• Mountain cultures: celebrating diversity and strengthening identity

    Ramesh Tiwari
    December 10, 2016
    Mountain cultures: celebrating diversity and strengthening identity

    ICIMOD Feature – International Mountain Day 2016

    Mountain cultures: celebrating diversity and strengthening identity         

     By Nawraj Pradhan and Abhimanyu Pandey

    For many, mountains evoke powerful emotions with their breathtaking landscapes that inspire wonder. Mountains cover nearly 27% of the world’s land surface and directly support 22% of the world’s people. They serve as water towers to the world, providing for the freshwater needs of more than half of humanity. In addition to their impressive majesty, mountain systems also encompass a wide variety of ecosystems, a great diversity of species, and distinctive human communities.

    The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) is one of most diverse mountains systems in the world, spanning  4.3 million sq. km. of land across eight countries, from Afghanistan to Myanmar. Over millennia, communities in these landscapes have maintained a close relationship with the natural resources and surroundings that provide their livelihoods. For years, mountain were not studied as cohesive systems, but in recent decades, research is providing a more holistic understanding of mountain environments, and how they contribute to overall human well-being in the context of social, economic, and environmental changes.

    The HKH presents some of the most austere geo-climatic conditions in the world, encompassing the barren wilds of the Tibetan Plateau, the cold semi-arid zones of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the sweltering rainforests of northeastern India and Myanmar. These climates, however, have not deterred vast migrations, interactions, and evolutions of human communities in the HKH over the course of history.

    Several hundred languages are spoken throughout the HKH, dialects that sprang from the Iranian, Tibeto-Burman, Indo-European, Burushaski, Mon-Khmer, Munda, and Mongolic language families. The associated cultural groups in the HKH testify to a dynamic assemblage of peoples shaped by several millennia of migration, trade, pilgrimage, conquest, and various religious, artistic, and political movements. These communities have come to possess distinct linguistic and artistic expressions, and worldviews to which the natural rhythms of mountain life are central. At the same time, through generations of intimate interactions with their natural environments, these communities have developed vast treasures of traditional knowledge on indigenous pharmacology, agro-pastoral practices, and architectural and spatial use practices. For these communities, land, water, and forests are not simply natural resources to be exploited for profit on distant markets. As their ancestors before them, these communities understand that their well-being, their sense of identity and their children’s futures depend on the careful stewardship of the environment.

    Until recently, traditional knowledge and practices provided the basis for the well-being and livelihoods of indigenous mountain communities. Consequently, mountain communities enjoyed an intangible, even spiritual connection to the elements of nature. However, in the recent decades, global media connectivity and the inclusion of once far-distant regions into national planning has ushered in the forces of globalization, consumerism, and often top-down governance regimes. This has accelerated the pace of change in the HKH, often at the cost of losing the particularities of mountain of socio-ecological balance.

    Of course, not all the change has been negative. Modern advances in health care, education, and economic opportunity have improved mountain livelihoods and often worked to dissipate some oppressive traditional socio-economic hierarchies. However, these advances have also caused some ruptures in traditional community fabrics, and a loss of interest in preserving local knowledge and cultural traditions. Therefore, it is critical for research institutions, like ICIMOD, to take a serious approach to understanding the traditional cultural worldviews of mountain communities, and the rich bodies of knowledge embedded in those worldviews. In this way, we can devise the best possibile solutions to carry on the generations-old traditions of stewardship in these delicate ecosystems. This ‘intangible heritage’ of mountain communities also enriches the global community, providing inspiration and insights for realizing a more sustainable relationship between communities and the environment.

    The UNFCCC Paris Agreement of December 2015 recognizes that adaptation actions should follow a ‘participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable communities and ecosystems’, and based on traditional, indigenous and local knowledge, as well as science (article 7). However, until recently, mountain communities have received little support for adaptation and their involvement in adaptation policy and planning has been limited.

    Challenges also bring opportunity. Today, there is potential to mobilize traditional knowledge to provide place-based evidence on climate change and its impacts on ecosystems and livelihoods. Similarly, local knowledge and research can work together to develop effective responses that sustain biological and cultural diversity for adaptation in future. If managed well, various facets of tangible and intangible cultural heritage can be long-term assets. They can represent an innovative way of achieving sustainable development goals, and, as such, produce better livelihoods, food and water security, and effective climate change mitigation efforts.

    Nawraj Pradhan (nawraj.pradhan@icimod.org) is Associate Coordinator, Kailash Sacred Landscape Initiative, Transboundary Landscapes and Abhimanyu Pandey (abhimanyu.pandey@icimod.org) is Cultural Services Analyst in the Livelihood Theme at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

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      January 20 : Republican billionaire Donald Trump sworn in as 45th US president
      January 23 : Syria peace talks begin in Kazakh capital Astana
      March 29 :United Kingdom officially launches the Brexit process
      April 4 :Syria launches chemical attack killing 90 people
      April 6 : US cruise missiles destroy Syrian air base
      April 9 : Bombings at two churches in Egypt kill dozens
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      April 16 :Turkey says YES to presidential system
      May 6 :Emmanuel Macron elected French president defeating Marine Le Pen
      May 19 :Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani wins re-election
      May 22 : Terrorist attack kills 22 at Manchester concert
      June 5 : Gulf nations severe ties with Qatar
      June 7 :Suicide bombers attack Iranian parliament killing 13 people
      June 14 :London fire kills 71 in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower
      July 4 :North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s missile ambitions
      July 28 : Pakistan’s top court disqualifies Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office
      August 5 :US withdraws from Paris climate change pact
      August 17 :Storms cause record damage in Caribbean and southern United States
      August 25 :Muslim Rohingya start fleeing Rakhine state in Myanmar
      September 15 : NASA’s 13-year Saturn mission ends
      September 20 : Earthquake kills more than 200 in Mexico
      September 24 : Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel wins fourth term
      September 26 : Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving
      October 1 : Gunman opens fire on Las Vegas music festival killing 59 people
      October 14 : Massive bombing in Somalia’s capital Modadishu kill more than 500 people
      October 24 : China confirms the elevation of President Xi Jinping to the same status as the nation’s founder, Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping, by enshrining ‘Xi Jinping thought’ in the party’s constitution at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China
      October 27 : Catalonia declares independence from Spain
      November 4 : S audi Arabia detains 11 princes, four ministers and ten former ministers in a corruption probe
      November 12 : Iran-Iraq magnitude 7.3 earthquake kills more than 500
      November 15 : Argentine navy submarine disappears with 44 crew on board
      November 21 : Robert Mugabe resigns as Zimbabwe’s president after 37 years in power. His former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa will become president.
      November 22 : Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic convicted of genocide in Srebrenica during the 1990s Bosnian War
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      December 6 : US President Donald Trump recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel
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      Between January and August 2017, destinations worldwide welcomed 901 million international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors), 56 million more than in the same period of 2016 .The top ten most visited cities are:
      CityVisitors
      HONG KONG26.6 million
      BANGKOK 21.2 million
      LONDON19.2 million
      SINGAPORE16.6 million
      MACAU15.4 million
      DUBAI14.9 million
      PARIS14.4 million
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      SHENZHEN12.6 million
      KUALA LUMPUR12.3 million

      Source: Euromonitor International

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