Using folk media in the restoration of community ecological governance
Music is not only therapeutic and entertaining but can also play an important role in changing mindsets towards approaches that protect ecosystem services for seed and food sovereignty. David Kureeba, Programme Officer Forests, Biodiversity, and Allan Kalangi, Manager of Sustainability School Programme at the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), explain. NAPE is one of ABN’s partners in Uganda.
“In the African traditional society, the sound of the drum or bugle served as a call to the people to take certain important actions. The bugle, drum and some other instruments could never sound for no serious purpose. They were either to call people for meetings with their leaders, call people to war, inform hunters that it was the time hunt or for a community’s entertainment function,” said Mr. Yolamu Nsamba, the former Principle Private Secretary to the Omukama (King) of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom.
Nsamba said that the same instruments were used in music, dance and drama to enhance the conveyance of certain important messages to particular listeners. “Music, dance and drama were very purposeful in the African traditional society. There was music targeting seasons such as drought and the rainy periods and harvest time. Music was used in the performance of cultural and spiritual functions. There was music for war to encourage the warriors. There was music calling for resilience during the time of sadness and happiness, for example, during childbirth and weddings. The most important thing is that there was always serious underlying messages and counsel in all this music and drama,” Nsamba added.
Music, dance and drama traditionally constituted the folk media that combined entertainment, information generation and dissemination functions. Folk media was owned by the entire community and societies. Everyone participated at least in one or all stages of information generation and dissemination. Aware of the importance of folk media in information dissemination to grassroots communities and mobilizing for action, NAPE decided to mainstream it as a key tool in its community ecological governance programme.
“Folk media is a very important tool for information dissemination. Digesting information carried in folk media is easy because it comes hand in hand with entertainment. We should also know that access to modern forms of media like print is still limited for the grassroots communities because the majority are not only unable to read but also the cost implication is also prohibitive. The radio has penetrated to many communities but there are still problems of signal coverage and the cost of buying radio sets or batteries,” Frank Muramuzi, the Executive Director of NAPE explains.
The work of NAPE in communities
NAPE is a Ugandan indigenous non-governmental organization (NGO) that works on a number of environmental issues with specific focus on undertaking lobbying and advocacy for sustainable use of natural resources. NAPE’s programmes arise out of the challenges and conditions prevailing in the country, and the region at large. Some of these challenges include ecological destruction due to large-scale development projects, violation of human rights by government due to unfavourable policy environment that support unsustainable agricultural approaches and other development actors including powerful companies, the oil drilling activities, felling trees for logging and digging up trenches for various purposes among other noticeable impacts of climate change.
To sustain interventions and involve grassroots communities effectively in ecological governance, NAPE initiated the Sustainability School approach. This approach works through the training of activists at the grassroots and grouping them into sustainability villages. Some of these activists also play a role of community educators who help in identifying ecological challenges in their localities and participate in searching for their solutions.
Heightened collaborations against environmental degradation activities
The Sustainability School network is concentrated in Uganda’s oil-rich Albertine region, where oil, gas activities and the ever-expanding sugar plantations threaten the rich ecosystems’ landscape.
The Ugandan government’s reckless support for agribusiness has meant that huge chunks of natural forests have been given away to commercial companies to be converted into oil palm or sugarcane plantations. This has led to dramatic loss of natural forests and biodiversity. The people neighbouring these forests have suffered significantly as they had traditionally used these areas for spiritual healing and as a stable source for herbal medicine, fruits, mushrooms, honey and other commodities of high food value.
A recent example is the issuing of a permit to Hoima Sugar Limited. This private company destroyed 21 square miles of grassland and forest to establish a sugarcane plantation and the related infrastructure. This decision did not consider that forest-dependent communities have the bio-cultural attachment that affects human behavior. In the forest, species of Flora and Fauna were decimated affecting the communities’ food basket.
Bugoma is one of the communities NAPE works with. They have sustainability villages where they use music and drama as a way of creating consciousness among the affected communities. Through this, community leaders are also sensitized about the unstainable commercial practices that undermine communities’ ecological sustainability.
“In our songs and drama, we talk about our rich environment biodiversity destroyed by different commercial activities. We talk about the dangers arising out of the destruction of the ecosystems and call upon everyone, including our leaders to join hands in reversing this trend,” said Ms.
Jessica Buteraba of Butimba Sustainability Conservation Association (BUSUCA), an ally of NAPE in Kikuube District, where Bugoma forest lies.
Music as an effective approach to change the mindset
Ms. Sylivia Kemigisa, the Chairperson of Kaiso Women’s group, in Hoima District and a partner of NAPE, which has a vibrant drama group, said that messages carried through drama performances are usually highly appreciated by audiences. “Drama has greatly helped us in mobilizing communities. People gather whenever we start performing or rehearsing out in the open. Since we use participatory theatre, some public members even help us to compose some of the messages. We have participated at national functions such as the World Environment, Women’s and Independence Days. On all these occasions, different stakeholders usually allude to the messages on biodiversity conservation that are carried in our songs,” Kemigisa said. Adding, “We are currently seeking support to record our songs to share widely. We usually get a lot of support from the communities whenever we can perform live on NAPE’s Community Green Radio.”
Mr. Vincent Nyegenya, a renowned dramatist in the Bunyoro sub-region of Uganda say, “In drama, we do many rehearsals before performing. This process ensures that all the participants have clear and complete information on conservation of biocultural diversity deeply engrained in their minds. When it comes to actual performance, the audience also joins in singing, chanting and dancing. The repeated performances result in these messages sticking into peoples’ minds. They can keep disseminating such messages naturally even when they are going about their normal chores like digging or herding animals,” Nyegenya said.
Muramuzi observes that at a time like this, when the legal processes are not protecting forests from being destroyed, hope lies in mobilizing communities to continue advocating for social, economic and environmental justice. He said that folk media is a highly effective tool in this respect. He said, “After NAPE filed a case, against Hoima Sugar, an agribusiness company, which destroyed Bugoma forest to plant sugarcanes and little gains have been made.” Adding, “As we strive to revive indigenous knowledge and inclusiveness in climate crises mitigation, the use of the traditional approaches such as folk media, storytelling and intergenerational knowledge transfer helps to change the mindset. There is a need to review the current policy framework to accommodate the present challenges. Also, it is important to ratify relevant policies as steps towards winning the war against the erosion of biocultural diversity” emphasises the Executive Director of NAPE.
Links to indigenous communities’ news from elsewhere: