Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Zimbabwe: The Missing Link

Published on 18th December 2018

Intellectuals have raised concerns that the indigenous Zimbabwean way of life is being lost as the elderly die. This is because the knowledge is transferred through word of mouth. Unless creative methods are devised, there is a risk of a total extinction of the traditional way of life.

Among the conduits available to ensure that indigenous ways of life exist into perpetuity is education. If the elements of our indigenous knowledge system are embedded into the formal education system, future generations will still have an untainted connection of who they are. An Indigenous Knowledge Systems lecturer at the Great Zimbabwe University Mr Faith Sibanda says a traditional approach to education will improve strategic utilisation of natural resources.

“IKS is actually the future of Zimbabwe because it will allow Zimbabweans to utilise their natural resources in a way that is synonymous with their culture and as such will not isolate the people from these resources,” he argues. Mr Sibanda said some thought leaders are the biggest enemies to traditional elements in academia owing to their misconceptions. “Some intellectuals have warped ideas about IKS because they associate it with the uneducated and backward just as the coloniser wanted them to believe,” Mr Sibanda says.

He further states that if students and pupils are to be taught First Aid in class, why can’t they be taught of natural remedies? “Basic IKS remedies to ailments such as headaches, stomach aches, tooth aches which have various indigenous cures from trees, tree barks, roots, and charcoal need to be taught at basic level. “It also includes skills on how to cure a snake bite,” he says.

If Zimbabwe considers including IKS into the education system, suggestions are it has to stem from kindergarten to tertiary level “IKS is broad, it is actually a lifetime syllabus. We can start with the ECD, remove abstract poems such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and replace them with indigenous poems that have a meaning in their immediate surroundings.”

Mr Sibanda adds: “Remove Shakespeare, teach Zimbabwean, African literature, teach African history as well as local history, there is so much to teach the children.” Resource people could be the elderly members of the society who have received knowledge through their countable decades in existence.

A 2015 journal by philosopher and academic Professor Munyaradzi Mawere titled; “Indigenous Knowledge and Public Education in Sub Saharan Africa” highlights how IKS suffered in the wake of colonialism. “In Africa, especially in the sub-Saharan region, while the so-called indigenous communities have always found value in their own local forms of knowledge, the colonial administration and its associates viewed indigenous knowledge as unscientific, illogical, anti-development, and or ungodly,” Prof Mawere said.

The article suggests that it is difficult to de-racialise African education in the absence of IKS. Because of its thrust of knowledge that has been in existence for generations, IKS is said to pave way for creative thinking in dealing with problems. “In Nigeria’s Jigawa State, for example, one young Nigerian has invented a natural refrigeration system that does not require electricity, gas, or paraffin to operate.

“The system, also known as the pot in-pot cooling system is said to be as efficient as the modern refrigerator,” the journal says. The system is said to be able to keep foods fresh for up to one month and three quarters of the Jigawa people have adopted the system. According to Prof Mawere, this reinforces the point that indigenous education was practical and relevant to the needs of society.

In the face of complaints on the dissolution of cultural identity among Africans and Zimbabweans, the incorporation could help reclaim the “porous” moral fabric. Renowned herbalist and Chairperson of the Traditional Medical Practitioners Council of Zimbabwe Sekuru Friday Chisanyu said Zimbabwe is at a risk of losing all its priceless pieces of helpful traditional knowledge. “Traditional practices, especially medicines, are dying with their holders. This is a sad case as these are the same solutions to the problems that have been plaguing most Zimbabweans,” he said.

He lamented the fall in popularity of local languages as they are rich in traditional living hacks. “It is sad that some families do not want their children to speak in Shona. In devices like idioms there is a preserving message,” Sekuru Chisanyu said.

On incorporating IKS into the schools system, Sekuru Chisanyu said there will not be any familiarity problems and the process would not be complicated. “Knowledge is more valuable than anything so traditionalists will be willing to assist and we have a lot who can chip in with their knowledge,” he said.

Sekuru Chisanyu described traditional methods as free, easily accessible and easy to follow. “When school children and students learn of traditional methods there is a high chance that they will shun western medicines with side effects,” he said.

Indirectly people are tracking back to IKS but with better titles. “What they are calling organic diets is not too different from the traditional foods. It is sad that people do not want to properly acknowledge the importance of traditional foods and methods alike,” Sekuru Chisanyu.

Introducing learners to IKS early in their academic journeys gives them better appreciation of the surrounding concepts that have been threatened by stereotypes. “In Zimbabwe, statistics suggest that 80 percent of people survive on traditional methods yet the number of those who are willing to admit tells a different story. “Maybe when people understand that there is no harm in traditional methods from an academic perspective they will be willing to acknowledge,” he said.

Traditional practitioners have grown used to night consultations but they are urging the authorities to invest in research surrounding traditional medicines. This will help guard against intellectual heists being fronted by researchers.

“We have had cases where researchers go to traditional healers and give them as little as $20 to be shown the herbs they use to make medicines. “The researchers then go and develop them into pills earning fortunes in the process. That is theft,” said Sekuru Chisanyu. If people know the value of their knowledge and intangible heritage they will not fall for tricks of this nature and avoid getting raw deals.

This can only be done through raising awareness on IKS through local education. Countries such as our Eastern friends, China, have benefitted from the preservation of their IKS and have even reaped dividends from exporting it.

Entities like Tienz whose popularity is growing is primarily packaged herbs, resources that are not in short supply in Zimbabwe. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in their journal titled “Education in a Multicultural World” languages and schools are a plausible conduit for the transfer of indigenous knowledge. “Local languages are the means for preserving, transmitting, and applying traditional knowledge in schools,” read the journal.

It further suggests that; “A bilingual or multilingual education allows the full participation of all learners; it gives learners the opportunity to confront, in the positive sense, the knowledge of their community with knowledge from elsewhere.” With Zimbabwe being in the transitional phases with its primary and secondary school curriculum, the situation presents an opportunity to include indigenous knowledge systems for the benefit of the country’s future.

ByLeroy Dzenga

First published in The Herald, Zimbabwe.

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