Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Exploring the African Traditional Belief Systems in Natural Resource Conservation and Management in Ghana

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Exploring the African Traditional Belief Systems in Natural Resource Conservation and Management in Ghana

Article excerpt


The current increasing rate of natural resource loss is a major threat to both human and animal survival. The loss of each species comes with the loss of potential economic benefits, as well as loss of ecosystem balance (Attuquayefio & Fobil, 2005). As such, there has been much increased interest in issues relating to the environment all over the world. Especially, the international community has taken the leading steps in ensuring proper conservation of the natural resources through formal and professional standards.

Meanwhile, before the introduction of modern forms of natural resource conservation and management, indigenous African communities often developed elaborate resource management systems, so had other local communities throughout the world (Ostrom, 1990). Local groups of people managed the land on which they lived and the natural resources they were surrounded by for millennia (Roe, Nelson & Sandbrook, 2009). There existed locally well-informed traditional beliefs that helped in conserving the available natural resources. Attuquayefio and Gyampoh (2010) argue that before the advent of modern natural resource conservation methods, traditional societies operated a complex religious and cultural belief systems via norms, myths, taboos, totems and closed seasons to preserve, conserve and manage certain natural resources. The use of these belief systems was geared toward protecting and promoting communal wellbeing, rather than individual interests.

Despite the potency and the role of traditional African belief systems in natural resource management and conservation, little attention is given to this informal institution (Kankpeyeng, 2000). Although efforts to integrate rural people into the conservation of natural resource programmes and projects have been in place for quite some time (Hulme & Murphree 1999), the integration has been slow. This could be because of the increasing non-adherence to long-held traditional beliefs, due to the advent of western technology, the growing influence of foreign religion and beliefs, lack of modern regulations to enforce the traditional rules, and problems of migration, urbanisation and resettlement (Ntiamoa-Baidu, 1995). Following the above assertion, this article seeks to explore more on how traditional belief systems, especially taboos and totems have contributed to the natural resources conservation and management in Ghana. The article also seeks to offer pragmatic recommendations on the need to integrate modern laws, traditional customs and norms on natural resources conservation and management for the benefit of the generation yet unborn.

Methodology and Approach

Data for this article was obtained through anthropological studies to explore how traditional belief systems contribute in natural resource conservation and management in Sankana and Tongo-Tengzuk in the Upper West and Upper East regions respectively. A case study approach was adopted since it is appropriate for the study of the interaction between social actors and social phenomenon (Yin, 2003). The authors chose this study area because aside their contribution to natural resource conservation and management, very little has been done in terms of research. In addition, data was drawn from primary and secondary sources. These include journals, articles, books, District Assembly documents, internet publications, focus group discussion and personal interviews. The research was conducted from September 2014 to March 2015.


Conservation and management are among the most important elements of sustainable development. It is the management of valuable natural resources such as timber, fish, topsoil, and minerals, forests, wildlife, parkland, and wilderness and watershed areas (Rim-Rukeh, Irerhievwie, Agbozu, 2013). There is no single definition of conservation; however, several definitions have been coined for the concept with some scholars stressing the structural roots of anthropological interests, while others departing from the point of view of economic reasons. …

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