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Importance of Indigenous Knowledge and Language in Climate Change Discussion by Kishore and Mary

Importance of Indigenous Knowledge and Language in Climate Change Discussion by Kishore Clement and Mary Anitta

Climate changes are dramatically affecting the globe for the last many years.

It is visible in marine climate and the increasing number of tropical cyclones around the globe.

Photo Credit: Kishore Clement and Mary Anitta

Due to these factors, many indigenous communities including artisanal fishers’ safety at sea and their sustainable livelihood are under strain in countries with coastal seacoast boundaries. There are millions of artisanal fishers highly dependent upon fishing. Any changes in the normal weather patterns affect fishers’ lives and livelihood. Without regular and successful fishing, income becomes uncertain or reduced, leading to increased indebtedness. Available statistics suggest that a large section of artisanal fishing households remain below the poverty line. As the result of economic pressures and ecological factors, traditional or indigenous fishers are drawn to fishing further away from the shore even under inclement weather conditions.

This demands accurate, timely, and continuous weather information for artisanal fishers. But current weather forecasts, communication, and dissemination rely highly on scientific data and do not give much importance to indigenous knowledge and language of artisanal fishers. However, these days weather warnings and information systems provided by official agencies are not accurate and reliable and most often these have become in the category of underestimation or overestimation of weather events at sea. Due to these, artisanal fishers lose the number of fishing days and their lives and livelihoods are under immense risks.

Traditional weather and climate forecasting are used by many indigenous communities worldwide as a guide in making important decisions that enable them to cope and adapt to climate change-induced extreme weather variations.

Through centuries-old experiential knowledge, passed to generations by word of mouth, have developed elaborate strategies for forecasting weather and climate from observable changes in biophysical variables in their environment.

Such traditional weather forecasting strategies are common among many indigenous communities across the world and are an essential part of the livelihood strategies, as they appear to be usually the only accessible and understandable weather information to local people. The Afar predict the condition of rain and wind, at a specific season or anticipated season, based on the observation of biophysical entities such as fishes, animals, winds, and celestial bodies. Fishers are doing these by their experience and previous traditional knowledge, for example through:

  • Traditional rain calendar

  • Observation of winds and their directions

  • Observation of dark clouds

  • Observation of lightning without clouds

  • Observation of swells and waves.

  • Observation of variation in algae bloom

  • Observation of fish behaviour etc.

Weather forecasting is undertaken in a dynamic process where the information is collected from different sources, including weather information from the modern weather forecasting systems, but often discard indigenous ecological knowledge and weather. Most often, the communication of weather to the indigenous communities like Mukkuva through official or dominant languages, which creates barriers for indigenous people to access modern weather information. We believe indigenous knowledge in weather predictions and indigenous language in weather communication is crucial, all indigenous knowledge is engrained in the indigenous languages.

For the last several years of working with the indigenous Mukkuva community in South India, we realized this importance. They or the indigenous language possesses all their tremendous knowledge related to life and nature. Like many indigenous communities, Mukkuva in southern India also has their own language which is more capable of depicting the realities associated with the marine environment and marine occupational practices. They use their knowledge in their daily fishing expeditions at the sea. And they transmit their knowledge as well as experiences from generation to generation through oral traditions. For example, they have words for denoting directions, waves, wave directions and strengths winds, wind strength, and the directions of winds which we are not able to find in the official language of the state governments in South India.

We also understood working with Mukkuvar in South India that the language barrier is one of the main issues that they are not able to make effective communication with the scientific community and the scientific communication is not able to make an impact among the traditional fishers with their scientific knowledge.

We realized if scientific communities are ready to acknowledge and learn from the knowledge and language of the fishing community, the weather forecasting, and dissemination system will be improved and useful to the users. In many senses, the academic terminologies of scientific communities are not easily understood by the indigenous fishers. On the other hand, scientific communities do not understand the indigenous language of fishers. In effect, both groups are confused and lack of trust is spiraling upon each other. So, the weather dissemination in the indigenous language will be more helpful to the fishers and scientific communities.

Moreover, the co-production of weather and climate knowledge by the two knowledge systems (i.e. indigenous and modern) and the creation of a system that synergizes the accuracy of the modern systems as well as the local relevance of the traditional systems is paramount. This would make a successful adaptation to climate change at the local level and global understanding.


About the Authors

Mary Anitta hails from the Mukkuva community in South India and has completed her post-graduate degree in Linguistics and held the position of Creative Head of the Radio Kadal, a community radio. Now she has been working as a Research Assistant for a University of Sussex forecasting with fishers' project. She has published three articles in the regional language of Kerala, Malayalam. She has documented indigenous fishers’ measurements systems as part of her Master’s dissertation. And now she is heading to pursue her PhD study in language and culture or applied linguistics with reference to indigenous language.

Kishore Clement is a member of Mukkuva community in South India. He has a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. For the last four years, he has developed a particular interest in marine weather and Climate change. Now he has been working as a Research Assistant for a University of Sussex's forecasting with fishers' projects within the community. He also conducts weather forecasts analysis and prepares weather broadcast through Radio Monsoon where indigenous knowledge of fishers are very important component. He has also worked with Marine Mammal Research and conservation network of India and engaged with their exploratory survey for the Arabian Sea humpback whales off the west coast of India. Recently, he has been offered a place of postgraduate study on climate and ocean with the University of Reading, UK.

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