At ICTD 2012 I saw a paper about a system for Kenyan farmers that combines weather forecasts provided by a meterological office with other types of indigenous knowledge that the locals use. One of the arguments being made in the paper was that the weather forecasts that came from the office were too broad in scope, they covered too much terrain to be useful for the farmers and were therefore less useful. But, because those forecasts were scientific the other ways of knowing were sometimes characterized as primitive. The paper attempted to integrate both ways of knowing into a single system for helping the farmers.
Setting aside the paper’s system, I wanted to return to the idea of indigenous weather forecasting. Someone in the audience stood up and made a comment about how this system might be interesting to try in Yorkshire, a county in the UK. People laughed a bit, perhaps uneasily. And I could only think of the rhyme I learned as a child: Red skies at night, shepherd’s delight. Red Skies at morning, shepherd’s warning (which with some experience doesn’t appear to work in Georgia). I wondered what sorts of knowledge Yorkshire men and women used in the Dales and on the moors to make sense of their weather.
Last night I was watching a program about St Kilda, its an abandoned island off the coast (by about 100 miles) of Scotland. On the program the historian described at length some of the indigenous weather forecasting practices that islanders used to use. The weather is extremely changeable, so the locals would watch what shore the waves were breaking on (to one side of the bay, good weather, to the other side, a storm coming it). They would watch where the birds settled on the islands, using their landing points as knowledge about what was to come. And then they showed us the waves and the birds doing things that signaled poor weather and it came in (of course it could have been a bit of video trickery, I hope not though). The historian also explained the point of reference for doing it: big Atlantic storms, some bringing winds as strong as 100 miles per hour, dangerous to be on an island which has some of the highest cliffs to coastline in the UK.
I think it’s easy to see indigenous knowledge as something other people have, a foreign concept, perhaps especially while I write from my desk in an Institute of higher learning that is entirely devoted to the production of scientific knowledge (if I had a dollar for every time the word science was used…). But, unless its just the Kenyans and the British, and I don’t think it is, I suspect indigenous knowledge is all around us.
And now I’m really curious what sorts of indigenous weather forecasting methods Georgians use, and what their point of reference is/are when they use it.