As part of the ILC Internship Programme with the University of Sheffield, Samantha explores generational differences in perceptions of customary land and conservation with members of the Ataa’ta tribe in Southern Jordan.
Within international development, there has been increasing attention paid to the effects nature conservation methods, such as protected areas, can have on local people. Displacement from customary land, restrictions on livelihood activities, and disruptions to traditional diets are some common concerns. But there seems to be a limited focus on how these effects are felt across different age groups. It was this concept that first inspired my MA International Development dissertation research through an International Land Coalition internship in Dana, Jordan this past summer. However, in order to understand how participants’ lives had been affected by conservation efforts, I first had to determine how they experienced the land around them.
Dana, Qadisiyah, and the Ataa’ta
People of the Ataa’ta semi-nomadic tribe settled in a small village, named Dana, located on the edge of Wadi Dana in southern Jordan around the second half of the Ottoman period. For the past several hundred years, people of the Ataa’ta tribe have lived in Dana practicing agriculture in the fertile terrace gardens, logging, hunting, and grazing livestock throughout this customary land.
As families grew in size, the village became too small for the local population and in the 1970s people began to resettle in nearby Qadisiyah, an area above the valley but still part of the Ataa’ta customary land.
In 1993, under the management of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, the Jordanian government authorized the establishment of a protected area called the Dana Biosphere Reserve. As a result of the reserve, pre-existing restrictions on traditional practices such as grazing of livestock, logging, and hunting were further increased.
In response, families from the villages of Dana and Qadisiyah established the Dana and Qadisiyah Local Community Cooperative (DQLCC). As an International Land Coalition member, this cooperative society empowers local people to be more involved in activities taking place on their customary land and works to educate international audiences about the community’s loss of land rights.
Customary Land and Generational Differences
Throughout the months of June and July, I had the opportunity to carry out my research in partnership with the DQLCC, looking at opinions of customary land, nature, and conservation in the area. With the help of my interpreter, I conducted seven life history interviews with elders in the community, eleven independent interviews with participants between the ages of 33 and 75, and two focus groups with young people. Throughout all stages of the research, participants consistently acknowledged that there were differences between their own opinions of customary land and those of other generations.
According to participants, growing up in Dana Village equated to a ‘simple’ life centered around agriculture and livestock. As a child, daily routines often consisted of going to school during the day, herding and watering the sheep and goats or working in the garden after school, and then social time in the evenings. For those that grew up in Dana and experienced this way of life, customary land was identified as important because it helped form part of their identity. It was integral to their daily lives growing up and they have held on to those memories of the land ever since.
These memories can continue to have a significant impact in people’s lives even if they no longer live in the area. According to one participant, someone who moved away from Dana many decades ago would still tell people they are from Dana because they are proud of that fact. This land gives people a sense of belonging and ownership as it was their “great-great-great grandfathers’ land” and it now belongs to them.
While older participants spoke of emotional and cultural attachment to the land, ten focus group participants between the ages of 17 and 27 tended to identify the customary land as important because it could be used for livelihood activities. Based on the stories they heard from their parents and grandparents about the daily routines of life in Dana, focus group participants felt that land was primarily important for its use in activities such as housing, grazing, and agriculture.
That being said, they disagreed about whether it was important for their own generation to have access to this customary land. While some reiterated its use in livelihood activities, especially as local infrastructure continues to expand onto existing agricultural land, others felt that it held no benefits for them.
From these findings, it was clear that the younger generation had learned from the older generation’s stories about ways the land could be used, but growing up in Dana Village had given the elders a unique experience resulting in an emotional tie to the customary land that the younger generation did not have. This was concerning for many older participants, as they felt that the younger generation did not care about the customary land as much as they should and that they would not fight for its protection in the same way.
My research went on to show that age was just one factor in how participants understood the effect nature conservation had on their customary land. However, I believe it is a very important one to keep in mind. As younger people age, it is likely that they will begin to fulfill new roles in the management of land at local, regional, and international levels. Differences in perceptions of customary land and opinions about its importance compared to those of earlier generations will likely mean changes to how conservation of tribal land is approached in the future.
Whether these changes are something to be concerned about, similar to the caution older people in Dana are feeling, remains to be seen. But either way, research on customary land and nature conservation would do well to explore generational differences moving forward so they can be better prepared for what may come.