The Hub Award
LBE are the 2021 recipients of the Wellcome Trust’s Hub Award. The
1 million pound grant provides a dynamic research space in the Wellcome Collection building at the heart of London, where people with different expertise can collaborate on projects exploring health, life and art.
Our project connects a network of global hubs in a collaborative project exploring the concept of solastalgia.
Our project seeks to understand:
How is the mental health of marginalised, land-dependent communities affected by changes in their ecosystems?
To what extent does the definition of ‘solastalgia’ encompass the lived experiences of marginalised, land dependent communities?
How do historical and contemporary violences faced by marginalised, land dependent communities feature in their lived experience of solastalgia?
*A developing field of global health solastalgia is defined as the emotional or existential suffering caused by environmental change.
(G Albrecht · 2007)
Land Body Ecologies Research Group aims to understand the traumas endured when the land suffers.
Our team is a global collective of artists, researchers, designers, conservationists, technologists and activists from fields including psychology, arts, ecology, sociology, medicine and human rights.
Building on years of collaboration, our network of global hubs will together explore the entanglement of psyche and land. Our work deeply examines how our mental health is impacted by our ecosystem's health and seeks to broaden current understandings of solastalgia to include the historical and current experiences of land dependant, marginalised communities.
The Wellcome Hub in London is a creative studio for the research team, hosting international residencies, workshops, collaborations and public engagements over the two year tenure.
The Wellcome Hub London is anchored by Invisible Flock (UK) and Minority Rights Group International
Quicksand + Invisible Flock
Image by Jason Taylor
Stephen Kotioko climbs a tree in Mau Forest, Kenya.
The Mau Forest Complex is located in the Rift Valley region, about 170 kilometres North West of Nairobi; the capital city of Kenya. It covers over 400,000 ha making it the largest closed canopy ecosystem and indigenous montane forest in the East African region. It is an important water catchment area, a source of several rivers feeding Lake Victoria, Lake Nakuru and Lake Natron and supports the ecosystems in the Maasai Mara National Park and the Serengeti. The Complex is divided into 22 blocks and it is the ancestral home of the Ogiek community.
The Ogiek are an indigenous hunter-gatherer community that has lived within the Mau Forest since time immemorial. The term “Ogiek” means caretaker of forest flora and fauna; in effect they have been the custodians of Mau for generations. For effective management of forest resources, the community had divided Mau into clan territories. This division ensured that each clan’s territory encompassed different ecological zones, where the clans could migrate to during different seasons. This close link that Ogiek have with Mau is still evident as each clan still holds on to their territories apparent by beehives still mounted deep in the forest.
According to the 2019 Kenyan National Housing and Population Census, the Ogiek community population stands at 52,000. The community is found mainly within six counties – Nakuru, Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Narok, Kericho and Baringo– and has experienced several evictions from Mau forest in the name of conservation. This prompted the Ogiek to lodge a claim through the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) which ruled in their favour on May 26th 2017 decreeing that Mau belongs to the Ogiek.
The Kenya field statition will be situated on a serene 5 acres piece of land acquired, in Nkareta location, Narok County within the Maasai Mau Block, and 30km from Narok town which is situated about 150km from Nairobi. This plot of land is a sea of deep green plant life as far as the eye can see. There is also a small stream that runs through watering the different indigenous trees species scattered across the valley. This area is linked to the deeper forest and one can take a nature walk/ hike through the forest to the furthest end where Sasimwani is located.
The Ogiek community intend to have cultural and historical artefacts, regalia and traditional materials displayed within the hub. A space will be set aside for information purposes i.e., books, journals, videos, and other publications relating to the Ogiek and other minority and indigenous communities within the region. On the grounds, a botanical garden will be established for growing herbs that the Ogiek use to treat common ailments, licensed traditional medicine men will be engaged to attend and talk to the Hub’s visitors. Finally, the community intend to create a theatre where elders will engage the younger generation in storytelling in a bid to pass traditional knowledge, traditional songs and dances will be performed within this area.
Mau Forest hub is anchored by
Ogiek Peoples' Development Program (Kenya)
Adjoining the city of Bengaluru, the Bannerghatta National Park is 250 square kilometers of dense forest and scrub lands. The park is part of the wildlife corridor for elephants connecting with the BRT Wildlife Sanctuary and the Sathyamangalam forests to the south. Loosely these forests connect the wildlife habitats of Western Ghats to those of Eastern Ghats, making them some of the most crucial wildlife migration routes in India. Surrounding the Bannerghatta National Park are the forest buffer zones - areas demarcated to reduce and control the interaction between people and the wildlife. The buffer zones are further seen by conservationists as protection against “development” too close to the forest. In recent years there has been tremendous political pressure to open up these buffer zones for development activities, which range from the construction of residential layouts to granite mining. The reduction of the buffer zone last year by about 100 square kilometers puts the park at further risk with legal development activities becoming viable much closer to the park.
The forested valleys and granite hills of the Bannerghatta National park has been home to a number of tribes like most forested regions in South India. A number of old temples dot the Suvarnamukhi hills in the park area, a testament to the cultural significance of these forest lands in the history of South India. The modern Indian state has made efforts to move tribal populations out of reserved forest and national parks sometimes by building consensus and at other times, coercively. There are now small and diminishing tribal hamlets in the buffer zone around the Bannerghatta National park. These tribal communities, among them Hakki Pikki tribes and the Irula tribes, live precariously with development activities ramping up around the forest. Migration of the younger generations away from the forests also threaten their language, identity and custom.
