With a profound sustainability crisis facing humanity, it may be useful to try and glimpse what a sustainable relationship between people and planet might actually look like. This essay explores how cultures and their host environments mesh together in pre-industrial societies.
It seeks to show how cultural beliefs and practices reflect and reinforce the environmental adaptations of seven different community settings – the Mbuti forest people in central Africa, the Kayapó people in the Brazilian Amazon, the Nuer cattle herders in South Sudan, the Chagga agro-foresters on Mount Kilimanjaro, Asian peasant farmers, and European small-scale urban systems.
As we face the need to limit our environmental impacts, drawing attention to pre-industrial cultures and their ecological contexts may offer some useful pointers towards a viable future.
Intimate interaction with the living world enables traditional communities to survive and to thrive. Local Nature is an existential reference point: invariably the food, building materials and firewood, their primary energy source, come from close by. Is celebrating Nature in stories, songs and community ceremonies a common trait of cultures the world over?