Cultural & Spiritual Significance
Dr Vidya Kamat, Research Scholar in Mythology and Folklore
Culture & Tradition
“Culture” is understood as a property of human groups or societies which expresses aspects of their identity, shared values, attitudes, beliefs, heritage (both tangible and intangible), knowledge systems, creativity and other practices. It conditions the ways in which people interact with each other and with their environment. Traditional management practices, spiritual and sacred values, varied forms of knowledge and expressions of these, represent examples of the benefits that humans derive from wetlands while at the same time they often provide the key to successful conservation.
The spiritual significance of wetlands is closely related to the religious, cultural and historic importance wetlands play in human well-being. Spirituality is the highly undervalued but often overlooked contributor to wetland services and values. Indigenous peoples’ spirituality is usually directly related to wetlands being imbued by spirits while mainstream religions construct places of worship in and around wetlands.
The Ramsar Convention has been addressing the issue of the cultural aspects of wetlands for over ten years, which is highlighted in its original text. They have reaffirmed the myriad ways in which culture is fundamental to wetland conservation. Culture is described by some as a fourth “pillar of sustainability” (alongside the environmental, social and economic) and by others as running in an integrative way through all the other three.
Cultural considerations are avoided in specialised multilateral agreements, such as UNESCO and its World Heritage Convention. Perhaps they underestimate the significance of integration of nature and culture in the management of wetlands. The two realities need to be handled appropriately, to find an optimal balance for maximising societal wellbeing.
It has become evident that the fate of wetlands depends on human attitudes and activities, and that incorporating cultural values can be beneficial for conservation.