The fate of the forest lands and that of these local communities including the tribal populations here, are interlinked and conservation efforts around the forest must include them. It is thus hardly a coincidence that these communities are disappearing at the same time as the forest is being threatened by urban expansion. While these communities have a close relationship with the forests and a deep knowledge of local fauna and flora there is little to keep the younger generations around the forest and a number of factors are pulling them away from it towards the city of Bengaluru and its suburbs. It seems reasonable to fear a near future where the deep knowledge of the forest, its flora and fauna that the tribes and other local populations have nurtured over generations - apart from the unique culture, language and traditions - will be completely lost as they lose their connection with the forests and become assimilated into the overwhelming urban culture around them.
Bannerghatta Hub is anchored by
Image by Quicksand
Geetha walks in the bright sunlight through rows of small shrubs and trees in Kariyappandoddi, Karnataka, India.
Ragi held in the palm of two hands.
Image by Antti J. Leinonen
Kaisa Kerätär, kicks away soft snow in a low sun in II Finland, clearing a spot for ice fishing.
Kaisa Kerätär leaves her footprints as she crosses blanket of snow covering a frozen lake in Ii, Northern Finland.
According to the Arctic council the Arctic is home to almost four million people today – from hunters and herders living on the land to modern city dwellers. Roughly 10 percent of the inhabitants are Indigenous and many of their peoples distinct to the Arctic.
Most of the northern residents continue their traditional activities in an ever-changing world. However, as the Arctic environment changes, so do the livelihoods, cultures, traditions, languages and identities of indigenous peoples and other communities. Maintaining cultural richness in human life, even in a changing environment, is a key process that needs attention.
During the Second World War, the infrastructure was systematically destroyed in Northern Finland. The effects of the war were to be seen in the landscape and the economy of the area, but the impacts were also mental and social. However, it was not just the war-time destruction that shook the bases of human-environment relationship in the area. The huge postwar modernisation project in Northern Finland was a direct consequence of the war years and it changed the physical and cultural environment of the area profoundly. Old traditional buildings were replaced by type planned houses, the rivers were constructed to produce hydropower and new roads were built to serve a more efficient forest industry. Modernisation increased material wellbeing, but technological and economic development do not cover all welfare. For local people, the environment is much more than a resource. The loss of significant places and landscapes, buildings and personal property was traumatising and weakened people’s place attachment.
For example, the damming of rivers was a death blow for a rich salmon fishing culture that was centuries old. For the people living along these rivers the alteration has been a cultural trauma, not only the ones who experienced the change but also the ones who witnessed the trauma of others. Trauma seems to be transgenerational affecting future generations that personally have not experienced changes.
By focusing on the historical-geographical identity, local residents' narratives and traditional way of life of the Sámi and northern Finnish border region communities, and using multidisciplinary scientific and artistic methods the aim is to highlight and deepen the knowledge of traditional livelihoods like fishing, hunting, reindeer husbandry and gathering, their role in people’s wellbeing and local identities, and to enable a broader discourse related to local people’s rights to their own culture and land, traditional knowledge and landscape.
The Arctic Hub is anchored by
The Batwa community used to live in the forests of Ekyuya, Semuliki, Bwindi, and Mgahinga which are their ancestral lands in Uganda. These forests lie within the biodiversity rich Albertine rift eco-region and are sites of global biodiversity importance. Bwindi, for example, is home to more than 1,000 flowering plant species, including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns and famously 400 Bwindi gorillas, half of the world's population of the endangered mountain gorillas.
In the early 1990’s the Batwa were evicted by government authorities from their ancestral lands in the name of free land for wildlife and forest conservation. Despite stewarding the forests for many generations, their eviction was carried out in the name of conservation. These areas became the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Echuya Central Forest Reserve. The Batwa now live in Kabale, Kanungu, Kisoro, Rubanda and Bundibugyo districts - areas on the edges of these gazetted National parks. The evictions left the community struggling to survive and facing extreme discrimination, on the margins of their former home.
It is in the forest that they practiced their traditional culture, hunting, spiritual and food practices. The forest provided them freely with wild meat, fruits, yams, medicinal herbs, and backskins which served as clothes, and honey which served many purposes. The Batwa community has spiritual and religious ties with their forests. Specific sites are revered and considered central to their existence. Each geographical area, especially those inside forests, has a name that relates to history and the remote past – the world of mythical ancestors. The loss of their ancestral forest home has had devastating effects.
The Batwa have that spirit of togetherness in them and gathering together to tell stories is an important part of community life. The elders teach the younger generation about the culture, in their language Rutwa, which is at risk of diminishing slowly.
For decades the world has allowed for the creation of fortress conservation areas in the belief that in order for biodiversity to recover and thrive, certain lands must be left free from human activity. This is a flawed conservation model that for many communities, such as the Batwa, means a violation of their human rights. Today, there are renewed calls for even more of the world’s surface area - 30% of land and seas - to be converted into ‘protected’ areas by 2030. Why are these targets being set without an understanding of the deep and lasting impacts of forced displacement on life, culture and health of communities directly impacted? Understanding the experience of the Batwa 30 years after their eviction will provide insight into what land truly means for indigenous communities, what the lasting impacts of separation from homeland are, and why mental health must be a factor meaningfully considered when designing environmental policies.
Bwindi hub is anchored by Action for Batwa Empowerment Group. (Kanungu, Uganda)