Cultural changes have various impacts on the environment. In Kenya, the main cultural shock that impacted heavily on the people’s culture was colonization. Adoption of modern cultural ideologies have led to erosion of customary beliefs e.g. myths, superstitions and taboos which were instrumental to environmental conservation. Although these have been replaced with formal policies, the level of application of these policies cannot equate to that of customary beliefs that the people highly respected due to their sacred nature. The consequences of committing environmental offences today may not be considered as severe as in our traditions whereby a permanent curse would befall the whole community or the offender.
As such, cultural erosion has gradually contributed to environmental degradation.
With cultural erosion, communities no longer perform traditional ceremonies at the same the frequency as in the past. Instead, most of the traditional ceremonies have died out except for the initiation and the marriage ceremonies which still bear some reflection to the traditional ones, though only among a few communities. As a result, there has been loss of respect to the authority that was formerly granted to the community elders (and currently enjoyed by government administrators). Community elders were the custodians of community resources, with loss of power, not many communities today have any environmental custodians.
Traditional resource management practices and technologies have been compromised. For example, there is no more teaching of Indigenous knowledge that created harmony with nature by designating resources for various uses.
Adoption of new religions e.g. Christianity and Islam has further uprooted the sacred nature of natural resources that was instrumental to their conservation in the past.
Communities no longer create gods and other supreme beings out of natural phenomenon such as the rivers, mountains, forests which contributed to their conservation.
Modern administration, economic system and change of land tenure system from community management/ ownership to private or freehold and trusteeship ownership have also had diverse impacts on the environment. Traditional management of resources was on communal basis; not only for the benefit of the current generation, but the future generations and the dead were also considered stakeholders.
As chief Nana Ofori of Ghana responded to the colonialists request to buy land from his community;
‘I conceive that land belongs to a vast majority of whom most are dead, a few are living and countless hosts are still unborn’
As such, resources had to be utilized efficiently. This would ensure provision of a home for the dead who were believed to exist within the people as spirits; and provide the current and future generations with food, medicine, ornaments and instruments for social activities and cultural ceremonies, shelter, clothing and spiritual nourishment by providing resources for undertaking religious rituals.
If this is to be fulfilled today, there is need to identify cultural practices that are compatible to environmental conservation and popularize such practices. Such include use of local languages as we have in the many radio stations broadcasting in local languages in Kenya.
Language preservation entails preserving many other aspects of a community’s culture. It is also necessary to strengthen existing cultural institutions e.g. age- groups, elders, marriages and their positive aspects contributing to our social, political and environmental welfare.