“Our life, tradition and culture are very much dependent on nature and its habitats, and we are determined to protect them. We don’t want our folklore [with] names of so many wild species of birds, plants, animals, and wild flowers to become meaningless to our future generations.”
Nagaland, a far north state of India, is home to the Angami tribe. Although hunting was once their important source of livelihood, and had been their practice for hundreds of years, some 20 years ago they gave up this culturally-entrenched practice. Although their muzzle-loading guns and traps were weapons requiring skill and courage, and were passed down through the generations as a sacred practice, they understood that by giving them up they could create a more stable ecosystem for future generations.
Not only was it their tradition; they killed animals for their own sustenance. The tragopan, a grey pheasant, especially valued for its meat, became endangered. In 1993, when they discovered its future was threatened, some tribespeople started a campaign to stop hunting altogether. Yielding to pressure, the village council decided to cordon off a 20-square-mile area now closed to hunting, which became known as the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary in 1998. Some tribal members, like Chaiyievi Zhiinyii, (see above) a skilled hunter all his life, was able to give it up when he was 59 years of age, with years of successful hunting still left to him.
The depth of their tribe’s sacrifice might be akin to people in the U.S. giving up their cars. In 2011 I did just that. Now I get around on foot, by public transportation, and when the occasion requires it, either because of time constraints or the remote location of my destination, I take a cab. I admit to the sometime inconvenience of my choice (I am now 86) but I remind myself that I made my decision because life on Mother Earth is endangered and it needs all of our attention now. And I’ve reduced my transportation costs to 33% of what they were when I maintained a car.
The Angami tribe is also known for relinquishing logging, jungle burning and the kinds of operations exploiting natural resources and the surrounding forests. Their ecological awareness is reflected in their practice of avoiding the use of pesticides and fertilizers on their exquisitely terraced farm lands, bringing them higher yields.
What is remarkable about the Angami, who still keep the heads of hunted animals inside their homes, is that theirs is no simple sacrifice. It contradicts everything they have known for centuries about living in their world, a knowledge that has come down with them through many generations, whereas for us, the car only became an addiction some time after 1906.
What fossil-fuel-powered, water-guzzling conveniences are we prepared to sacrifice to prolong life on Mother Earth?
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