Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ancient Knowledge, Modern Knowledge

You may remember that I have been following the happenings at the landslide-created Attabad Lake on the Hunza River in northern Pakistan (Gilgit-Baltistan) ever since I was introduced to them by Dave's Landslide Blog. In fact, I wrote about the dramatic occurrences, in a land far away, at the end of May.

Recently, I was very interested to read a piece in the Pamir Times about how risks increase when ancient knowledge is lost.
In their interaction with local environment, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have been able to acquire knowledge that was embedded in the geography. It is this knowledge which enabled local communities to survive in the harshest climate and terrain of the world with meager resources. The indigenous knowledge pervades every sphere of life in the traditional society. Isolated from knowledge of the outside world, the inhabitants had to rely on indigenous knowledge, gained through experience, and perfected through trial and error.
This scribe [the piece's author, Aziaz Ali Dad] visited Ghich village in district Ghizer last year. This village faced death and destruction in a flash flood in the summer of 2006. The old people shared their knowledge about dealing with an approaching flood, landslides, formation of artificial lakes, relocation of settlements etc. Farzand Shah, a shepherd, said ‘there was no system to transfer that knowledge to the new generation.’ The local community was more vulnerable because it neither had traditional knowledge nor modern technology.  (Emphasis added.)
He continues with an example:

Most of the old settlements in Gilgit-Baltistan contain houses concentrated in the ‘kot’ or fort settlement as a safeguard against threats from nature as well as human beings. The settlement around the fort is safe from rock falling, avalanche, flood and human invasion. This pattern is visible across Gilgit-Baltistan...With the passage of time growing populations started to spread from the nucleus settlements of the fort to open areas defying the barrier between human settlement and nature. Cultural ethos also plays a crucial role in rebuilding of risks.
I think that is probably true for communities everywhere. Our educational systems don't really accommodate the transfer of traditional knowledge.

The people of Gilgit-Baltistan are minority populations in Pakistan, with their own ethnic identities and languages. One of these languages is Wakhi. Wakhi is an Indo-European language, a branch of the (south)eastern Iranian languages.

In any is an ancient language that is endangered and is getting used less and less. So I find it interesting that some people are trying to use modern technology to teach this traditional knowledge. Witness this blog: Let's Learn Wakhi.

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