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The Role of Traditional Belief Systems and Indigenous Practices in

Natural Resource Conservation and Its challenges: The case of

Wonago Woreda, Gedeo Zone, Southern Ethiopia
Yoseph Maru (PhD candidate)
Department of Natural Resource Management, Dilla University, Dilla,


Yaaa (assembly) in songo sacred places


Research was conducted in the Wonago Woreda in Gedeo Zone, Ethiopia to exploring the role of traditional
institutions and indigenous practices in natural resource management. The purpose of the study was to assess
the linkage between culture and nature interaction. A qualitative research approach was used. The study used
focus groups, semi-structured interview, participatory observation and informal discussion to collect
information. The study participants clan elders, women, traditional leaders and development agents were
purposely chosen from three kebeles in the woreda based on their sex, age, ballee position, length of stay in the
research area and their status in the society. This study evident that, traditional institutions and beliefs have
great role in natural resource conservation. There are sacred places, taboos (beliefs), and indigenous
ecological knowledge that ensure environmental sustainability. Songo is a sacred place as well as traditional
institutions in the study area. The main purposes of songo sacred places are a place to sits for local elders, holy
place to pray God when unexpected disasters or calamities happen such as disease outbreak, war, pest-
epidemic, draught (when rain is scarce) and also traditional institutions that responsible for social issues such
as conflict resolution over management and uses of natural resources such as boundary disputes with neighbor,
conflict over land and resources upon it, household disputes and crime related deeds were generally brought
and resolved by local elders under Songo sacred places. The sacredness of songo traditional institutions were
illustrated by identified sacred trees. Mokenissa, Wodessa, Badessa, Birbrissa, udessa and Odeee were sacred
songo trees that planted in songo sites. These trees are highly venerated and fearful in community. Any kind of
harm done to the Songo sacred trees is feared to cause a furious punitive responses or calamities such as
draught, outbreak of disease, war, pest-epidemic, death and food shortages. Hence, the local community was
afraid to fell or to harm them. In contrast, Religious monotheism, westernization, high economic demand,
change in social norms among the youth and lack of proper documentation of indigenous practices were main
eroding factors of traditional knowledge and indigenous practices in the study area.
Keywords: Traditional belief system, Indigenous practices, natural resource conservation, songo sacred trees

Natural resources were provides the basis for life on earth, including human life, and is the key
to safeguarding the wealth of the world for sustainable development. However, the current rate
of loss of biodiversity perhaps described as a crisis and a great extinction of natural resources
including faunal and large vegetation (IUCN, 2005). The Earths ecosystems have now been

dramatically changed through human actions. Thus, the resulting biodiversity loss is
undermining the provision of a wide range of ecosystem services on which humanity depends
(MA, 2007). However, Indigenous, mobile, and local communities have for millennia played a
critical role in conserving a variety of natural environments and species. They have done this for
a variety of purposes, economic as well as cultural, spiritual and aesthetic. There are today
innumerable Community Conserved Areas (CCAs) across the world, including sacred forests,
wetlands, landscapes, migration territories, village lakes, catchments forests, river and coastal
stretches and marine areas. In many of these areas the history of conservation and sustainable use
of natural resources is much older than government-managed protected areas, yet they are often
neglected or not recognized in official conservation systems (IUCN, 2007).
The local communities in many developing countries have established distinct knowledge,
innovation and practices relating to the uses and management of natural resources effectively
(Kadiriserge, 2015). For the indigenous communities, the natural resources were not only
important as a source of food and other domestic products, but it was also the very basis of their
religion and cultural significances. Certain plant, land, trees and animal were venerated or
respected; in some cases these may not be touched, destroyed or eaten by community for cultural
purposes via taboos (Soutter, 2003). These traditionally protected areas were highly devoted for
religious deeds and regulated by taboos. Hence, these traditional ways of natural resources in
Africa play great roles as conservation tools (IUCN, 2010).
Above all, local groups of people managed the land on which they lived and the natural
resources they were surrounded for millennia. There existed locally well-informed knowledge
that helped them to protecting available natural resources via taboos and ancestral veneration, not
to be injured and damaged certain critical species from dedicated area (Diawuo, 2015). The vast
majority, if not all, faiths and belief systems have a close and intimate link with the natural
world. The spiritual as well as cultural link is most of illustrated by the presence of sacred natural
sites such as trees, land, hills, groves, animal and sacred forest in the landscapes of faith
communities in the most parts of Africa (Aniah et al, 2014). The animal as well as plant species
were not damaged and threatened, they were survived for long period of time, because taboos
and cultural beliefs can restricts the access to traditional protected areas as well as venerated

