CCL in Action: Phillip Kusasa, N’dau Festival of The Arts

Phillip Kusasa has been actively work to preserve his N’dau cultural heritage, which is indigenous to Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, for many years. In 2013 he set up the Paiyapo Arts Development and Heritage Centre in Bangira, Chipinge. Through his interest in protecting N’dau cultural heritage, Phillip has long had an interest in environmental protection. He describes how, as an ‘agro-based ethnic group, all [N’dau] activities bank on good climate patterns’. Through the N’dau Festival of the Arts, Phillip celebrates N’dau culture through dance and performance, as well as organising poetry, educational workshops on environmental issues, and tree-planting.

Joining CCL, Phillip wanted to find ways of gathering traditional N’dau environmental knowledge and protecting it through documentation, to record local knowledge that could help address the impacts of environmental change for current and future generations. With the support of a CCL in Action Grant, Phillip worked with researchers to visit different communities and interview the traditional leaders, elders and religious custodians there. Phillip describes how they were ‘able to draw information on the N’dau traditional knowledge systems that are central in maintaining good environment and healthy climate patterns. From the chiefs and elderly people we consulted and interviewed a lot of constructive information emerged’.

While conducting this research, Phillip and his team were offered the chance to visit some sacred sites and observe community rituals, a rare privilege as it is ‘taboo for ordinary people to access such places like traditional leader’s burial places, sacred forests and caves’. Phillip created an inventory of all the cultural and historical sites that have been protected for centuries because of their cultural and environmental relevance, and hopes to encourage people around the world to embrace the beauty and history of these places.

This research will be developed into a photo book about local indigenous knowledge and stories, and a tourist guide to some of the areas. Phillip’s hope is to disseminate these resources to local schools, so as to bridge the knowledge gap between the older and younger generations. He wants to ‘give power to our future communities, our future generations’.

Phillip has also been proactively sharing his research and insights with the Creative Climate Leadership network, helping to contribute to essential global exchange and building understanding of the challenges faced by communities in different geographic contexts.

In early 2019, Phillip’s home in the district of Chipinge was one of the regions severely affected by Cyclone Idai, one of the worst tropical cyclones on record in Africa, intensified by climate change, which left over 1,200 dead and many thousands more missing. Phillip is currently working with his community to rebuild their livelihood and home.

Excerpt from Phillip’s research:

MEETING WITH CHIEF MUSIKAVANHU AND OTHER COMMUNITY ELDERS.

It was observed that the Chief has that passion to transmit knowledge from oral tradition into written records. From his presentation he confirmed that it was the right time communities should cooperate to give the best knowledge that they have about their environment and cultural sites.He emphasised that those who are advanced in age are the sources of wisdom and cultural knowledge systems, so the time was now to share that knowledge so that the future generation would not miss it. Another interesting thing he pointed out was that the Ndau Ethnic Group has been known for its secretive nature. They have been valuing their knowledge as sacred, however, he quickly alluded that keeping that knowledge away from other communities would lead to disaster since some people would one day ignorantly invade and disrupt all those areas of cultural and ecological importance leaving the earth naked. In fact, he went on to shade light on the history of his chiefdom that they have been regarded as rainmarkers due to their strong and cultural rainmaking rituals. These rituals for him are linked to those cultural sites. So observing them would maintain good rain hence even climate conditions. The session was so informative and we recorded some new sites which are cultural important. They included wetlands, sacred trees and sacred forests.

Read Phillip Kusasa’s reflection: “OF RURAL ENVIRONMENTAL MUSEUMS AND DEVELOPMENT: FOCUS ON N’DAU CULTURE AND HERITAGE, ZIMBABWE

N’dau Festival of the Arts Zimbabwe | UNFCCC #Art4Climate Feature: https://unfccc.int/news/celebrating-indigenous-knowledge-for-climate-action