Isiko (coutume) fait référence à une manière de se comporter ou d’exercer un rôle unique pour une société, un lieu ou une époque particulière. Ihlathi est une reconstitution de pratiques culturelles autochtones qui reconnaissent la forêt comme un organisme vivant vénéré pour sa nature consacrée et ses capacités de guérison. Les espaces botaniques, tels quele jardin de Kirstenbosch, devraient être réinventés en appréciant la spiritualité africaine et les contributions indigènes qui ont façonné Isiko Lehlathi (rites coutumiers de la forêt). Il est nécessaire d’adapter les approches de guérison, d’intégrer les méthodes de conservation autochtones et modernes et de protéger Ihlathi, qui contient un palimpseste ancré de l’histoire de l’Afrique du Sud.
La guérison traditionnelle a joué un rôle important dans l’Afrique du Sud multiethnique par le passé et le présent, nécessitant l’utilisation constante d’espèces végétales trouvées dans des paysages tels que Ihlathi (forêts) Ces paysages reflètent ce que sont les Xhosa parce qu’ils font partie de leur langue, de leur histoire, de leur poésie, de leurs rituels, de leurs pratiques et de leurs traditions. Chaque année, le commerce total des plantes médicinales à base de plantes en Afrique du Sud s’élève à 2,9 milliards de rands. Ce chiffre est comparable aux 35,000 à 70,000 chargements de matériel végétal utilisés chaque année par les 60 millions d’habitants de l’Afrique du Sud (Makwazi, 2020).
La demande croissante de plantes médicinales à base de plantes provenant d’utilisations commerciales et traditionnelles est clairement mise en évidence. L’une des principales raisons pour lesquelles l’Afrique du Sud compte un nombre croissant de paysages forestiers protégés est la dégradation des habitats, de la biodiversité et de la flore et de la faune indigènes causée par des concepts tels que la récoltede plantes médicinales. Les effets de la sur exploitation ont constitué une menace pour la biodiversité forestière. Les jardins de Kirstenbosch ont été le premier jardin botanique au monde à être construit sur des terres patrimoniales (Agricbook digital, 2022). Ces terres avaient été occupées par des groupes autochtones tels que les Khoisan, qui ont nommé la montagne Hoerikwaggo, qui signifie «montagne dans la mer». L’absence de gestion inclusive des récoltes de plantes médicinales a nourri les conflits entre horticulteurs, défenseurs de l’environnement et guérisseurs traditionnels. La botanique en Afrique du Sud pourrait, cependant, établir avec succès une relation avec les praticiens traditionnels, ce qui aiderait à la préservation et à la gestion des connaissances ancestrales mais aussi nouvelles sur les plantes médicinales.
Isiko (custom) refers to a way of behaving or performing a role that is unique to a particular society, location, or time. Ihlathi is a reenactment of indigenous cultural practices that recognise the forest as a living organism revered for its consecrated nature and healing abilities. Botanical spaces, such as Kirstenbosch Garden, should be re-imagined with an appreciation for the African spirituality and indigenous contributions that have shaped Isiko Lehlathi (customary rites of the forest). There is a need to adapt healing approaches, integrate indigenous and modern conservation methods, and protect Ihlathi, which contains an imbedded palimpsest of South Africa's history. Traditional healing played an important role in past and present multi-ethnic South Africa, necessitating the constant use of plant species found in landscapes such as Ihlathi (forests). These landscapes reflect who the Xhosa people are because they are part of their language, stories, poetry, rituals, practices, and amasiko. Every year, the total herbal medicinal plant trade in South Africa is worth R2.9 billion. This is comparable to the 35,000-70,000 loads of plant material used annually by South Africa's 60 million people (Makwazi, 2020). The growing demand for herbal medicinal plants from both commercial and traditional uses is clearly highlighted. One of the main reasons South Africa has a growing number of protected forest landscapes is the degradation of habitats, biodiversity, and indigenous flora and fauna caused by medicinal plant harvesting. The effects of over-harvesting as a cause have posed a threat to forest biodiversity. Kirstenbosch Gardens was the world's first botanic garden to be built on heritage land (Agricbook digital, 2022). These lands had been occupied by indigenous groups such as the Khoisan, who named the mountain Hoerikwaggo, which means "Mountain in the Sea." The lack of inclusive medicinal plant harvest management has exacerbated conflict between horticulturists, conservationists, and traditional healers. Botanics in South Africa could successfully establish a relationship with traditional practitioners, which would aid in the preservation and management of both old and new medicinal plant knowledge.