Ethiopia is land of diversity and enchantments. The mosaic and colorful ethnicities have their
own charming and overwhelming culture and indigenous practices. Each ethnic group differs to
varying degrees from others in culture, beliefs, social organization, and language and have
adapted to a wide range of geophysical and climatic conditions. The nation and nationalities of
the country have long experiences of natural resource management. For instance, ecological
knowledge of agroforestry; soil conservation practices (Terraces), water management, wildlife
conservation and weather forecasting knowledge were indigenous practices that used as
conservation tools in the country (USAID, 2010).
Likewise, Gedeo community is one of ethnicity in Southern Ethiopia. The community is known
for overwhelming local knowledge of indigenous agroforestry land use systems. Gedeo people
have an ecologically sound land use system where fairly dense natural trees are left on farms in
which coffee, false banana (enset) and other food crops are inter-cropped with animals (SLUF,
2006; Tadesse 2002). The Gedeo indigenous agroforestry land use system or home-garden also
represents one of the oldest traditionally intensified farming systems in Ethiopia (SLUF, 2006).
Thus, the sustainability of this land use system is mainly depending on the indigenous way of
biodiversity conservation.
Above all, Songo traditional institutions and Songo sacred trees veneration deeds were basic
tools for natural resource conservation within community (Yoseph Maru, 2014). Songo is
traditional institution as well as sacred places were social, political and cultural issues were
discussed and solved by local elders. It is regarded as holy place (respectful) to perfume
different rituals and cultural ceremony. The veneration of sacred songo places were geographical
illustrated by the presence of sacred songo trees. These trees were never injured and fell down
due to the fear of calamities, ancestral curse and mores of Gedeo community.
Moreover, Gedeo people have deep knowledge of natural resource management. They have
strong ecological and cultural attachments with natural world. They give tremendous values and
respect for Baboo trees, enset, soil and coffee. The community also associates their traditional
belief with Trees. Certain tree species were set aside for cultural purposes. Thus, this incredible
indigenous way of natural resource management is enabling them to use environment in
sustainable manner and this overwhelming local knowledge enabling local community to avert
food insecurity, land degradation, loss of critical ecosystems such as soil, water in undulated and
challenging topography without terracing.

2. Statement of the problem
Ethiopia is one of the oldest countries in the world with unique and bountiful biodiversity. It has
diverse physical features that cause a wide variation in climatic conditions. The flora of the
country is very heterogeneous and has rich endemic elements (CBD, 2012). These, mosaic
nature of ecosystems (mega diversity) were enabling the country to encompass a diversified
biological wealth of plants, animals, and large vegetation cover (Badegew, 2001). The historical
sources indicate that, on the basis of potential climatic conditions, high forests might have once
covered about 35-40 % of the total land area of the country (CBD, 2012). But, currently the
forest areas of the country have been reduced from 40% a century ago to an estimated less than
3% today (Bedru, 2007). The remaining natural forests even are located primarily in the south
and southwest of the country (MOA, 1991). The population growth, agricultural expansion, weak
enforcement, insecure land tenure, flooding, drought and poverty were the main driving factors
of natural resource loss and immediate depilation in the country (USAID, 2010).
Over the last two decades, the Ethiopian government has put in place a number of policies,
strategies and laws that help to avert the biodiversity loss. Above all, the country has signed
and/or ratified many of the international conventions and protocols to improve use of its natural
resources e.g. the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1994), the
Convention on Biological Diversity (1994), the United Nations Convention to Combat
Desertification (1994), the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety to the Convention on Biological
Diversity (2000), and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants to protect
environmental health (EPA, 2008). However, due to the implementation constraints of policies
and strategies, country has been blamed for its inefficient utilization of natural resources. The
remnant of the country biodiversity is still in verge of extinction (USAID, 2008). The fortified
approaches and lack of local community involvement in natural resource management were main
driving issues.
These were because of the fact that, historical the management of biodiversity areas in Ethiopia
has never been successful in terms of sustainability. The absence of any consideration for the
local communities has produced an antagonistic feeling towards use and management of the
biodiversity. In different political systems, the local communities disregard and marginalized in
the deeds of natural resources. These fortress approaches of biodiversity conservation have been
unable to protect the loss of critical ecosystems in the country (CBD, 2008).

