Re-conceptualizing the relationships between sacred forests and ethnic minorities : selected case studies in Vietnam. (2019)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
Sacred forests are thought to have existed as far back as 5000 years BC, when human society was in the early stages of development. Now they are a “global phenomenon” with hundreds of thousands, existing on all continents, including the Austro Pacific region. They form a “field of attraction” representing a deep relationship between cultural conservation by local people and environmental protection. In terms of biodiversity protection, they are often referred to as global “hotspots” of biological significance, “islands of ecological diversity”, or “mini biosphere reserves”. Culturally, they are thought of as “the first temples of worship” in the world.
This research re-conceptualizes sacred forests in terms of diverse experiences, narratives, perceptions and beliefs amongst Vietnamese local communities. This is in opposition to mainstream categorizations based on three major dimensions of economic, environmental, and social-cultural. Specifically, it demonstrates a collective exploration of the three “D” topics of definition, diversity (classification or categorization) and multiple-dimensions economically, environmentally and socio-culturally of these places. Accordingly, the contribution to knowledge in this research is revealed in these three topics. Firstly, it defines holistically sacred forests, which is: Sacred forest are wooded areas of high biodiversity. They belong to fixed communities, where they have holistic significance in regard to livelihood, environment protection, and culture. The cultural dimension honors a deity, provides sanctuary for spirits, reminds present generations of ancestors, and access and management are regulated by traditional powers.
Secondly, this research reveals that sacred forest diversity is mainly due to their socio-cultural context, as opposed to mainstream categorizations based on the two major dimensions of geography and ownership. Finally, research shows that, not only are sacred forests perceived by local people multi-dimensionally economically, environmentally, and socio-culturally; but these dimensions are contextual, and that culture seems to be the strongest influence. Further, the attitude of local people regarding these dimensions is driven by a dynamic of issues related to their demographics of age, gender, and education.
This contribution to knowledge suggests strategies for incorporating sacred forest models into relevant government programs, not excluding agricultural development and food security, environmental protection, cultural conservation, education, and poverty reduction. Findings suggest governments are able to incorporate holistic definitions of sacred forests, especially spiritual values into sustainable forest management. In Vietnam, this may encourage the government to legitimize this holistic definition into future forestry law and regulations. This incorporation may also redirect understanding diversity of sacred forests in a socio-cultural context. Furthermore, this incorporation also needs to consider the multiple-dimensions of the economic, environment, and socio-culture of sacred forests perceived by local people; the dynamics of context on the ground, and issues related to local demographics of age, gender and education level.
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