Traditional Religious Beliefs and Their Effect on Climate Change Adaptability.

by Chris Choi

Conor Murphey researched the relationship between religion and climate change and how it demonstrates rural populations’ ability to adapt to these disturbances. Many areas of Sub-Saharan Africa still retain their traditional belief systems which continue to influence the lifestyles of different populations. The populations’ traditional beliefs are usually linked with Traditional Ecological Knowledge, which is used to describe the indigenous traditional knowledge regarding how to sustain local resources. To prevent climate change, TEK management policies have been created, however, a change in belief or adhering to multiple beliefs makes it difficult to follow them. Murphey conducted case studies in Malawi and Zambia to study how TEK, traditional beliefs, and the introduction of Christianity exist together in communities while determining how practicing multiple beliefs affects their ability to adapt to climate change.

The people of Bolero, Malawi, mainly a Tumbuka community, relied on rain-fed farming. The Tumbuka community believe in Chiuta (God) who determines the amount of rainfall. Chiuta either can bring good rainfall or disease if the ancestral spirits are angered. In terms of livelihood vulnerability, this belief interferes with dealing with issues such as environmental degradation, climate variability and erratic rainfall, droughts and land constraints. In Bolero, 95% of the modern-day population is Christian. Scottish Presbyterian missionaries came to Northern Malawi during the colonial period, and the Tumbuka community willingly accepted the new teaching.

As for the population of Monze, Zambia, 87% of the population is Christian and 12 % practice other religions which include traditional beliefs. They believed in the Monze, a rain spirit. The Lwiindi ritual is a rain ritual where they pray for a good season of rain. During the early 20th century, the Monze shrine where they prayed for Lwiindi lost religious appeal and instead became a more political structure due to colonial influence. The British South Africa Company placed local chiefs to govern people, but they did not have as much influence as the real leaders who inherited the souls of their ancestors.

For both populations, following Christian faith has affected their ability to uphold TEK management policies. For Bolero, staying Christian and adhering to the practices makes it hard for them to fully acknowledge their own traditions. One such tradition is to keep a certain tree species from being cut, yet the younger generation is bringing them down. In Monze, the younger generation was blamed for the recent failure in rain rituals due to the younger generation’s lack of practicing their traditional beliefs. However, while Bolero’s belief systems co-exist better than Monze, there are still concerns of a weakening of traditional beliefs. Murphey concludes that it is still necessary to further understand the importance of traditional beliefs to fully comprehend a population’s willingness and ability to adapt to climate change.

Murphy, C., Tembo, M., Phiri, A., Yerokun, O., Grummell, B., 2016. “Adapting to climate change in shifting landscapes of belief”. Climatic Change, 134. 101-114.







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