The local people have incredible knowledge of natural resource conservation and they were
know well how to manage and uses environment via empirical observation. They were also
seeing the natural resources not only as source of food but also as their spiritual and cultural
bases (IUCN, 2010). Thus, working with local communities and giving perpetuated recognition
for their indigenous knowledge perhaps enhance resource use efficiency and could avert the loss
of biodiversity (WB, 2009).
Above all, many indigenous practices were rapidly eroding socio-cultural changes. Hence,
indigenous way of natural resource management has been marginalizing by giving seldom
recognition and attention. The resulting breakdown of indigenous knowledge practice is
threatening species and their habitats that were once protected by taboos (IUCN, 2010). Due to
the abrogation of traditional practices and cultural institutions, traditional protected area, rituals;
cultural practices, taboos and belief were become weakening (IUCN, 2007). This is true in
Ethiopia; coming to being of western civilization is eroding the rich cultural values, beliefs and
norms of the indigenous people and also changed their way of worship and traditional nature
resource conservation practices (UNESCO, 2006).
The erosion of tradition (IK) is increasing the overexploitation of the biodiversity. Above all, the
currently the government of Ethiopia give the priority for modern or scientific conservation by
formulating different environmental policies and strategies to halt degradation of its natural
resources. But, the formulated policies and strategies were not averting yet the natural resources
use problems (USAID, 2008). Concurrently, fortress approach is accelerating the loss of natural
resources and indigenous knowledge practices that used as conservation tools for long period of
The protection of the natural environment is very important to indigenous people since they
derive benefits from the environment (IUCN, 2007). Ethiopia is also a country that its flora and
fauna critical degraded, due to the weak management bountiful biodiversity become on the verge
of extinction. The Gedeo people were one of ethnic group in southern Ethiopia. They have long
history of traditional land-use systems (Tadesse 2002), and hence it is assumed that their
indigenous land use has practiced for long period of time in the country. The community has
been using traditional knowledge for ecological protection and livelihood improvements. The
traditional agroforestry system is known to be an exemplary land-use system in the region as
well as in the world (Tadesse 2002; SLUF 2006). In addition to these cultural institutions, rituals

and traditional beliefs were other deeds of Gedeo community that attach them with natural
world. However, IK is transmitted orally from generation to generation (Grenier 1998) and
consequently it is vulnerable to rapid change, especially when people are displaced or when
young people acquire values and lifestyles that differ from those of older generations. Likewise,
in the study area indigenous knowledge of agroforestry, traditional institutions and mores were
rapidly degrading and young people of the community not zeal as old generation for cultural
Cultural beliefs are gradually weakening due to globalization and wide exposure to modern
thinking and media. Above all, lack of proper documentation of IK and traditional practices were
predominant driving issues. The study revealed that, young people in Gedeo community were
not as skillful at articulating indigenous knowledge of ecology as their elders, and only a few
were able to describe the indigenous agroforestry practices, ritual deeds and other community
mores (Abiyot legesse, 2013). Above all, regional as well as local government give priority for
scientific or modern conservation practices by giving less recognition for traditional practices
and indigenous knowledge. Therefore, the main objective of this research paper is to assess the
role of traditional belief systems and indigenous practices in natural resource conservation and
its challenges in Gedeo community, Southern Ethiopia.
3. The Significance of the research
The research findings will insights in the extent of the problems to other researchers who will
undertake in this research area. It will also serve as references for different anthropological
researchers, students, NGOs and other governmental institutions to acquire critical knowledge of
Gedeo community and it is also used to formulate overwhelming policy as well as legal
framework to improve natural resource governance in zonal as well as country level. Above all,
the recommendations of this study will serve as input for planners, policy makers and other
stakeholders to avert implementation constraints, the degradation of natural resources and to
educate the current young population by documenting cultural as well as indigenous knowledge
practices of Gedeo community for next generation.

4. The Objectives of the study area
4.1 The main objectives of the study
To assess the role of traditional institutions and indigenous practices in natural resource
conservation and its threating in Gedeo community, Southern Ethiopia
4.2 The specific objectives

To assess the roles of Traditional beliefs and indigenous practices in natural resource
conservation in the study area
To identify ecological knowledge of tree management and conservation
To assess the factors eroding and degrading indigenous way of natural resource
conservation in the study area
3.1 The study area

