The Environmental and Social History of African Sacred Groves: A Tanzanian Case Study
Sacred groves figure prominently in efforts to create community-based conservation in Africa. Although they are often conceptualized in functionalist terms as relics of climax forest and peak cultural florescence, attention to the intersections of ecological and social dynamics offers a framework for understanding African sacred groves that avoids assumptions of steady states of habitat and culture. This article, based on a case study from the North Pare Mountains of northeastern Tanzania, demonstrates that the sacredness of these groves is embedded in social institutions, and that the deeply contested nature of these meanings produces African landscapes. It concludes that sacred groves, as examples of cultural and ecological co-evolution, require research based on hybrid social and natural scientific methods. The implication for conservation policy is that sacred groves are not simply local forms of conservation, and that their management demands cooperation among local, national, and global institutions.