The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.


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Respecting Indigenous Knowledge

I’ve long been interested in the culture of villages, particularly as it pertains to my Croatian background.  Although our “peasants” have often been caricatured as close-minded and backward, they are the keepers of our heritage, its arts, crafts and traditions. Their farming practices, honed over centuries, have helped to preserve a wide range of native crops and some wild varieties.

On my last visit to Croatia I made a pilgrimage to my great-grandmother’s house in Praputnjak, a small village in the hills overlooking the port city of Bakar. The new owner knew my family well and invited me in to see the old house. He proudly showed me the improvements he’d made and asked me to stay for a bit.

I admitted I’d come, not just to see the old house, but to find the boutique winery I heard still produced the original Bakarska Vodica that my great-grandmother Vilka was famous for making. Bakarska Vodica is a light sparkling wine made from grapes grown only in that part of Istria. It turned out the producer lived next door. He was delighted to see me and reminded me we’d played together as children. I got an amazing tour of his small, immaculately kept vineyard. He explained he had reintroduced the old Belina grape variety originally used in the region to give the wine its famous distinctive flavor.

What you might ask does this have to do with respecting indigenous knowledge? I believe my personal experience is a microcosm of a trend taking place in rural communities around the world. People are becoming skeptical of the scientific methods of production that degrade and pollute the environment and result in tasteless food of inferior quality and nutritional value. Consequently, people are investigating the old indigenous ways of growing food that evolved over thousands of years and developed and nourished a rich local biodiversity.

For those of you interested in this emerging trend, there is a fascinating article in “The Shillong Times” about a mapping project taking place in 32 villages in the Meghalaya and Nagaland regions of India. The project was undertaken by the North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) to document the biodiversity of the region and to strengthen the indigenous food system.

 

 


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The Root Bridges of Cherrapunji

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By: Atlas Obscura

In northeastern India, in one of the wettest places on earth, bridges aren’t built—they’re grown.

The southern Khasi and Jaintia hills are humid and warm, crisscrossed by swift-flowing rivers and mountain streams. On the slopes of these hills, a species of Indian rubber tree with an incredibly strong root system thrives and flourishes.

The Ficus elastica produces a series of secondary roots from higher up its trunk and can comfortably perch atop huge boulders along the riverbanks, or even in the middle of the rivers themselves. The War-Khasis, a tribe in Meghalaya, long ago noticed this tree and saw in its powerful roots an opportunity to easily cross the area’s many rivers. Now, whenever and wherever the need arises, they simply grow their bridges.

In order to make a rubber tree’s roots grow in the right direction—say, over a river—the Khasis use betel nut trunks, sliced down the middle and hollowed out, to create root-guidance systems. The thin, tender roots of the rubber tree, prevented from fanning out by the betel nut trunks, grow straight out. When they reach the other side of the river, they’re allowed to take root in the soil. Given enough time, a sturdy, living bridge is produced.

The root bridges, some of which are over a hundred feet long, take ten to fifteen years to become fully functional, but they’re extraordinarily strong—strong enough that some of them can support the weight of fifty or more people at a time. In fact, because they are alive and still growing, the bridges actually gain strength over time—and some of the ancient root bridges used daily by the people of the villages around Cherrapunji may be well over 500 years old.

One special root bridge, believed to be the only one of its kind in the world, is actually two bridges stacked one over the other and has come to be known as the “Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge.”

These bridges were re-discovered by Denis P. Rayen of the Cherrapunji Holiday Resort. Due to his efforts to promote interest in the bridges, the local population has been alerted to their potential worth and kept them from being destroyed in favor of steel ones. What’s more, a new root bridge is currently being grown and should be ready for use within a decade.