The research was conducted in Wonago Woreda, Gedeo Zone, located 380 km south of Addis
Ababa, and the capital of Ethiopia. Gedeo Zone is situated on the western escarpment of the east
branch of the Great Rift Valley. The zone borders Sidama Zone in the north and Borena Zone
and Gujji Zone in the east, west, and south. The Wonago Woreda is one of bountiful woreda
from six zonal woredas. It is known for its quality and famous coffee productions. The farmers
of the woreda have been well known for their overwhelming ecological knowledge of
agroforestry practices which integrating multipurpose trees, coffee, enset with animals (WWAO,
3.2 Methodology and Approach
Qualitative research approach is especially effective in obtaining culturally specific information
about the values, opinions, behaviors, beliefs and social contexts of particular communities
(Russell, 2005). Thus, a qualitative research approach was used Specifically, Ethnographic
participatory research approach. The researcher used this approach is to immerse himself and to
explore how traditional belief systems contributes in natural resource conservation. Above all, in
ethnographic research, the researcher frequently lives with the people and becomes a part of their
culture. The researcher explores with the people their rituals, beliefs, indigenous practices and
customs that interact with natural environment (Elmusharaf, 2012). The three kebeles were
selected for this study: Mokonissa, Jemjemo and Gelelichcho kebeles were chosen based on their
importance in ritual, culture, and agro ecology, the presence of traditional institutions and

indigenous knowledge of agroforestry practices. The study informants chosen from above three
kebeles were local elders, traditional institution leaders, and rainmakers, farmers, and women
leaders. They were selected by using purposive sampling techniques based on their role in
community, level of indigenous knowledge and position within Traditional bale administration
system. Different methods of qualitative data gathering tools were employed. Semi-structured
interview, focused group discussion, participator observation and informal discussion were used
to gather data relating to the existing indigenous ecological knowledge, rituals, indigenous way
of tree conservation, the historical grounds for the natural resource management, the farming
systems, and ways of cultural interaction with natural world. The key informants also involved
in this study and careful attempts were made to select the key informants. Key informants, as a
result of their personal skills, or position within a society, are able to provide more information
and a deeper insight into what is going on around them (Elmusharaf, 2012). Thus, The Key
informants were chosen based their role in community, indigenous knowledge, willingness,
communicability and unbiased nature.


The data were analyzed using inductive and thematic content analysis. In the latter case, the
collected data were carefully coded and then categorized based on their similarities. The
categorized data were subsequently developed into themes in order to perform coherence and
summarized the raw data and convey key themes into their similarity for further analyses. The
table, figures, photos and other data illustration tools were employed by researcher.
1. Traditional belief and social institutions in natural resource conservation
1.1 Songo traditional institutions
Traditional institutional rules, values, and beliefs help support conservation regimes of natural
resources in many indigenous communities. Various indigenous beliefs and social institutions
have contributed to sustainable utilization of critical ecosystem of our planet (Millar, 2004).
Traditional institutions have played key roles in ensuring that those who broke natural resource
management rules and norms were punished via taboos and mores (Tang, 2009). This study
evident that, Gedeo community is highly associated their culture, life, and beliefs with natural
world. Certain area or tree set aside for cultural purposes only. Songo venerated trees and Songo

sacred places were highly associated with mores of local community. In this study 35 sacred
songo places were identified and it was ranging from 0.25 to 0.5 of ha.
Photo 1: Sacred Songo place and Cultural elders

The focus groups revealed that, Songo is cultural institutions that social, political and cultural issues
were discussed and solved in Gedeo community. It is regarded as holy place (respectful) to
perfume, Derarro thanks giving ceremony, Qexxalla rituals, and ancestral curse purification
ceremonies were held under this venerated songo trees (photo1). Songo also a place for ritual
deeds such as venerated sites for local elders to take a seat, holy place to pray God when
unexpected disasters or calamities were happen like disease outbreak, war, pest-epidemic,
draught (when rain is scarce), a respectful place to condemn misbehavior (theft) and a place to
thanks God for good harvest after farming season and it is also venerated place to pray God
(mageno) for fertility when a women/men after marriage cannot have children and also fearful
place to teaching indigenous ecological knowledge for children and youth (Photo 2).
Photo 2: Cultural elders praying God (mageno) and Derarro thanks giving ceremony

