Some rural communities guard sacred groves which are remnants of ancient forests, as homes and dwelling places for their gods/deities. Such communities rely on local resources for their daily needs and cherish nature for the ecological services it offers. Sacred groves are forest areas that are set aside by the local communities to be preserved by the local folk gods and to be of great spiritual significance to them. Traditional societies and indigenous people have conserved and protected the forest areas for decades using their socio-cultural and religious practices such as taboos and beliefs. One of the best methods to conserve natural resources is the idea and practice of sacred trees and groves. They serve as both the last refuge for the rich culture and traditions of the indigenous people as well as the reservoirs of our abundant biodiversity.
When humans began to cultivate plants, this can significantly alter the original ecosystems, the need to safeguard the groves would have been even more imperative. Sacred groves play a crucial role in providing ecosystem services including conservation of flora and fauna, soil, water and air, regulation of temperature, carbon sequestration and preservation of traditional knowledge. They serve as the repository for rare, endangered and threatened flora and fauna species; and several significant species which serve as an important gene pool. They serve as reservoirs for medical and aromatic plants as well as unique species.
It is intriguing to learn that in the past, people dare not enter or perform the activity that can lead to the destruction of the forests and in some groves, it still happens to date. Some sacred groves forbid visitors from entering the forest, plucking twigs, taking pictures, and lots more. Asides from religious purposes, no forest products including timber may be removed for trade or sale.
Due to the deterioration of the socio-cultural and ethical principles that helped them thrive, some sacred groves that were formerly protected and safeguarded have now become targets for encroachment and degradation. Conversion of the local communities to other religion, urbanization, and beliefs of superstition that surrounds sacred groves, civilization, and human activities has posed a threat to these groves of rich biodiversity.
Written by: Grace Alo