Encountering an encultured Nature: Some edifying examples from Indigenous Southern Africa

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapter


Human understandings of the concepts ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ are multiple and often confusing. One way to gain perspective on this issue is to attempt to step outside our own frames of reference. For example, Southern Africa’s First People known as the ‘Bushmen’ or ‘San’ have enjoyed international renown as the original ecologists, living ‘close to nature’. This ‘noble savage’ stereotype is, however, disempowering as it places Bushmen in a timeless de-politicised space; deflecting attention from their intellectual achievements and current socio-political struggles. This stereotype is predicated on a particular post-Enlightenment understanding of the concepts ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ as a quite rigid and given binary opposition. The theory of evolution has tended to intensify the divide between the two concepts. But there are also other, older ways of understanding the world and humanity’s place in it. Many indigenous people do not, for example, consider ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ to be opposed. In fact many Indigenous cultures do not see two concepts at all; preferring to consider both part of ‘culture’. This philosophy is most powerfully understood by considering notions of identity, which are very often at their strongest when in proximity to geographic loci that have a deep connection to the past and to inner and outer landscapes. Such a comparative project allows many previously insoluble contradictions to dissolve and provide new syntheses to old problems. Both Indigenous and post-Industrialised cultures inhabit similar parts of the environment and an integrated and flexible manner of approaching the management of these environments is no longer negotiable. But not all such solutions are the same and it is important to maintain a strong local flavour by using embedded cultural resources such as rock art and Origin Sites. In this way ‘we’ and ‘they’ can more easily communicate, plan and mobilise enduring ways not only of managing the human heritage in an appropriately nuanced manner, but also of adding to it.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNature and Culture: ambivalent dimensions of our heritage
Subtitle of host publicationUNESCO-sponsored programmes and publications
EditorsSieglinde Geier-Lietz
Place of PublicationCottbus
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)3-927907-84-7
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

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