Yesterday was the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
Indigenous communities are defined as peoples who continue to practice pre-colonial traditions which are distinct from modern society.
There are approximately 370 million indigenous people in the world today, residing in over 90 countries. Although they only make up about 5 percent of the global population, they constitute around 15 percent of the world’s most impoverished peoples.
Protecting indigenous culture and heritage is immensely important. However, indigenous people’s very existence is being threatened by land grabbing extractive industries, such as agribusiness.
International demand for materials is forcing Africa’s indigenous peoples out of their own territories.
African Pygmies, or Bushmen, of the Kalahari desert in Botswana have been pushed out of their lands for the past two decades to make way for tourism and mining activities.
Bushmen are hunter-gatherers who live in rainforests throughout Central Africa. They are known as “forest peoples” due to their strong cultural and historical ties to the forests.
Unfortunately, war, logging, and encroachment from farmers have all contributed to the destruction of their homelands.
The bush people have been classified as a threat to local wildlife. As such, they have been barred from hunting in the Central Kalahari game park despite the fact that they have lived in the desert for years.
The government is still enforcing a permit system even though a high court granted the group the right to return to their home in 2006.
The Basongora are pastoral people who hail from the Maramagambo forest in western Uganda.
From 1900 to 1955, the Basongora population has dropped from 40,000 to only 15,000. As a result of the Queen Elizabeth National Park being established, the Basongora people lost 90 percent of their land.
Their traditional language, Runyakitara, is steadily disappearing as well. Runyakitara is generally used to tell the tale of Koogere. According to the Basongora, Koogere was a female chief who lived around 1500 years ago. Oral tradition describes her as displaying exceptional wisdom throughout a series of narratives.
These stories are told by elders who facilitate an intergenerational transfer of knowledge. Oral storytelling is an essential part of Basongora social philosophy. However, the introduction of traditional Western education is erasing this tradition, as storytelling is often a skill which is taught informally.
Since Uganda has become an independently-governed nation, the pastoral community’s plight has still been largely ignored.
The government has given out parcels of land to additional military and government projects rather than prioritizing the group whose homes and animals have been destroyed.
Ogiek, sometimes spelled Okiek, are an ethnic subgroup who reside in Southern Kenya’s Mau Forest.
Kenyan authorities have continuously demanded that the group remove themselves from the forest to protect the national water supplies and wildlife, but they have so far denied the government’s requests.
The Ogiek maintain that they are not responsible for the forest’s degradation, stating that logging activities and illegal settlers are at fault. Undeterred by the Kenyan government’s hostile actions of burning down the indigenous people’s homes, the Ogiek are still fighting back.
In 2017, The African Court of Human and People’s Rights deemed that the Kenyan government’s treatment of the Ogiek people is in violation of human rights and freedoms due to their forceful removal of ancestral lands.
The court ordered the government “to take all appropriate measures within a reasonable timeframe to remedy all the violations established and to inform the court of the measures taken within six months from the date of this judgment”.
To learn more about protecting indigenous people’s rights click here.
Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons.