Tales of wisdom and inspiration from Tolon- Daboagshee in Northern Ghana
Regional Advisory Information and Network Systems (RAINS), an implementing partner of ABN, works with Daboagshee community in Northern Ghana to revive traditional practices for biodiversity protection and community resilience. Using community-led approaches like historical dialogue, transect walks, storytelling, and recognizing the spiritual significance of Sacred Natural Sites (SNS), RAINS supports the community in preserving the collective rights of people and nature. Mohammed Kamel Damma, a Programme Officer at RAINS, reveals how they work with the community of Tolon- Daboagshee to protect community lands and cultural heritage amidst growing threats from economic development.
Sacred Natural Sites (SNS) and Territories hold immense cultural and ecological value for indigenous and traditional communities, but face threats from economic and developmental pressures that erode biodiversity and customary governance systems. In Northern Ghana, changes in traditional land administration challenge the role of promoting community well-being and togetherness, a trend in most parts of Africa. This departure from customs makes it difficult to separate cultural identity, social relations, livelihoods, and traditional environmental knowledge from land use and biodiversity protection in many communities.
To strengthen indigenous land and ecological governance systems and preserve the collective rights of people and nature, RAINS actively engages with Daboagshee community. Custodians of SNS in Daboagshee have a long-standing tradition of preserving culturally significant land and forests. However, over time, this knowledge has weakened, resulting in a gap between the elderly and the youth, limiting opportunities for intergenerational knowledge sharing.
Community-led approaches for biodiversity conservation and community resilience
RAINS’ efforts to reverse this situation and build community resilience are based on community-led approaches, involving the entire community hierarchy. Recognition of RAINS as a facilitator of biodiversity conservation has been crucial in gaining trust. To do this, RAINS used the following approaches:
Community Elders led a session on the community’s history and values, attended by youth, women, and elders. The dialogue facilitated knowledge-sharing on the community’s name, culture, festivals, religion, and more. The origin story is based on principles of nature’s rights, biodiversity conservation, and land governance. This dialogue helped the community reconnect with their heritage and understand the importance of protecting their lands and resources.
Community Elders, acting as key informants, led groups including youth, women, and men in various directions from the community. These transect walks were conducted to observe and question community features to gather information. The outcome was a community map highlighting significant areas, including Sacred Natural Sites. This exercise helped the community understand their landscape and the importance of protecting specific areas for their spiritual and ecological significance.
A storytelling evening was organized at the chief’s palace, where community elders, women, youth, and children gathered to listen to tales of wisdom and inspiration. “I am so happy to have you in my community. This day is unique in my life. It is a historic day in our community. I am honoured. With your visit my people will further appreciate our effort in conserving biodiversity through cultural norms and taboos,” stated Community Chief of Daboagshee.
Storytellers used traditional gestures and expressions to bring stories to life, captivating the audience with vivid descriptions and animated performances. The tales ranged from quests for magical treasures to battles against injustice, evoking laughter, tears, and introspection. “Humans are influenced by two interconnected factors – the environment and culture. It is crucial to protect ecological systems, but in some parts of Dagbon in Ghana, ancestral land, culture, ecology, and land governance system are lagging behind. However, Tolon traditional area stands out for upholding collective rights, nature rights, and a land administration system that prioritizes non-commercialization of land, supporting livelihood through agriculture, herbs, biomass, and heat absorption,” observed Adam Abubakari, while at the event.
Children were entranced, youth found guidance, women celebrated their heritage, and elders shared profound lessons. “The living and the dead share a strong and direct connection in our community,” explained Chief Priest of Daboagshee. “They are with us in laughter and grief, and we value each other. Through traditional sacrifices and ceremonies, we communicate and coexist successfully. They arrived before us, carrying knowledge and blessings that we strive to obtain. As the Chief Priest of Daboagshee, I hold reverence for this relationship.” The chief expressed gratitude for the power of storytelling in preserving community heritage and fostering connection. The evening ended with songs and dances, and so the tradition will continue to be cherished and passed down for generations, keeping the art of storytelling alive in the community. Memories of the stories will inspire actions and shape decisions, strengthening the bonds of shared history and culture.