Exhibition: Imithi yesiXhosa – Plants for Health, Life and Spirit in Africa

Wednesday 18th July 2007 to Thursday 19th July 2007 - Researchers at the Selmar Schonland Herbarium and Institute of Social and Economic Research, Rhodes University, have documented the use of indigenous plants in the Eastern Cape for many years.

Exhibition: Imithi yesiXhosa – Plants for Health, Life and Spirit in Africa

Wednesday 18th July 2007 to Thursday 19th July 2007 - Researchers at the Selmar Schonland Herbarium and Institute of Social and Economic Research, Rhodes University, have documented the use of indigenous plants in the Eastern Cape for many years.

They have found that while natural resources are important for utilitarian purposes such as building material and fuel wood etc, almost half of the total amounts of wild harvested plant resources are used for spiritual and ritual purposes in both rural and urban communities to sustain cultural practices and maintain cultural identity.

In a modernizing world cultural practices are threatened by the loss of biodiversity, and, conversely, the cultural value attributed to many plant species could be used as an argument to support the conservation of biodiversity. The importance of recognizing the value of indigenous communities in biodiversity conservation is now emphasized in the International Convention on Biological Diversity, but has not yet been applied locally. It has been argued that ‘promoting conservation in the context of local culture would endow protected areas with a significance that an emphasis on biological diversity, landscapes, or economies does not.’ This is especially relevant in a country such as South Africa, where people can ill-afford the luxury of a species-focused conservation ethic but recognize the importance of cultural diversity.

The exhibition, funded by the South Africa Netherlands Research Programme on Alternatives in Development (SANPAD), depicts the present-day use of wild plants for various cultural and spiritual practices in both rural and urban Xhosa households. The exhibition comprises four portable panels of large colour photographs and relevant text. We illustrate the reciprocal relation between cultural diversity and biological diversity and suggest that the preservation of many important Xhosa cultural practices relies on the conservation of biodiversity. The objective of the exhibition is to reach as diverse an audience as possible providing both an educational tool and a stimulus for debate on policy around bio-cultural conservation in South Africa.

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