Traditional knowledge – a vital tool for climate change adaptation

Aleta Baun speaking at the KMAN IV climate change and adaptation workshop. (Photo: DTE)

DTE 91-92, May 2012

A personal view of KMAN IV by Clare McVeigh

In April this year, I was fortunate to be invited to represent DtE as an observer at KMAN IV and the National Indigenous Women’s Meeting in Tobelo. It was a remarkable experience to see at first hand one of the largest and most diverse indigenous movements consolidate and advance collective efforts to fight for the rights of indigenous peoples.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation were key issues on the agenda throughout the congress. However, group discussions frequently reverted away from climate change to issues of land conflict, exploitation of mineral resources and deforestation -  issues which have a direct impact on the very survival of indigenous people.

At the Climate Change Adaptation workshop on 20th April, indigenous leader Aleta Baun (better known as Mama Aleta), stressed the need for indigenous people to focus their attention on building adaptability and resilience within their communities. She presented an inspiring example of climate change adaptation in practice in the regency of South Central Timor, where the ancient ‘rumah bulat’ or ‘round houses’  - a style of housing passed down as ancestral knowledge through for generations -  are being used as storage barns to preserve food in the increasingly harsh heat of the dry season. The houses have no windows and provide excellent insulation, ensuring vital food supplies and agricultural products can be protected against the increasing temperatures. This is particularly important for mountain communities, as temperatures are likely to rise more significantly at higher altitudes as a result of climate change. The houses have a second and equally important use: they provide vulnerable communities with essential shelter against increased and more dangerous storm activity that occurs as a result of an unpredictable climate.

Mama Aleta’s example provides encouragement that, by adapting and applying existing indigenous wisdom to a changing world, indigenous people have the potential to provide communities with real solutions to the challenges of climate change.