Wednesday 28 October 2020

When taboos help to preserve water wells


It is unbelievable but true. Some water wells in Mara region, Tanzania have been under the protection of traditional cultures and have thus been spared of environmental hazards dogging the area for ages.

Iroma, which is located at Nyabichune village,  is one of the exceptionally lucky wells that have remained natural and free from environmental damage because of indigenous practices and taboos, embracing conservation of water sources.

Mara  Region is home to the famous  Serengeti route of  spectacular the annual  migration of wildebeest and is therefore an important area  for conservation lovers.

A traditional elder in Rorya district John Odori (right) narrates recently how a clan supervises sustainability of  Nyarya natural water well at Kogaja village

Local communities have their unique ways of preserving water sources. As result, a number of water wells have enjoyed protection and remain a good example of water well conservation that has existed for over 200 years in the region.

Interestingly, Iroma is located about four  kilometres  from the North Mara Gold Mine which in the past was accused of polluting water sources in the neighborhood.

 But the well  has never been on the list of water sources believed to have been polluted by mining activities in the area.

This well has been spared of all types of pollution due to strict rules of traditional leaders.

“ Its water has never dried up ever since it was built  about two centuries ago”, said Wairungu Matiko Marwa, the chairperson of Wanyamongo clan.

Marwa says there is plenty of water in the well and never has there been any shortage to hundreds of households in the surrounding villages.  Water is 99 per cent safe," the traditional elder says. Nearly 1000 people depend on this well, "he says.

Stakeholders deliberate on how traditional taboos  help to preserve Mwanahaba water well in Serengeti district, Mara region 

  Our people
adhere to taboos that protect the well, “narrates  Mr Marwa.Marwa
stresses that traditional taboos have greatly helped preserve the well for years.

Traditional leaders prohibit grazing of cattle around the water well, cutting down of trees and setting fire in the environment surrounding the well.

Only drawing water from the well is allowed.  And anyone found acting against the rules is in trouble, according to the traditional elder

This reporter witnessed snakes and fish roaming freely on the water well during a visit to the remote village of Nyabichune near Mara River wetlands.

The ecology of the water well also attracts other animals including various types of birds.

The traditional leaders prohibit fishing or hunting any other living organisms from the water well.

Fishing in this well is strictly prohibited, no one dares it here”,  Mr Marwa further narrates.

According to the traditional leaders, other water wells dug  and financed by the government in their areas  do not last for long as is the case with  those particular wells protected by traditional taboos and customs.

“It is time the government realized that elders contribute significantly to social welfare matters and we have immense powers to protect water sources”, Marwa said.

His secretary, Wambura Itembe also insists that traditional taboos have made it possible to protect water sources in the area. Wells dug by the government do not last long because traditional elders are not involved”, Itembe says.

Traditional leaders of Kurya tribe in Nyamongo, Mara region explain how traditional taboos  have helped  preserve a famous water well in their village called Iroma for about 200 years.  

Tigite water users association zone which involves the Iroma water well commend traditional elders for their contribution in preserving water sources.

“ The traditional leaders have shown a good example and we see the need for the government to start involving  them  on the protection   of water sources and the environment in general”, Mwita Seri, the secretary of Tigite water users association says.

Environmental experts from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)  at  Mara-Serengeti and Lake Victoria Zone office  are happy with the indigenous means that has helped to protect water sources in the region.   


“What is even more interesting is the fact that erecting a fence around the water well (Iroma) is not a priority of the traditional leaders because their rules on proper protection of the well are enough” Mr Novati Kessi, from WWF’s Musoma office said.


He said Iroma water well is a vivid example of a water source that is well protected despite the increased of environmental threats caused by human activities in the region.


“ We are in an area that has seen environmental damage  but nearby there is  a water well (Iroma) that is well preserved. So traditional rules are essential in conserving the environment”,  Mr Kessi said.


He said WWF will advise the government through the Ministry of Water on the importance of formalizing the best water source traditional conservation systems.


“For example, if the government has a strategy to protect water sources at Nyamongo, traditional rules of Nyamongo should be officially  formalized”, Mr Kessi said .


WWF, he said will continue to go around the region to collect information from various water wells, forest and other natural resources that have been under the supervision of traditional leaders and later make suggestions on the best way forward to environmental conservation stakeholders.

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