Myths, memories and metaphors: recollecting landscape change in the Eritrean highlands

Myths, memories and metaphors: recollecting landscape change in the Eritrean highlands

Author: 
Boerma, Pauline
Publisher: 
Taylor & Francis
Date published: 
2012
Record type: 
Journal Title: 
Journal of Eastern African Studies
Source: 
Journal of Eastern African Studies, Vol 6, No. 2, May 2012, pp. 246-269
Abstract: 

Using the case of Eritrea, this article investigates why people's visual recollections and oral accounts of past landscapes can be an unreliable source of accurate information on environmental change. In Eritrea, a longstanding narrative exists that claims that forest cover throughout the country has decreased from 30% of land cover in the late nineteenth century to less than 1% today. Yet popular recollections are contradicted by available archival and photographic evidence, all of which indicates that the landscape has changed far less dramatically than generally imagined. This article explores why a disjunction between the historical evidence regarding the extent and pattern of deforestation in the central Eritrean highlands and people's memories and beliefs about this process should have evolved. Drawing on recent findings in social psychology, and placing this within prevailing debates on landscape and memory, it seeks to explain why visual recollections may be strongly influenced by the metaphoric and symbolic meaning that landscapes hold for individuals and communities. In particular it looks at how memories about the process of deforestation may be shaped less by actual observation of a physical event than by the nature of people's interaction with past authorities, and by individual experiences of economic hardship and scarcity. The article also looks at how the popular myth of a supposedly once prosperous landscape in Eritrea has been employed and encouraged by those in power – either as a justification for various colonial policies or, in the case of the present government, as a powerful impetus to nation building.

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CITATION: Boerma, Pauline. Myths, memories and metaphors: recollecting landscape change in the Eritrean highlands . : Taylor & Francis , 2012. Journal of Eastern African Studies, Vol 6, No. 2, May 2012, pp. 246-269 - Available at: http://library.au.int/myths-memories-and-metaphors-recollecting-landscape-change-eritrean-highlands-3