It wasn’t long after the cairns appeared in the forest that women from surrounding villages began using them in a purification rite that ended in leaving underwear on the stone mounds. The cairns were new to the forest, but the women’s purification rite was not. In the ritual, older Berber women guided younger women into the forest, and the younger women washed themselves under the open sky and prepared their spirits for finding a lover. Forest rangers had built the cairns to mark the borders of Morocco’s national forests. They were designed to protect argan trees – which some Berber call the “tree of the devil” – from use and harvesting. But the local women turned the cairns into something else.
When Morocco’s government established Souss-Massa National Park in 1991, the Berber people were already familiar with temporary prohibitions on forest use, says anthropologist Romain Simenel of the Institute of Research for Development in Marseille, France. But they were accustomed to setting the prohibitions themselves, through a system called agdal, which involves religious stories laden with mischievous genies who curse parts of the forest, and community rituals that reopen the way to harvesting or grazing among the argan trees.
Instead, national authorities were now insisting on prohibiting access to a core zone of the argan forest, allowing limited access to a second zone, and leaving a third zone to more community-led use. They sought to protect the forest from both desertification and local land management decisions. But the genies in the argan forest are not easy to tame. Continue reading Taming the genie in the forest of the devil’s trees
People are just now, in 2018, recovering the remains of family members lost after the Spanish Civil War, almost eighty years ago…
This 28-minute radio documentary, produced by Overtone Productions, and which I reported and presented, first aired on BBC Radio 4 on March 18th, 2019: [streaming link].
It is the first of a two-part documentary called Spain’s Lost Generations. The second part, airing March 25th, focuses on Spain’s stolen babies.
See also my related 2016 feature for SAPIENS: [html].
Health researchers and workers use their training and the treatments available to them to prevent and treat illness. But they cannot bring their expertise to bear if they do not have the trust of the people that they are trying to treat.
This August, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, communities in the midst of an Ebola outbreak continued traditional rural burial practices that include touching bodies, despite health workers’ advice on sanitary burials. Residents in the village of Manbangu burnt down a health centre and injured an Ebola health-care worker after one resident died of Ebola. Sometimes fear and misinformation drive even more violent behaviour: in a 2014 outbreak of the disease in Guinea, residents of the village of Womey killed a group of eight visiting health workers, journalists and government officials. Continue reading A matter of trust
A plague of whiteflies descended on the Martínez family’s fields of yellow, red, and deep purple chilhuacle in southern Mexico two decades ago. Chilhuacle is the star chilli in several versions of Oaxaca’s signature dish – mole – and cooks had long paid a premium for the chilli’s unique smoke and citrus flavours. But its cost was about to climb higher.
The Martínez family and the few other growers lost much of their chilhuacle crops in 1997. That year marked the start of a slow decline in chilhuacle production. Despite the chilli’s high market price, many growers stopped planting it. Continue reading Saving Mexico’s most totemic chilli