Songo sacred place is used as cultural institutions to keep peace and security of community by
endorsing local rules and regulations via taboos. According to local elders, Songo traditional
institutions (place) were responsible for social issues such as conflict resolution over
management and uses of natural resources for instance, boundary disputes, conflict over land and
resources upon it. Non-evidential crimes, household disputes and crime (fraud) deceptions were
generally brought to this holy place and resolved by local elders so called Songotti hayyichuwa.
Informal discussion that held with local community revealed that, Songo chief leader (hayyicha)
were highly respectful and fearful, hence cheating as well as humiliation of their reputation
during their reconciliation time in this venerated place is highly condemned by mores of Gedeo
community. The eyes of Songo elders believed as powerful and frightened, nobody can deny the
facts in front of elders during their investigation for crime as well as reconciliation of disputes in
holy places. Thus, non-evidential crime and serious disputes also resolved and managed
peacefully due to the fear of upcoming situation (calamities). The repudiate facts in scared place
or under sacred trees is feared to loss of eyesight and misfortune. Thus, non-evidential crime
practices and thefts were brought to the songo chiefs and resolved easily without deny of facts.
1.2 Veneration of Songo sacred trees
In many cultures around the world particularly in indigenous people, sacred trees are strictly
protected for their cultural purposes and a ritual, injuring the venerated trees in any way is
regarded as taboos (Amots Dafni, 2005).
Photo 3: Songo cultural house and Songo sacred trees

Songo cultural house Sacred Songo Tree

Surprisingly, the sacredness of songo places were illustrated by the presence of respectful songo
trees (Dhadachcha) and cultural houses (Songoti mine). They were regarded as symbol of Gedeo
community, which is social as well as political issues, were articulated and performed under
these holy trees. Songo trees (Dhadachcha) were respectful trees and highly attached with

traditional beliefs and culture mores of Gedeo community. Songo trees were venerated and
culturally reverent (Photo 3). It is set aside for traditional deeds or for ritual performances only.
According to local elders, songo sacred trees also used as venues for local assembly (Yaaa) to
gather under these shade trees and cultural songo houses (photo 1) and it is also a place to
passing local proclamation, gathering information and to make bless by elders for entire
community well-beings. In this study, five sacred tree species were identified that dedicated for
cultural significances: Mokenissa, Birbirissa, Wodessa, Odeee, Qilixxa and Badessa (tab 1). The
cutting down and disrespectful deeds to holy songo trees were strictly forbidden. Not
surprisingly, any kind of harm done to the Songo sacred trees is feared to cause a furious
punitive responses or calamities such as draught, outbreak of disease, war, pest-epidemic, death
and food shortages. The local community was afraid to fell or to harm them. Thus, no one can
pick a leaf or to collect dead woods from songo sacred trees, no axes or machete laid or put on
the reveled trees and also no war lance , spear and other metal weapons were could entered to
sacred songo places. Due to the veneration of songo places and trees, wildlife like birds and other
tree climbing animals have taken refuge there may not be molested and killed by local
Table 1: Traditional belief that associated with Songo cultural institutions and sacred trees
No Sacred tree species
Scientific N Local name Forbidden Deeds Belief Conservation
1 Cordia africna Wodessa Tree injury/cutting Bad luck or Farro/Taboos
down/ no use for Misfortune or
house construction Suffering from
2 Podocarpus Brbirssa Collecting of dead Illness or Farro/Taboos
wood/theft of accidents
property under
Songo trees
3 Croton Mokenissa Disturbing Songo Loss of fertility Farro/Taboos
4 Ficus vasta Qilixxa No one pick a leaf/no Calamities Farro/Taboos
axes or machete laid

on trees
5 Syzygium Badessa Not used for Sin or social Farro/Taboos
guineense firewoods exclusion
6 Ficus sp Odeee Disrespectful Bareness Farro/Taboos

Source: author (2017)

1.3 Traditional beliefs that associated with Bird species
From practical evidences of focus group discussions and interviews, Gedeo people are worship
on one Supreme Being, Mageno which can express Himself through His creations. Due to this,
the Gedeo have been known for their high admiration of natural creation. For instance, cutting
baboo (trees) and killing birds and damaging trees bird nested is highly condemned and
committed as great sins (Cubbo). Some bird species were viewed as sign of bad as well as good
omen (farro). Local community believed that, bird is signify or foretelling upcoming situations
such as visitors (Kesumma) and calamities (farra). According local elders, the most terrible
(fearful) sin (cubbo) that our community knew regarding birds was for a man, women or
children to break the eggs, damage bird nest and cutting down trees that birds were nested. It is
said that should you commits that sins (cubbo, farra), you will bring a curse (calamities) upon,
not only yourself, but also your family particularly feared for loss of fertility (finna birrirtaxxa
On the other hand, birds have ability of foreseeable nature. According to focus group informants,
birds are visualizing the upcoming situations such as omen of good luck (kayyo), forewarn the
upcoming misfortune (Farro), weather forecasting, alarming upcoming of farming season and it
is also associated with marriage. Xixichcho, cichcho, waarayyee, haniqaa, gugechcho, urunigo,
bekkeko and facheexxee ama were bird species that associated with omen telling, weather
forecasting and marriage (tab-2). For instance, Xixichcho and Cichcho were bird species
visualizing or foretelling upcoming misfortune as well as good luck. Xixxichcho bird most of
time associated with delivering new information (Oodichcha) and upcoming situations. When
Xixichcho bird is crocking with very sharp sound, the villagers signify that as negative upcoming
omens such as hostile, calamities (farro), misfortune, and enemies around. Thus, everybody who
are hearing the shouting sounds of this bird, take a care ahead of in surrounding.

