photo of person from Lesotho the maluti mountains

community activities
culture and customs
employment and income
family life
justice and crime
livelihood strategies
social change
social institutions
social relationships
spiritual beliefs

introducing the area

environmental knowledge

 quotes about environmental knowledge
 key testimonies featuring environmental knowledge

Contemplating the move to another area, people express great regret that their knowledge of their current environment will no longer be of any value. As one narrator puts it, "The things that are going to be lost are many., the wisdom of living in that area will be lost to you." (Lesotho 17). He goes on to give examples of this "wisdom": knowledge of the most favourable time and places to find or grow food, whether wild or cultivated, and where to locate medicinal plants, shelter livestock, find the first spring pastures, and the raw materials for building, carving or weaving. If you are lucky enough to be resettled to new fields, he goes on, "... once again you [will have to] struggle to learn that land, not knowing... at what time [to] look for [the plants] and when they germinate, and so on."

Attitudes to and understanding of the workings of nature vary, and sometimes involve a mixture of spiritual belief with clear observation. While some ascribe the relative warmth of the area (compared with other mountainous localities) to a water monster that resides in the river, others offer a more practical explanation: "Even when [snow] falls here, [it does not stay] because there is a lot of water. There are reedy areas. Snow is a thing that is afraid of water. It goes away quickly. And [there is] even the matter of a river which is close by. As soon as the sun shines it melts and runs away..." (Lesotho 17). One narrator says that hail is a problem for agriculture, but that he knows someone who can stop this with a special potion. On the other hand, a young woman points out that whereas in the past, people prayed for rain, now they find practical solutions to the problem of drought by setting up irrigation systems.

Given the importance of livestock, some residents were asked whether there are any measures to guarantee that it does not exceed the carrying capacity of the pasture. Other questions focused on how to ensure continued soil fertility, and whether fuel was collected in such a way as to allow the source to regenerate. Responses to these questions were in the negative, and sometimes fatalistic: "[The soil] has been fertilised by God. There is nothing that is done [added] to the fields here [to ensure that soil fertility does not deteriorate]" (Lesotho 19). It appears that any problems have not yet been on such a scale as to make the community change the age-old practices of prohibiting grazing in selected areas for a time and taking livestock to cattle-posts during the summer. However, in the case of the decline in numbers of different types of deer, the community had adopted specific measures to protect them from extinction. Nevertheless, some members of the community still need to be persuaded that such game should be protected.

quotes about environmental knowledge

"The soil had good nutrients then. Even now, the soil still yields good harvests though not as good as in those years... It is there if you work the soil better: do winter ploughing - because we do not use artificial fertilisers, and use seeds preferable to that soil."
Lipholo, M/67, Lesotho 1

"Things like [wild] vegetables which we are now used to, and we know their places, where they grow, and also those things like the same medicines. As to a certain medicine, when I want it I find it where. Or when I plant a vegetable here, how do I plant it in what month?"
Sebili, M/46, Lesotho 17

key testimonies featuring environmental knowledge

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   17   Sebili   male/46   farmer   Molika-liko  
Summary Transcript   20   Motseki   male/    farmer   Molika-liko