in southern Africa and their legacy today

Pre-colonial and colonial conservation practices in southern Africa and their legacy today, Murombedzi, 2003

Pre-colonial conservation practices have tended to be romanticized by most contemporary commentators. There is a dearth of information about these practices, although available evidence does indicate that as pre-colonial society became first regimented then stratified, access to and use of natural resources also came to be stratified, and conservation practices to reflect the attempts to balance competing interests. Such recorded pre-colonial conservation practices as the demarcation of sacred areas, the allocation of totems, the expropriation of labor for conservation etc, did not necessarily reflect egalitarian and consensual conservation, but rather the exercise of power over people and resources by dominant clans or classes, as the case would have been.

Very little is known and has been written about pre-colonial conservation practices in the region. The general belief is that low population densities, unsophisticated agricultural and hunting practices, and immobile populations meant that ecological conservation tended to be built into the routine economic, social and religious activities of the era. Consequently, pre-colonial societies did not need to develop sophisticated conservation mechanisms. The reality tends to be very different. Existing evidence suggests that settlements typically were consolidated with very high population densities. Agricultural and other resource extraction activities were very sophisticated and adapted to the requirements of specifics resources and ecosystems over time, while the societies themselves developed sometimes very sophisticated mechanisms to regulate resource use.