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[Feature] [20 Must-know GEI] 3.Traditional ecological knowledge, is it useless now?

by Eco Generation | 30-06-2016 08:40 Comments 3 recommendations 0

3. Traditional ecological knowledge, is it useless now?

Why is this pond here?

     Jenny went on a field trip to Naganeupseong Folk Village in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province. Naganeupseong Folk Village is a cultural place where people live like they did in the past, preserving the lifestyle of ancient Koreans.


1. Wisdom in the Korean traditional village.

 Lotus pond.

   Where does the water used by the village people go? Naganeupseong Folk Village is designed to let used water be collected in lotus ponds. The water purifies itself by flowing through the village, and the water dropwort, a water purification plant in the lotus ponds, absorbs pollutants. Still, the remaining pollutants in the water flow into the rice fields, which are converted into nutrients and fertilize the land. In the past, even pollutants in everyday life had no negative effects on nature or were rather beneficial nutrients, because they did not contain heavy metals or chemicals.


• Korean traditional houses.

   Korean traditional houses were made of materials easily acquired from the surrounding environment. People built thatched houses with straw left after farming, and made stone stylobates and wooden pillars and beams without processing natural materials. These environmentally-friendly materials could go back to nature when they became old. Furthermore, people created wooden floors and ondol, a floor heating system, which fit Korea's climate, a climate that shows severe seasonal changes. These traditional houses were made by considering a harmonious lifestyle with nature without going against the order of nature.


2. Consideration for nature in everyday life.

   Jenny, who was moved by Koreas traditional wisdom, was told an interesting story by her tour guide. Korean ancestors' every behavior was connected with nature. Have you heard of magpie food? In the past, when fruits such as persimmons are picked, a few fruits were intentionally left on the tree so birds like magpies could have something to eat through winter. This is why it is called magpie food. Ancient Koreans were willing to share food with not only others but also all sorts of animals, which indicates respect for life in harmony with nature. 


3. Traditions and wisdom in the world.

   Each ethnic group in the world still maintains environmental wisdom harmonious with nature. In the state of Georgia in the United States, wine is known to have been produced since ancient times. Therefore they have abundant and various expressions about grape trees and cultivation of them for wine. Living in harmony with the local nature has become a part of their culture. In Mexico, Milpa, a corn-growing system in furrows while protecting other crops at the same time, was developed to prevent harmful insects and weeds from growing through interactions among different plants. As for Mongolians who wandered around grasslands freely, traditional houses called 'Ger' were built to enable free nomadic life and stock farming. Gers are optimized for the Mongolian climate so that they can endure bitter winds, and are easy to assemble and disassemble. 

20 Must know issue 3-2

4. Traditional ecological knowledge

   Ancient people lived maintaining a close relationship with their local natural environments, because they had to be self sufficient in food, clothing and other aspects of life. They obtained most of their needs from the local nature. As such, they were interested in natural phenomena and passed down wisdom acquired from nature to the next generation. The wisdom was continuously passed down through several generations and developed, and has become part of their cultures. Among traditional wisdom, one including knowledge about nature and ecology is called traditional ecological knowledge. It has been left in various types with us: names of plants and animals, local folktales, and proverbs. People in the past whose main job was farming had a lot of traditional ecological knowledge, especially about agriculture. Therefore, they knew well about the weather, an important factor in farming. Proverbs related to rain we know have been proven true scientifically. Through those proverbs, we can see how much our ancestors were interested in nature.

20 Must know issue 3-3

   Even in our everyday life, we can find traditional ecological knowledge. Ancient people are known to hold their stool to use the toilet at home. As they couldn't buy compost, human manure was a very important fertilizer in farming. Do you think outside toilets in the past were just dirty? Even if it wasn't washed away by water, outside toilets in the past were said not to have smelled bad. They covered their feces with ashes and rice hulls to age the feces and prevent bad smell. In this way, it became a cycle where food is turned into feces and the feces become manure that helped crops grow well (YOON Yu-seok, et al., 2011).


5. Why should we learn traditional ecological knowledge?

     In traditional societies when people depended on small spaces where limited resources were supplied in a limited life space, sustainability of nature was critical. Therefore, it was important to preserve and effectively use local natural resources. Traditional ecological knowledge includes concerns about coexistence among humans and that of humans and nature. People in the past were used to living by helping each other through Dure or Pumasi, or helping weeding or rice planting among neighbors, Songgye, or cooperative groups operated by communities, and community wells that all villagers use together. Traditional ecological knowledge was based on agreements on establishing and following rules for sustainable use of limited natural resources for all people. Community life was that important.

     Normally, traditional ecological knowledge is considered to have nothing to do with modern life. However, those of us living in cities are also related to nature. Although we are not related to the natural environment as close as we used to be, we live relying on Mother Nature. This is because all that we use comes from nature. As such, the traditional way of life where humans live in harmony with nature is also necessary in today's life.

     Facing problems including exhaustion of natural resources and environmental risks, we need to take an eco-friendly attitude and community spirit in traditional ecological knowledge to obtain wisdom. What are things we have missed and need to recover? Although knowledge from the past when scientific technology was not advanced is restricted, we need to learn the wisdom to utilize nature without going against it. We can easily make good use of traditional ecological knowledge. We need to think about how to feed, clothes and house ourselves with environmentally-friendly things and how to solve problems without going against the order of nature. Rather than considering traditions obsolete, we need to identify their values and apply them to our life.


[Learn More!]

UNESCO and heritage. whc.unesco.org

A site for introducing international heritage registered on the UNESCO world heritage list. It provides information on World Heritage, Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and Memory of the World Programme.

Script by : Prof. Yoon, Sun-jin's Environment & Energy Lab
                Seoul National University
Illustration by : Kim, Jeong-kyeom


  • says :
    Very informative write up. In the past, people lived with consideration for their environment even in Africa and thus lived healthier and better lives. Those traditional ecological knowledge are certainly not useless nowadays. We should learn from their eco-friendly attitudes in the past and apply these knowledge in our daily lives.
    Posted 27-07-2016 17:13

  • says :
    Thank you UNESCO AND HERITAGE. In Africa too, people were living in such harmony with the environmnet.
    Posted 13-07-2016 20:30

  • says :
    Interesting. This is my favorite content.
    If swallows fly low, and ants walk in line - it rains. &#128522
    Posted 08-07-2016 18:07

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