Cichcho bird species associated with both bad and good omens. But, most of time cichcho bird is
associated with foretelling upcoming good omens such as fortune, peace, and reconciliation
among the community. If this bird is shouting smoothly (Shammo cichcho), it is visualizing good
omen of upcoming situations such as visitation of relatives (friends), peaceful deliverance of
pregnant women and other fortunes. According to the Gedeo elders, in time of home departure, if
somebody hears the very sharp croaking (crying) sounds of this bird, it is believed as bad omen
and misfortune situation will happen ahead of. Thus, a person decides to cancel his/her departure
(check out) from home and decide not to do plan things. However, during laboring time if
Chicho singing smoothly with smooth throat local called Shamo chichoo, the community
believed that mother or pregnant women will give birth peacefully and the baby also optimistic
in future.
Warrayye (Black-headed gonolek) is other incredible and beautiful bird that associated with
marriage among Gedeo community in the past. The informant interviewed evident that, a red tail
feather of this bird is used for engagement with a girl for marriages. A person, who falls in love
with a girl, is going to put the red feather of warrayye in her hairdressing of selected girl and this
girl is believed to be already engaged with somebody hence, no one can ask her for marriage and
she also free from abduction deeds. Moreover, the engaged girl with red tail feather of this bird,
ought to marry engager without her interest because nobody could ask her again for marriage.
However, now a day this type of marriage and its deeds were highly condemn by entire
community and cultural leaders. Totally declared as crime and committed as serious law-
breaking practices amongst community members and now a day no one could practice. But, the
warraye bird is still popular and fascinating bird species in study area and tremendous care for its
Bekeko is another spectacular and popular bird species in Gedeo community. This incredible bird
is highly associated with forecasting upcoming farming season (agricultural calendar). The
croaking singing (sounds) of this bird giving an alarm for farmers for sowing agricultural crops
like maize, beans, enset and coffee. The singing of this bird is foretold the upcoming of rain
season (Harisso or end of dry season) which is important season for farmers to plant enset,
maize and coffee. Thus, farmers were recognizing that a time is coming to prepare farming fields
(plots) and making ready to plant coffee, enset, maize and other legumes. Bekeko birds usually
silent throughout the dry season, but starting singing or croaking only in the rain season to give

alarm for farmers. Bekeko bird is recognized as rain bird because, its sounds perpetually heard
during rainy season. The main surprising thing is children as well as adults face to face singing
with this popular bird by responding for its singing. The following is bird-human communication
during rain farming season bekeko, bekeko, bekeko then children as well as adults at the same
time replying by saying wesse (enset)...kassi (plant)badalla (maize)kassi (sowing),,,bunno
(coffee).kassi (planting),,,,,hammara (legumes)..kassi (sowing).
In Gedeuffa Songs English translates approximately to:
Bird human Bird human response

Bekeko.. wesse kassi Bekekoplanting Enset!

Bekeko buno kassi Bekeko..planting Coffee!

Bekeko badala kassi Bekekosowing maize!

Bekeko. hakichoo kassi Bekekoplanting tree!

Bekeko. hamarra kassi Bekekosowing legumes!

Fachexxe amma and haniqqa were another bird species that associated with weather
forecasting. It is used as biological indicators for weather prediction. Fachexxe amma (Black-
collared pigeon) is weather detecting bird when the sky is cloud (dark) the bird start croaking or
releasing very sharp sounds. The surrounding people believed or recognizing that the rain is
coming. On the other hand, Haniqqa (silvery-cheeked hornbill) is a bird associated with weather
forecasting. It was foretell the upcoming rain by showing unusual behavior (detecting) like
croaking, continuously opening its bills and releasing very sharp sound on the ground. When the
people observed such unusual detecting behavior, they were signify that rain is showering soon.
According to the informants, silvery-cheeked hornbill is not killed and nobody could mimic the
sound of this bird. If any person imitates the croaking sound of this bird, a person who were
imitates the sound of a bird believed he/she would suffering from dhagawa (ear disease) as well
as a child after birth become foolish. Thus, nobody could imitate the sound of Haniqqa (silvery-
cheeked hornbill). Uruniggo (Owl) is another bird species that associated with bad omen.
According to the focus group interviewed, this bird is foreseeing the upcoming bad omen of

death in the villages. When Owl is crying (croaking) very sharply at night, the dwellers were
traditional belief or signify the death in the villages will happen soon.

