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In search of indigenous knowledge systems for ecological justice : a gendered ecological reading of Genesis 1-3 in the context of the Tonga people in Zambia.

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The emergence of climate change and the current ecological crisis in recent decades, has prompted research on the role of religious and cultural traditions as well as sacred texts in either supporting or discouraging “anti-nature” attitudes. With regard to the use of sacred texts such as the bible, numerous techniques have been employed in the task of interpretation, moving away more recently from attempts to identify the text’s original community and its functions therein, towards an examination of its literary, rhetorical structure. This study sought to explore what insights an indigenous gendered ecological reading of Genesis 1-3 can provide in the context of the current ecological crisis. This objective was achieved in the following steps. First, the study examined indigenous Tonga culture and the biblical myths of origin. Critical examination of both worldviews uncovered their complementary emphases on human responsibility toward planet Earth. Further, both worldviews uncovered leadership roles of women in social and religious rituals which promoted ecological wellbeing. Second, the interconnectedness of the elements of the universe in African cosmologies was explored through the Plateau Tonga and the Tonga of the Gwembe valley traditions and cultures. In line with other studies, it was found that in Africa an interdependent, participatory relationship exists between humans, nonhuman forms of life and the Creator. In discussing the annual Lwiindi (rain-calling) ceremony of the Tonga people of Zambia and the Lesa cult, the study explored gendered and ecological overtones of African indigenous culture. Such rituals illustrated the involvement of women, ancestors and the creator God in maintaining ecological integrity. Third, a gendered ecological reading of Genesis 1-3 was offered. Across Genesis 1-3, it was found that the myths emphasise the value of life and the interrelatedness of human beings and nonhuman forms of life. Further, the myths exhibited the belief that the equality of man and woman is from God. The study found that a complementary reading of the biblical myths of origin that supports the equality of man and woman and the interrelatedness of humans and nonhuman forms of life can foster human responsibility to the Earth. Fourth, the traditional ethical principles of ubuntu, buumo, mwandanshi, mukowa, hikaumba and musio-tunya were examined. The study concluded that such gendered and ecological cultural concepts in indigenous African culture should be retrieved to advocate for ecological emancipation. Fifth, the study recognised that over many centuries the motifs in the biblical myths of origin have been altered to promote the patriarchal interests of the writers and editors. An indigenous African gendered ecological interpretive framework, woven together with gendered and ecological values in African culture was presented as a means to counter the dominant patriarchal interpretations of the text. The study concluded that a biblical interpretive model informed by ecological and gendered values in African culture can promote human responsibility to the natural world and help ameliorate the impact of the ecological crisis.


Ph. D. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2014.


Human ecology., Environmental protection -- Religious aspects., Environmental ethics., Theses -- Theology.