Academic journal article Africa

In Search of Nyo: Lyela Farmers' Perceptions of the Forest in Burkina Faso

Academic journal article Africa

In Search of Nyo: Lyela Farmers' Perceptions of the Forest in Burkina Faso

Article excerpt

This study deals with the cultural construction of the forest by focusing on a group of farmers in Burkina Faso. It aims to contribute to the scholarly literature on environmental change and, more specifically, to social and cultural analyses of how lands, forests and watersheds are perceived by the actors who depend on these resources for their daily subsistence (Barraclough and Ghimire, 1995; Broch-Due and Schroeder, 2000; Chauveau and Mathieu, 1998; Croll and Parkin, 1992b; Descola and Palsson, 1996; Fairhead and Leach, 1996; Guyer and Richards, 1996; Richards, 1985; Sharpe, 1998; Shepherd, 1992a; Shepherd, 1992b; Shipton and Goheen, 1992). A common theoretical stance in such endeavours is to question the sharp dichotomy between `society', `culture' or `human settlement' on the one hand and `nature', `forest' or `external natural environment' on the other. The core argument is that the nature-culture dichotomy has too long been taken for granted in anthropology. While materialists such as cultural ecologists and some Marxists have assumed that nature shapes culture, structuralists and symbolic anthropologists have considered that culture imposes meaning on nature. Rather than accepting the nature-culture dichotomy as given, this study will investigate how distinctions between `nature' and `culture' are expressed in cosmology and daily practice. The basic assumption agrees with Croll and Parkin (1992a: 3) that `most peoples do ascribe a sometimes capricious agency to their environment which they are obliged to interpret and negotiate, and that they commonly regard themselves as inseparably part of it: the forest is the people, in the same way that the ancestors are, in a sense, extensions of the living'. The environment is not situated `out there', but is located in the core of society. People's perceptions of the environment reflect how they perceive their own society.

The overall purpose of the study is to explore forest perceptions among Lyela farmers living in the vicinity of a government forest reserve in central-western Burkina Faso. The ethnographic account is based mainly on local discourses of the forest, and assumes that such discourses need to be approached through the analysis of cultural notions, specific historical circumstances and daily practices. Forest discourses articulate the process by which people's perceptions of forest STEN HAGBERG is a Research Fellow in the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology at Uppsala University, where he received his doctorate. He has been working on Burkina since 1988. In 1998 he published Between Peace and Justice: dispute settlement between Karaboro agriculturalists and Fulbe agro-pastoralists in Burkina Faso. resources are shaped. There are religious and cultural notions of how to behave toward spirits, ancestors and human beings, on the one hand, and socio-political and economic practices of how to make a living on the other. The Lyela farmers who reside in the vicinity of Tiogo Forest Reserve have always lived on the fringe of the forest (gao), but the area became `the forest of the white man' (nassaragao) from 1940 onwards. In the 1980s `participatory forest management' activities were initiated. The farmers have to handle different layers of forest perceptions simultaneously and, to quote a recent study of forest conservation in Cameroon, `understanding local attitudes to the forest allows an entree into this complex political world' (Sharpe, 1998: 26). I shall demonstrate that in the search of nyo--that is, food, farmland and a better living--Lyela farmers handle at least three layers of apparently contradictory perceptions of the forest. First, they need to follow the ways of the ancestors, grow food crops and carry out agrarian rites. Second, they must be adaptive to the legacy of different state administrations' views of the forest. Third, Lyela farmers need to deal with market demands as they seek ways of earning money, notably by cotton cropping and woodcutting. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.