The terms were derived from the isiXhosa language which I translated to “The customary rites of the Forest.” Isiko (custom) stands for a traditional and accepted way of behaving or undertaking a role that is specific to a particular society, place or time. Ihlathi is known as the forest. It is the re-enactment of cultural Indigenous beliefs and practices that acknowledge the forest as a living organism respected for its consecrated nature and healing abilities. The rite of the forest refers to the profound appreciation of the landscape through the ritual of providing an offering as well as cleansing the space through periodic non-human contact. The rite of the forest refers to its natural expansion with no human influence and its interconnectedness to the surrounding elements, harnessing a consecrated ecosystem.
Landscapes for most African cultural groups are associated with the animistic and consecrated relationship that people have with nature. Environmental elements such as mountains, forests, oceans, and rivers are considered sacred due to their mystic healing properties as well as the intermediary role they play in connecting supreme beings and ancestors to their people. These spaces have high empirical relevance which had historically allowed Indigenous groups to have a harmonious and reverential cohabitation.
Spaces such as forests in Africa alone, serviced generations of people who were dependent on rituals, rites and traditional healing practices that relied on the harvest and use of herbal medicinal plants. The history and modern urban fabric of South Africa’s society has been shaped and formed by the ritual and practice of harvesting. It had been estimated that at least twenty-seven million traders and consumers use herbal medicinal plants in South Africa. This is comparable to Western medicine (Peterson, Reid, et al, 2017). The industry represents a hidden economy estimated to be 2.9 billion per year nationally. Ihlathi is one of the major contributing spaces that services both the formal and informal industries through the wildly harvested medicinal plants.
However, modernisation has caused an increase in over-harvesting due to the growing demand for herbal medicinal plant species. This has resulted in damaging ecological impacts, such as declining plant species in wild landscapes, habitat degradation, and a decrease in consecrated spaces of cultural rites. The implementation of conservational laws, restrictions and protected areas has further created boundaries and criminalised the act of harvesting medicinal plants as a resolute.
In addition, the establishment of conservational spaces such as nature reserves and botanical gardens are often formed in consecrated forest landscapes that had previously been occupied and used by Indigenous cultural groups. Botanical gardens such as Kirstenbosch serve as apolitical spaces of research with European influences. Horticulturist, Phakamani Xaba (2021) argues that these spaces have for the longest time poorly celebrated and represented their own true nature (Boehi and Xaba, 2021). Therefore, contesting the apolitical stance creates an opportunity of re-imagining the narrative of these natural landscapes and the idea of leading to new knowledge that is beyond the collection, cultivation, preservation of plants species.
There should be an acknowledgement of both indigenous cultural and colonial histories, highlighting the significance of medicinal plant harvesting and the indigenous techniques of conservation.
There is a need to adapt approaches of healing, integrating both indigenous and modern methods of conservation and protecting Ihlathi that has an imbedded palimpsest of South Africa’s history and its people. This paper is an attempt to preserve the cultural practice of harvesting and use of herbal medicinal plant species for healing. It is necessary to advocate for a decolonial approach that is reflective of people's heritage, identity and highlights the function of the consecrations of these natural landscapes.
“We like the forest because it gives us everything we need. We get medicines, fuel wood, food, and water from the forest. We visit the forest because this is where the ancestors are, and we must talk to them from time to time” (Dold and Cocks, 2012;12).
Traditional healing played a key role in the past and present multi-ethnic South Africa that required the constant use of plant species existing in landscapes such as Ihlathi (forests). For the Xhosa people, these landscapes reflect who they are as they form part of their language, stories, poetry, rituals, practices and amasiko (customs) that define their culture (Dold and Cocks, 2012). In the book Voices of the Forest, Dolds and Cocks (2012) highlight the enriching value of these landscapes and how they are utilised as schools of thought. Young men are sent to the mountain to be bestowed their manhood, initiated healers tend to have spiritual relations with the forest through the harvest of medicinal plants and women tend to gather resources for daily household uses or rituals. Therefore, this sympatric exchange between nature and people reflects the human habit of reliance on aids to cultural subsistence and endurance.