Table 2: Traditional beliefs associated with bird species

Bird species
Uses Forbidden deeds/taboos
Local name English name

Alarming bird for Killing and break of eggs believed as a

1 farmers or forewarn and damage of their nested fearful sin
Bekekko - upcoming of farming trees (Chubboo)

- The crying bird

2 Uruniggo Owl Forewarn upcoming (bad omen)
situations probably
bad omen (death)

believed as sin
3 Shollocho White-winged chat Foretell upcoming Killing and cutting trees, or invitation of
misfortune or good that a bird nested curse in family

believed as
4 Xixiyyo Somber rock-chat Forebode of Killing, damage their nests, merciless sin or
information (foresee break their eggs fear death of
bad omen) child after birth

believed as
5 Chichoo - Foreseeable birds Killing, damage their nests, merciless sin or
upcoming good omens break their eggs fear death of
child after birth

The hand of
6 Hageyyolle Mountain wagtail - Killing is forbidden killer person is
become wiggle
as bird tail

The fearful sin

7 Warrayye - The tai feather uses for Killing, damage their nests,
to engage a girl break their eggs

2. Traditional Ecological knowledges associated with tree conservation

The farmers of the study area have long experience in traditional farming system. They were
integrating traditional knowledge in tree conservation and growing trees for shade of crops,

coffee and enset. Gedeo nation is highly associated their socio-cultural aspects with natural
resources. According to the Gedeo elders, three things are basic for Gedeo community: Tree,
Enset and Coffee. The survival and livelihoods of the entire community is depends on these three
basic indigenous agroforestry components. The felling or cutting baboo trees belief that, it could
expose the land to bareness and put the survival of the overall population in question. Thus, the
farmers were deliberately integrating multipurpose trees in their farms. The focus group
interviewed revealed that, the main reasons for integrating tree in farms were shade for coffee
and enset, soil fertility improvement, fodder, fuelwood and other ecological purposes .

Awesome Gedeo Indigenous agroforestry land use system

M. ferruginous, Cordia Africana, Vernonia amygdalina Croton macrostachyus, Ficus vasta were
highly preferred tree species for ecological purposes in their farms (tab3).
The focused group discussion revealed that, the litterfall and biomass of these trees were
decomposing in very short period of time which improve soil quality as well as crop yields. The
main remarkable knowledge of farmers were, ecological categorization of trees based on crops.
Farmers were well knows which tree is good for enset shading and which trees are ecological
compatible for coffee yields (tab 3).
Table 3 Indigenous trees that associated with ecological conservation (IK)
Roll Local name Scientific name 1 2 3 4 5

1 Dhadhatto M. ferruginea
2 Wodessa C. Africana
3 Wolenna Erthrina brucie

5 Talaa Polyscias fulva

6 Qilixxa Ficusvasta

7 Ebicha Vernonia amygdalina

8 Goribe Albizia gummifera

9 Odee Ficus sycomorus

Source: this study 1= coffee shade, 2=control of flooding, 3=soil fertility improvement, 4=to
avert natural disastrous, 5=improve water quality
3. Factors eroding traditional institutions and indigenous practices
Most of all, traditional belief system is integral part of IK playing a remarkable values in natural
resource management and conservation. The vast majority spiritual and belief systems have a
close and intimate link with the natural world (IUCN, 2010). However, the traditional beliefs
system as well as indigenous knowledge practices are diminishing and eroding in current
situations. Likewise, in the study area different factors were eroding traditional beliefs and
indigenous practices that associated with natural resource management. The local elder revealed
that, (Christianity, particularly protestant) has declared traditional beliefs and practices as evil
and satanic. That has no link with God the Father Almighty and a retraining force for
development especially the present. The focus discussion also identified that, Population
pressure, modernization, agricultural expansion, commercialization of agroforests products and
religious monotheism were the main driving factors for degradation of indigenous way of natural
resource conservation.

