The environmental integrity of African Indigenous Knowledge Systems : probing the roots of African rationality

  • Cornel W du Toit Research Institute for Theology and Religion, University of South Africa, South Africa


Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) are part and parcel of the individual practising within a specific community and environmental context. Westerners tend to view IKS as the African equivalent of Western science, technology and rationality. Such view is wrong as it can harm the place of IKS in traditional African communities. This article stresses the importance of the precondition of the formation of IKS, which refers to the symbiotic interaction between a community and its (natural) environment. The relatively intact nature of African communities with the natural environment is discussed against the background of post-industrial societies whose interaction with the natural environment turned into an interaction with an artificial, technological environment. The individual's detachment from his/her natural environment was caused by the development of Western science, technology and rationality.
Africa's level of development must be understood in terms of environmental factors in Africa's biogeography. African knowledge systems are the outcome of a long process of harmony and interaction with diverse environments. African and other pre-industrial societies interact with their environment in an ecologically sentient manner. The present challenge is to maintain African environmental integrity in an increasingly techno-scientific environment. This links knowledge systems to the corpus of meaning-giving rites, rituals, stories and beliefs of a community. This contrasts with Western domination rationality, which developed over a relatively short period of time, resulting in a disenchantment with the life world, and the separation of fact and reason from meaning and value. African IKS could prevent African culture from falling prey to the Western legacy of rational domination as presently manifested in a techno-scientific world, while testifying to the possibility of an ongoing harmonious relationship with nature.

Indilinga: African Journal of Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IAJIKS) Vol. 4(1) 2005: 55-73

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1683-0296