Figure 1 illustrates a narrative that tells a story about a healer's experience of ehlathini followed by the procedures conducted during the process of harvesting in the natural landscape. This was adapted from stories told by participants interviewed for my thesis project.
Traditional healers are a source of health and wealth for South African society at large. Healing is an integrated process concerned with patient well-being, both spiritual and physical. Traditional healers in South Africa are predominantly people of colour whose healing practices had been influenced by the indigenous populations of the Khoi, the San, and the Nguni cultural groups. Healers in South Africa are commonly known as Amagqira, Amaxhwele, Sangomas, Herbalists and Rastafarians. Their work is dependent on dreaming, visions, and mediumship to diagnose a patient's illness, challenges, and misfortunes (Petersen and Reid et al, 2017).
Through the trade of their skills and herbal medicinal plants, the periods of sustainable use and harvest were enabled by indirect control measures and practices borrowed from intra-continental landscapes. These include harvest time restrictions to limit impact of growth season and seed production, harvesting from east and west points, particularly from trees to prevent ring barking, and limited tools (sticks and hand axes) to reduce over-harvesting and damage to plants, including their healing properties and consecrated energy. In late 1990, there were around 200,000 healers, with about 25,000 registered western medicinal doctors (Makwazi, 2020). Furthermore, the total herbal medicinal plant trade in South Africa is worth R2.9 billion every year. This is comparable to the 35,000 to 70,000 loads of plant material used annually by approximately 27 million South Africans (Makwazi, 2020). This clearly emphasises the growing demand for herbal medicinal plants from both commercial interests and traditional uses.
Figure 2 illustrates the sequence of activities that occur during and after the harvesting process 'ehlathini'. A trained traditional healer or practitioner will receive advice from their guides before embarking on the journey to the forest. Through dreams and visions the plants are harvested according to seasonality. The forest is commonly entered in the early morning, just after the morning dew dries, the plants being harvested before they flower. The ritual of ukunqonqoza (knocking) is initiated to ask the forest for its produce. This is followed by the ritual of giving to the plant before receiving. The plant is given a token of gratitude, such as a small white bead or a silver coin. Trees are commonly harvested from the west and east as common courtesy to prevent ring-barking. The forest is then exited just after midday to avoid the heat of the day. The harvested material is then taken away from the forest to be processed and dried.
“The Biodiversity Act (Act No.10 of 2004) provides for the management and conservation of South Africa’s biodiversity within the framework of the National Environmental Management Act of 1998 that seeks the protection of species and ecosystems. It also provides for the sustainable use of indigenous biological resources, the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from bio-prospecting, involving indigenous biological resources” (Mintsa Mi Nzue,2009; 3).
Since the period of colonisation, the regulation and development of policies for conservation and protected areas had been implemented by departments, such as Cape Nature, South African National Parks (SANParks) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). This has led to the establishment of privately and publicly managed natural landscapes, resulting in multiple complexities which form part of national and international approaches. These include creating boundaries that differentiate between protected and unprotected areas, and criminalising acts of harvesting and trade of non-permitted, threatened plant species (Petersen and Reid et al, 2017). The degradation of habitats, biodiversity and indigenous flora and fauna affected by medicinal plant harvesting, is a key reason for South Africa having a growing number of protected forest landscapes.
Due to modernisation, changes in healing practices have caused a major loss in traditional control as the demand and commercial value of herbal medicinal plants increase exponentially. The effects of over-harvesting has posed a threat to the biodiversity of forest landscapes.
In the past, it was the application of rigorous traditional values, which included superstitions and cultural beliefs regarding medicinal plants, that contributed to the conservation of these plant species. Today, the solution of in situ and ex situ conservation (within and outside the natural habitat) is preferred and applied in all protected spaces (Petersen and Reid et al, 2017). Figure 3.
The Cape Floristic Region is renowned within local traditional healing communities due to its diverse and unique plant kingdom. In 2004, the Cape floristic region protected areas, such as Table Mountain National Park, were listed as World Heritage sites.
Kirstenbosch Gardens became the first botanic in the world to be established on heritage land (Agric book digital, 2022). However, this declaration discounted the consecrated and cultural value of these landscapes, thus separating people from their ancestral land. These landscapes had once been occupied by indigenous groups such as the Khoisan who gave the mountain its original name 'Hoerikwaggo', which stands for 'Mountain in the Sea' (SANParks, 2022).
