Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Zimbabwe: Juxtaposing Postcolonial Theory

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Zimbabwe: Juxtaposing Postcolonial Theory

Article excerpt


This paper analyses some aspects of the emerging field of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) which are also known by other names such as indigenous ways of knowing (IWK) and ethno-science. This area has captured the attention and respect of international scholars but also gained the support and recognition of the United Nations (UN). The research argues that this is especially so after the United Nations Conference on International Development, also known respectively as the Earth or Rio Summit of 1992. It attempts to highlight the fact that IKS have their origins in colonialism. The paper also argues that the fact that they did not die as a result of conquest makes it clear that while imperial conquests were not only largely military but were also meant to purge the colonies of what were referred to as heathen and backward practices, they failed to displace and dislodge some knowledge systems of the indigenes.

The paper also notes that post-colonialism is not a recent development that came about because of the end of colonialism had become a reality for most of the formerly colonised. It is something that came into being immediately after the colonialists had set up their structures. To have a better understanding of indigenous knowledge systems and post-colonialism, as well as how these two cultural theories are intertwined, it is necessary to have a brief exposition of each one of them.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems

Indigenous knowledge systems are a body of knowledge, or bodies of knowledge of the indigenous people of particular geographical areas that they have survived on for a very long time. The website defines IKS as local knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society. They are knowledge forms that have failed to die despite the racial and colonial onslaught that they have suffered at the hands of Western imperialism and arrogance. IKS are forms of knowledge that have originated locally and naturally (Altieri 1995:114). According to Ermine (cited in Hammersmith 2007:2), they are linked to the communities that produce them. He observes:

   Those natural communities are characterised by complex kinship
   systems of relationships among people, animals, the earth, the
   cosmos, etc. from which knowing emanates

These knowledge forms are known by other names, and among them are indigenous ways of knowing (Nyota and Mapara 2008), traditional knowledge, indigenous technical knowledge, rural knowledge as well as ethno-science (or people's science) (Altieri 1995:114). Indigenous knowledge systems manifest themselves through different dimensions. Among these are agriculture, medicine, security, botany, zoology, craft skills and linguistics.

In matters relating to security, especially of properties like homes and livestock, the indigenous people developed some mechanisms that are still used in some rural areas to monitor their properties. They have also developed traditional ways of weather forecasting that helped them to plan their activities for at least two to three days in advance. This knowledge was very useful especially in summer and immediately after harvesting when crops like finger millet would be in need of thrashing and winnowing. Indigenous ways of knowing have also brought forth useful knowledge on medicine and health. In fact, their resilience in this area led to the recognition that traditional healers or alternative medical practitioners got in Zimbabwe in 1980. They were formally recognised and an association to register practitioners called the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers' Association (ZINATHA) was formed. The use of for example, proverbs is another case of ethno-knowledge that has been used in both judicial and governance matters. In short, IKS are those forms of knowledge that the people of the formerly colonised countries survived on before the advent of colonialism. …

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