Home » Embracing “Sharra” -Kashar-ot’: Tangkhul’s Timeless Strategy for Climate Resilience and Sustainability

Embracing “Sharra” -Kashar-ot’: Tangkhul’s Timeless Strategy for Climate Resilience and Sustainability

“Mitigating Climate Change through Tangkhul Traditional Environmental Adaptation: A Simple Yet Systematic Nature-Friendly Approach for a Sustainable Planet”

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Embracing “Sharra” -Kashar-ot’: Tangkhul’s Timeless Strategy for Climate Resilience and Sustainability

By: Addie Chiphang
The Tangkhul Naga, renowned for their rich cultural and traditional heritage, reside in the easternmost border of India, in Manipur’s Ukhrul district, which borders Myanmar. Despite the absence of an official written history, their traditions and practices have been passed down through generations via storytelling and life cycle methods. These practices are deeply intertwined with their natural environment of mountains, rivers, thick forests, and abundant wildlife.
In the face of climate change, the Tangkhul community is turning to their traditional environmental practices, ‘Sharra’-Kashar-ot’, to protect and adapt their region sustainably. This approach, deeply rooted in Tangkhul culture, offers a simple yet systematic method for mitigating climate impacts. By blending ancestral wisdom with modern environmental strategies, the Tangkhul people are fostering a sustainable future. Their commitment to these practices not only preserves their rich heritage but also provides a model for effective climate resilience. Through ‘Sharra’-Kashar-ot’, the Tangkhul community demonstrates that the path to a sustainable planet lies in harmonizing tradition with innovation.
A Rich Heritage and Its Environmental Wisdom:
The Tangkhul Naga’s history is preserved in songs called ‘Hao Laa.’ Their traditional calendar and close relationship with the environment highlight the importance of respecting natural cycles and seasons. This wisdom has become particularly relevant in the face of modern environmental challenges, emphasizing sustainable living in harmony with nature.
Alarming Trends in Global Biodiversity:
According to the Census of Marine Life Scientists, the world hosts 8.7 million species, with 0.01 to 0.1% going extinct annually—equating to 870 to 8,700 species lost each year. Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson estimates that 30,000 species go extinct annually, driven largely by human activities. The International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that 12% of mammals, 12% of birds, 31% of reptiles, 30% of amphibians, and 37% of fish face extinction, endangering global biodiversity.
Shifts in Tangkhul Climate and Practices:
Ukhrul has witnessed dramatic climatic changes over the past decade, including unpredictable monsoons and an alarming frequency of flash floods. Destructive floods and landslides have become common, and many rivers and rivulets have dried up, leaving previously wet terrace fields fallow and uncultivable. Streams that once swept men away are now shallow, symbolizing a drastic shift in the region’s natural landscape.
Traditional Wisdom and Modern Realities:
The traditional Tangkhuls believe that humans are part of creation, not above it. They have specific narratives, myths, and beliefs guiding how people should behave toward the environment. They perceive humans as the only living creatures with ‘shiyan-chikân’ where “sharra” plays a pivotal role in protecting ecological and environmental (traditional norms, ethics, or customary), which should extend to all living beings. This perspective emphasizes the interconnectedness of all life and the need for responsible stewardship of the environment.
Observing the Present Climate Conditions:
Through extensive travels and interactions with the people of Ukhrul, it has become evident that the present generation fails to acknowledge the significant changes in climate. This is primarily due to a gap in the knowledge and practices of their forefathers. The traditional practices that once ensured sustainable living are now being overlooked, leading to adverse environmental impacts.
Decline of Flora and Fauna:
The Tangkhuls once enjoyed abundant house sparrows (Konghii) and swallows around their homes, valuing their presence for the joy and comfort they brought. However, these birds are now rapidly disappearing, a concerning trend noticed by locals, underscoring broader losses in species diversity that remain unexplained.
Once abundant in the Tangkhul region, the Kuirâng (Black Panther) has disappeared since the 1990s. Many animals and birds common in Tangkhul tales, like the lion, leopard, elephant, fox, and hornbill, are also gone. The reverberating sound of the hoolock gibbon, locally called uri-urâ and the sweet melodious sound of Koktui (Cuckoo) and Sampheirok have been silenced. The changing physical and cultural landscapes are causing rapid flora and fauna loss, significantly reducing fertile land in recent years.
Sharra: The Ethical Prohibition:
In Tangkhul culture, sharra encompasses various prohibitions on human actions towards nature, loosely translating to taboo or forbidden, but with no exact English equivalent. The traditional Tangkhuls adhere to sharra, recognizing nature’s crucial role in their culture and the consequences of disobeying taboos. For them, virtues like ethics and etiquette extend beyond humans to the environment. Their livelihood relies on nature’s bounty, making it unethical to cut trees during their peak growing season and random cutting down of trees or to trap birds while they are laying eggs or hatching chicks, as it endangers young lives.
The Moral Imperative in Environmental Stewardship:
Garrett Hardin stated in 1968, “the problem of environmental degradation has no technical solution; it requires a fundamental extension in morality.” Hardin meant that technological innovation alone cannot solve the environmental issues we face today. To improve the relationship between humans and nature, environmental laws and regulations must be complemented by environmental ethics and sensibility.
Traditional Tangkhuls believed in the law of natural ethics, connecting the moral qualities of people to ecological stability. They understood that harmony in nature depends on extending human morality to all living beings. Unfortunately, the pursuit of individual satisfaction and material comfort has eroded this moral fabric.
Balancing Individual and Community Interests:
Our duty to preserve the earth’s resources for future generations is overshadowed by immediate gratification. A system focused on self-interest is destined to collapse. Tangkhuls have always prioritized community interests over individual actions, embedding individual freedom within community norms. The decline of traditional moral systems is a root cause of environmental degradation. Preserving environmental health requires changing user behavior, and institutionalizing long-practiced environmental ethics could guide us closer to harmony with nature.
Living in Harmony with Nature:
The Tangkhuls’ environmental ethics stem from centuries of observation, experience, and reflection on their land. Their folktales often humanize animals, reflecting the harmony of coexisting with nature. This relationship is governed by natural law, not consent, believing animals understand human behavior and language. Knowledge of how to propitiate nature is vital for living in harmony with it.
The Tangkhul Naga’s traditional environmental ethics provide a profound and sustainable approach to addressing modern climate challenges. By respecting the interconnectedness of all life and extending human morality to nature, we can foster a more balanced and enduring relationship with our environment. Reviving and institutionalizing these time-honored practices could guide us towards a sustainable future, honoring the wisdom of our forefathers and ensuring the well-being of future generations.
Tangkhul Naga’s rich cultural heritage and environmental ethics offer valuable lessons in achieving sustainability. By understanding and implementing the traditional wisdom of sharra and other ethical prohibitions, we can address the pressing issue of climate change and its impacts on biodiversity. This holistic approach, which intertwines human behavior with the natural world, serves as a beacon for global efforts to foster environmental stewardship and sustainability. Embracing these practices not only honors the legacy of our ancestors but also ensures a viable future for generations to come.
(This Article is written under the joined initiative of Media Resource Centre, Directorate of Environment and Climate Change, GOM and Ukhrul District Working Journalist Association)

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