An exploration of older persons' experiences of drought as revealed in indigenous knowledge practices
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The majority of older persons struggle to survive drought challenges. Their financial position is very difficult and most of these older persons still depend on farming activities to sustain their livelihoods. This study explores older persons' experiences of drought and how they have been coping with the demanding challenges of drought, with specific focus on how indigenous knowledge (IK) became apparent in the way they responded to drought. No research has yet been done on how older people cope with drought in South Africa. IK is an important resource in dealing with the challenges associated with drought. It can be regarded as a way of regulating the survival of older persons' communities, because it is culturally and contextually embedded in the local tradition. IK also involves the knowledge and skills based on the experiences of individuals and of the community. A qualitative research design was the most appropriate for this study, because qualitative methods allow for the exploration of personal and communal meanings associated with a phenomenon, such as drought. A purposive sample consisting of 30 males and 45 females, who have been living in the area of study for 15 years or longer, was used in the study. The research was conducted in the Bophirima District in the Northwest Province. The Mmogo™ method, a culturally sensitive data gathering method which uses visual presentations to reflect the cultural meanings that are associated with the symbolic use of objects, was applied in the study. Participants were requested to create a visual presentation of their experiences of drought. Focus group discussions and observations were used to triangulate the data. Visual data was analysed on different levels and the textual data was analysed by means of thematic content analysis. The results indicated that the behaviour and IK practices displayed by older persons are culturally and contextually embedded. This was revealed in the person-environment interactions, the coping skills and the mutual social support among the older persons in the community. The reciprocal interactions between the older persons and the environment are reflected in weather predictions and in the cultural and religious practices they displayed in the study. Collective experiences, empowerment and social support were contributory factors in coping with drought. The research suggests that IK is a valuable resource, which should be preserved as an important way of dealing with drought, and that it plays an essential part in providing older persons with opportunities to demonstrate their expertise and share their experiences. This contributes to their independence, promotes their self-confidence, and provides opportunities to take control of their future. IK can be a source of pride, and it can create a sense of ownership in all older persons. As the promotion of IK can also help to achieve long-term goals to cope with drought, further exploration of the use of IK is recommended. Further studies should concentrate more on older persons' reliance on IK in coping with drought, as displayed in different African countries. These different dynamics would provide insight into the use and importance of IK in dealing with drought.
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