a. Agricultural expansions: - is one of the threading factors of songo traditional institutions in the
study area. The local elder revealed that, population pressure is driving factors for reducing its
size and encroaching to the songo sacred places for agricultural activities. Due to the
competition for agricultural conversion, the size of sacred songo sites has been shrinking. The

households around the environs of Songo sites, pushing the boundary by planting enset, seasonal
crops, coffee and other agricultural crops.

b. Modernization: - the modernization and adaptation of new culture and thinking were other
seriously threating factors of indigenous way of natural resource conservation in the study area.
According to the elders, the erosion of traditional beliefs, especially among the youth, has
rendered the indigenous practices. Thus, traditional practices of forefathers were vulnerable to
encroachment, overexploitation and desecration of Baboo culture. Young people in the study
area were not as skillful as their forefathers at using and practicing the indigenous practices as
their elders, and only a few were interested to deeds the cultural mores in songo sacred places,
because, the young people are not interested to attend in different rituals and traditional
institutions. According to the local elders, songo cultural institution is sacred place to gather
information, a blessed place to acquire wise indigenous knowledge but, young people were
considered these practices as backward or as old-fashioned deeds.
c. The commercialization of the agroforestry products: - the focus group interviewed revealed
that, high demand for agroforestry products for fuelwood, construction materials (poles),
logging timber and increasing the number of business firms like bakery in urban and rural
contributing for felling of cultural baboo trees. Fuelwood is the most important household
energy used by the rural as well as urban dwellers in the study area. Above all, due to the high
demand of fuelwood in urban area, the people are felling trees for market. This is commonly
seen in asphalt road in the study area and in rural villages (fig). Hence, indigenous baboo tree
species such as dhadhatto, Wodessa, Mokenissa, guduboo, and qilixxa were felling down by the
community for house construction and firewood (figr 1).

d) The religious monotheism: - the dominance of religion particularly protestant in the study
area, the traditional beliefs and social institution were become in verge of extinction. According
to the local elders, the protestant is advocates to be believed in one God (belief in concept that
there is only one holy God and the rest one is satanic evil practices). Thus, religion members,
pastors and priests were declaring the social institutions as well as traditional beliefs as satanic
deeds and abstain themselves from their forefathers or ancestral cultural veneration. Therefore,
this tremendous religion battling is restricting young people and protestant followers from
practicing indigenous mores and lore of Gedeo community

Conclusion and recommendation

Over the millennia, Indigenous peoples have developed a close and unique connection with the
lands and environments in which they live. They have established distinct systems of knowledge,
innovation and practices relating to the uses and management of biological diversity on these
lands and environments. These traditional knowledge as well as indigenous practices has played
a vital role in the management and conservation of natural environmental in the study area. The
traditional belief system that demonstrated by the community such as sacred songo trees and
local knowledge practices such as traditional agroforestry knowledge, soil conservation and
wildlife knowledge are protecting Biodiversity and natural resources via taboos by forbidding the
misbehavior practices such as cutting songo trees, killing birds and felling shade baboo trees.

Moreover, over the years, traditional belief systems and indigenous knowledge that conserve the
natural resources for long period is being eroded or corroded by social norm change or western
cultural infiltration, population growth and religious monotheism. Thus, this research paper
concludes that a re-visitation and protection of the environmental friendly cultural practices is
needed to promote wise utilization of natural resources.

There is need for the re-visitation of the traditional belief systems and cultural practices

that promote the management, preservation and conservation of natural resources for the

sustainable development
Regional and zonal government offices and other stakeholders that interested in
conservation should motivate local community for conservation culture of environment in
the form of developmental projects or recognition.
Due to the religious monotheism (predominance of protestant) the cultural as well as
traditional practices such as Songo ceremony, Qexxalla rainmaking rituals and other
mores that help for Biodiversity conservation became heavily eroded. Hence, the
concerned government body should work with religious followers, priests, imam, and
pastors to aware the importance of indigenous practices for development
The Baboo culture also has been degrading by felling or chopping trees for firewoods,
bakery business and timber logging. Thus, the concerned body should plan to overcome
these serious problems.
The new ways of thinking among the current generation particularly in youth population

contributing to create knowledge gap as well as to abandon the IK deeds among the youth

population. Youth consider traditional administration like Songo, sacred place, ritual

practices and cultural ceremony as backwardness and outdated beliefs. Therefore, the

concerned zonal government body should continuously work with youth and local elders.

Traditional rules and regulations governing conservation of natural resources should be

documented and well communicated to the people, especially for youths. This could be
done through a wide consultation with relevant stakeholders in the Zone such as
education sectors and incorporation the values of indigenous knowledge and traditional
beliefs in the school curriculum.

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