The harvesting of medicinal plants and poaching of plant species from Table Mountain has been an ongoing issue that the Park, as well the Botanical Garden tackled, such as the Cycadophyte (Cycads), reported to have been poached in 2014 (Yeld, 2014), Figure 4. These plant species are highly threatened due to their global and local significance. They are the longest existing plant species in the world, harvested for their bark to heal physical ailments (Cousins, Williams and Witkowski, 2012). There is a clear risk of over-exploitation and therefore pressure to develop better ways of conservation that are more inclusive are needed. Without considering traditional controls, ancestral limitations, and consecrated landscape engagement, the fundamentals of traditional healing will be lost along with their historical heritage and spiritual relevance.
"It is possible to heal using plants that have been physically grown by people. There are certain misconceptions in the healing communities that disagree with this notion thus narrowing the possibilities of adapting healing with wild-grown herbal medicinal plants. It is the intention behind the healing that activates the existing metaphysical properties within the plant. In general, plants heal. However, it is important to understand the significance of the relationships in which plants have with each other, how they are grown, venerated as well as harvested. The way the space is curated plays a vital role in determining the effect of medicinal plants". Gogo Jebhu
The lack of inclusive management of medicinal plant harvest has increased conflict between the formal biodiversity caretakers such as protected area managers and indirect and direct users of natural landscape resources.
In the Cape Floristic Region, with around 448 plant species harvested from public and wild landscapes, new challenges for conservationists are presented (Petersen and Reid et al, 2017). There had been several attempts to introduce the use of cultivated herbal medicinal plants to preserve the legacy of traditional healing. However South African traditional healers are sceptical of the use of genetically altered plants as they are believed to lose their spiritual reverence and mystic healing properties (Makweti, 2020).
The curation of controlled natural landscapes need to consider indigenous ways of plant management, plant associative growth known by indigenous practitioners, and the choreographed journey of harvest and ritual. Botanics in South Africa could successfully develop a relationship with traditional practitioners that would aid both the preservation of old and new medicinal plant knowledge and management. Countries such as Ghana, Swaziland and Lesotho have successfully initiated the cultivation of plant species most threatened in the wild (Prinsloo and van Wyk, 2018).
Additionally, SANParks had commenced ongoing projects that collect medicinal plants, donate them back to the local users, as well as educate people about the effects of harvesting. This was established in the Kruger National Park by Meurel Baloyi as a response to the issue of poached medicinal plant species within the Skukuza Nursery (Ledwaba, 2021). The rangers employed a rescue programme, which further enabled collaborative workshops, allowing for interaction and involvement with traditional healers. The Warburgia salutaris conservation programme donated 30,000 medicinal plants to traditional healers and communities along the park’s periphery as a solution to ensure their sustainability (Bushbuckridge News, 2021).
The main objectives are to save threatened species and at the same time give people the opportunity to use them for its medicinal purpose. Dr Louise Swemmer (2021), an economic and social scientist working with SANParks, elaborates on how most healers are now dependent on buying threatened plants, such as Warburgia salutaris, as they cannot harvest them in their proximity. The seeds are harvested and grown into seedlings in bags and distributed from the nursery. The SANParks staff, community, school groups and traditional healers are all recipients of plants through a strictly monitored plan (Bushbuckridge News, 2021). SANParks commonly donates trees and maintain relations with the local healing community. The project has helped to relieve pressure on wild landscape harvesting, with the healers regarded as an important group in society.
This approach could be applied to botanical gardens, such as Kirstenbosch, by acknowledging the cultural need to access spaces of spiritual significance as well as to facilitate collaborative alliance in the effort to integrate conservational measures and the ritualistic use of forest landscapes.
Protected areas help to preserve biodiversity, however, the consecrated value of Ihlathi and amasiko (forest landscapes and traditional customs) especially in the context of protected areas, needs to be thoroughly understood in defining the identity of people’s heritage. Alternative ways of conservation could assist in developing inclusive management approaches of both plant and cultural preservation. This will additionally provide alternative livelihood opportunities for the cultural and economic harvesting of natural resources, at the same time decreasing the compromise of ecological and consecrated landscapes within a modern South African society.
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