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‘Dagucho [Podocarpus falcatus] Is Abbo!’ Wonsho Sacred Sites, Sidama, Ethiopia: Origins, Maintenance Motives, Consequences and Conservation Threats

Doffana, Zerihun Doda (2014) ‘Dagucho [Podocarpus falcatus] Is Abbo!’ Wonsho Sacred Sites, Sidama, Ethiopia: Origins, Maintenance Motives, Consequences and Conservation Threats. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:48086)

Language: English
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This thesis addresses six main objectives answering questions on the origin, nature and social organization of SNS and their custodians; motivations for, and BCD conservation consequences of, their maintenance; threats SNS and ancestral institutions face and existing governance and protection instruments, with focus on local perceptions among the Wonsho of Sidama, Ethiopia. The study employs anthropologically-oriented, but interdisciplinary, conceptual framework and mixed methods to collect and analyse data. A year of fieldwork (July 2012-June 2013) was carried out using six major data collection methods (including interviews, BD inventory and HHS). The data were analysed using NVivo 10 and SPSS 20/21. The results are presented and discussed in seven key thematic areas and six chapter headings. The main findings are summarized as follows:

1. Forty-eight SNS (whose sizes ranging from a site of a single tree to a 90.6 ha and ages from 28 to ca 375 years) were identified in seven PAs. Three criteria were used to identify a typology of Wonsho SNS: spatial-clan structure, function and protection status. SAR was identified as the core of the origin, social organization, governance and geography of SNS and other BCD protection areas. Twenty-two of SNS were protected by SAR practitioners and four by Protestant Christians. The rest were either lost or transformed.

2. Answers to the question of why SNS are maintained are interpreted as linked to ancestral conceptions of the natural world, knowledge about, and practice relating to, it. The people valued SNS and native trees as ‘life’, ‘beauty’, ‘ancestor symbolizers’, ‘temples’, ‘wealth’, ‘shade’, ‘healing agents’, ‘food banks’, ‘place and name identifiers’, and ‘tribunal courts’ among others. Certain salient norms and practices, supporting tree biodiversity, are identified and interpreted as the foundation of the motivation for the maintenance of SNS.

3. 154 floral and 33 faunal species were documented for their reported and observed past and present existence in 26 of the 48 SNS and other informal protection areas. A partial inventory identified about 133 flora and some fauna, including two locally endangered species, Colobus guerezza and Tauraco ruspoli in various SNSs. Twenty-two locally reported endangered native trees were found here, of which ten were reportedly found nowhere. Eighteen major woody species were identified as extractively conserved in various informal protection areas, notably agroforests.

4. Forty-three types of uses of trees were identified. Eighteen woody species were identified as playing crucial socio-economic role; seven of these being culturally important and Podocarpus falcatus was identified as a truly ‘cultural keystone species’. The maintenance of SNS and native trees has important role through provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural ecosystem services.

5. Maintenance of SNS and other botanic landscapes were found to contribute positively towards community health, herbal medicine and conservation of medicinal plants. SNS are perceived as key resources for health and wellbeing. Sixty-two percent of surveyed HHs accessed medicinal plants from SNS where 48% of the identified plants (including nine that were reported as locally endangered) were found.

6. The SNS and ancestral institutions faced threats. Fourteen SNS were lost, eight severely degraded through other land uses and the existing 26 also threatened in seven studied PAs. Twenty-two important native trees were reportedly threatened; ten of these exited only in the SNS. Twelve native woody species were reportedly lost. SAR is threatened (e.g. declined from 13.6% in 1994 to 2.7% in 2007). Eroding factors, especially external ones, have been intensifying since the 1890s, but momentum added over the past 50-60 years, salient drivers being introduction of cash economy, modern religions, modern education, misguided state policies, rapid population growth and resultant socio-economic pressures.

7. The SNS have for centuries been protected through ‘spirit agency and policing’ in a structure that gave supreme place to ancestors who influenced and guided governance. Some key principles of SNS management were identified, including ‘spirit-policing’, dreams and oracles in decision making, protecting entire habitat, protecting species, etc. In recent years, protection efforts have improved, with emerging collaborative governance, but these suffered from poor resourcing, coordination and fragmentation; and the future of SNS, native tree species and the SAR seemed uncertain despite some locals were optimistic.

The study concludes the SNS and associated institutions of Wonsho have resiliently existed as ‘guardians of Sidama biocultural diversity’ and are showcases for the mutual adaptations of tree biodiversity and ancestral traditions. The study discusses a set of implications and recommendations for further research and action.

The contribution of the study lies in the following areas which appear to be under-represented in the current literature: (a) qualitative analysis of the ontology, nature, structures, functions, geography and dynamisms of SNS and custodians, demonstrating that Wonsho SNS are not relics from static past but dynamic socio-ecological systems; (b) in-depth discussion of the role of SNS in conserving both biodiversity and cultural diversity; (c) a nuanced analysis of why and how the SNS are maintained, (d) local perceptions and parameters of the values and roles of, and threats facing, SNS and related local institutions; (e) our understanding of what constitutes ‘biocultural diversity’ and the indicators for cultural diversity when this concept is applied at a local scale; (e) interdisciplinary conceptual and analytical tools to understand the socio-ecological and biocultural systems embodied in sacred sites, combining concepts from a range of social and natural sciences, notably anthropology and conservation biology.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Puri, Rajindra K.
Uncontrolled keywords: Biodiversity biocultural diversity sacred natural sites sacred sites sacred groves sacred forests informal protected areas woody tree species Podocarpus falcatus traditional ecological knowledge ancestral religion medicinal plants endangered native trees biocultural diversity erosion deforestation conservation biocultural diversity protection & management traditional forest governance Ethiopia Sidama Wonsho
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH75 Conservation (Biology)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 28 Apr 2015 13:00 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 23:22 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Doffana, Zerihun Doda.

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