Case of study, Biskra city, Algeria
It’s known that traditional African societies were aware of environmental fragility. This is why they used to protect their environment with ancient practices that reflect their relationship with nature and ecological knowledge.
Nowadays, taking into consideration the role of these traditional practices and culture is very important and it’s considered to be a contribution to sustainable development actions.
Traditional ecological knowledge is defined as ideas that a human group has about its environment when this group is occupying territory and transferring this knowledge for several generations, from generation to the next one, which is an aspect of cultural sustainability.
These practices and knowledge can be defined and devised into three categories; epistemological practices such as observing species and environmental phenomena, practical ones that show how people are using and managing the natural resources, and finally, spiritual practices that show how people are seeing their environment and their relation with ecosystems. Also, their beliefs related to the environment protection.
Actually, this cultural aspect is very important because it helps to create strategies about the adaptive management of ecosystems, also for sustainability and resilience in the face of nature’s hazards. For instance, in Tunisia, the traditional population used a system called Jessour that consists of creating barrages in order to collect runoff water that they need for plants to face the water stress problem.
In some regions in the south of America, some people are using the ancient system of cultivation, irrigation and drainage to increase the productivity of lands affected by high levels of salinity and drought phenomenon.
Mostly, all traditional societies used to diversify the vegetal and animal resources by the cultivation of many plants and raising different domestic animals as a response to the meteorological changes; that means they were contributing to the natural biodiversity management in order to face the environmental changes and to survive.
In Algeria, traditional societies used several water systems, conceived particular houses and manage their lands in a way that shows their deep ecological knowledge and strategical management of natural resources. Algerian traditional societies build their houses typically to be adapted to the climate conditions; all traditional houses are characterized by high thermal inertia and built with local ecological materials so houses can be adaptable to seasonal climate changes in a passive way (without air conditioning or heating systems). They also developed an ecological mode of production and consumption based on local products that reflects their green lifestyle and respect toward the natural environment.
A local research study was made in the city of Biskra, particularly, the oasis where traditional society is living. The purpose is to know about these traditional social practices in a Saharan context, then a hot and arid region. The study was guided by a questionnaire, observation in situ and literature review.
The study results show that the traditional society in Biskra city maintains the sustainability of the oasis for ages through different ecological practices:
1- Epistemological practices: these practices are defined as social activities organized and accomplished interactively, that a human group uses to communicate and evaluate its knowledge. In the oasis of Biskra, traditional society developed a system of cultivation in their garden so they can protect their plants, this system contains three levels. Firstly the palm tree that brings shadow for the inferior plants, secondly the fruit trees and the last level for alimentary and medicinal plants. This combination is an expression of the flora diversity that characterized the gardens of traditional society in the oasis of Biskra. Besides that, people used specific modular of palms (3*3- 5*5- 7*7- 10*10). This last is about the distance they fixed between every two palms to organize the distribution of the garden. Following this organization, they also distribute water channels to irrigate the plants. Every garden has a specific amount of water according to the surface, for this, owners used a traditional technic called “Lokza”, which’s about evaluating the dimension of the water channel so they can decide the amount and time needed for providing water to the garden. They also used to raise animals inside gardens. All of that contributes to enriching the biodiversity of their ecosystem. These technics were transferred from one generation to the next and helped to maintain the sustainability of the oasis for long periods. They reflect the way that traditional people in the oasis of Biskra used to study and observe their natural environment.
2- Practical attitudes: Traditional society that occupied the oasis of Biskra city was very aware of the environment management issues. This is why people used economic strategies that helped them to manage efficiently the natural environment. For instance, they used to recycle vegetal waste coming from the garden in order to make artisanal pieces of stuff. They also avoided throwing their food waste, so they would just give it to the domesticated animals in their gardens. For water management, they created channels to irrigate gardens and basins for storing water. They chose typically the appropriate plants for the arid regions that can resist in front of water decrease. They also developed an ecological mode of production and consumption based on managing wisely the vegetal and animal resources for self-sufficiency reasons. Some of them still use this mode until this day. This, avoids polluting the environment by avoiding the transportation of food for long distances.
These practices reflect the way that people use to manage natural resources, protect their environment and contribute to maintaining their oasis life.
3- Spiritual practices: In addition to the to the previous activities, traditional people used to organize social activities as “Twiza” which is such collaboration between many habitants of the same oasis to build a new building or to do interactively, an operation of rehabilitation using their knowledge for free. They collaborate and help each other because they believe that generosity and helping are good for humanity.
In terms of architectural organization, traditional houses are characterized by the presence of a courtyard. This open-air space puts them in direct contact with the sky. Spiritually, being in a contact with the sky means to be in contact with God. This space has beneficial psychological effects because it helps them feel better when they are exposed to direct light or observe stars at night.
In terms of resources management, traditional people of the oasis believe that protecting the environment is a duty and should be good for humanity also.
In conclusion, it should be noted that traditional societies and practices are an example of inspiration to make new strategies that help managers to decide and to maintain the sustainability of cities. Traditional societies provide us with beneficial lessons that deserve to be developed deeply in the research field.
Author : Fatma Zohra Hadagha