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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Investigating people-forest relationships around central Kenya's Nyandarwa forest reserve : understanding their sustainability through indigenous knowledge systems Borona , Gloria Kendi


This study explored how people-forest relationships are forged around Kenya’s Nyandarwa Forest Reserve, and how Indigenous Knowledge Systems of Agĩkũyũ people around the Reserve might contribute to healthy, sustainable people-forest relationships in light of the country’s changing social, economic, and political situations. The study sought to examine:1) how the indigenous communities around Nyandarwa Forest Reserve traditionally understood and sustained interdependencies with the forest; 2) how these interdependencies have transformed consistent with Kenya’s post-independence changes in social, economic, and political situations; 3) to what extent local, national, and international efforts to promote healthy sustainable people-forest relationships are incorporating local communities’ Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS); and, 4) how these communities’ IKS might inform the proposition of an environmental conservation framework for sustainable people-forest relationships. The study was guided by post-colonial indigenous research paradigms anchored in decolonizing methodologies. These methodologies were buttressed by indigenous theories that consider communities as spiritual beings with multiple relations. The study was informed by the traditions and cultural heritage of the Agĩkũyũ people, and augmented by Afrocentric philosophies that underlie African ways of knowing and value systems. Data were collected from community groups, elders, the Kenya Forest Service, and archives. The data corpus was analyzed using NVIVO consistent with the study’s theoretical framework and generated themes that address the research questions. In addition, the research participants contributed to the process as this study sought to elevate the community to the role of co-researchers and to create mutually beneficial long-term relationships. Results show that the pre-colonial manifestation of Agĩkũyũ people-forest relationships were understood through land, that land continues to be a central pillar of Agĩkũyũ indigenous environmental thought, and that one of the historical values of the forest is its role in sustaining the struggle for independence. Further, the study reveals that some indigenous practices tied to sacred sites and food sovereignty have endured, different governance regimes have shifted the way people-forest relationships are constructed, and the Agĩkũyũ have been continuously mobilizing to protect their landscape. In the end, this study suggests how IKS can contribute to forging sustainable people-forest relationships, arguably the planet’s most threatened resource.

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