Resource 4: Local knowledge
Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils
At Government Teachers’ College, Jos, teacher training students discovered that old madala George, the man who worked as the gatekeeper, was a wonderful resource about the local natural world – a true naturalist.
If George was shown a pouched squirrel, he would know that it harvested and stored seeds and grain (much like a hamster), and had a specific berom name for it that no student knew. He could tell all sorts of fascinating facts and folklore about the animal. For example, he told how seven years of drought can be predicted when the pouched squirrel is taking the trouble to chew the palm nuts so as to carry them in its cheek pouches to be stored safely.
He also knew that the antelope could see directly up through the spirals of its horns to the exact tip. You can check this if you look down from the top of a mounted set of horns. There is a direct line to the eye socket. We didn’t really believe him when he told us that trees communicated directly with the buck, sending them on by saying ‘you have taken enough here, now move on’. Years later, telling some nature conservation experts about this odd notion, they laughed, saying that it had recently been discovered that certain local trees do in fact produce bitter-tasting chemicals in response to grazing and that these are even passed on to neighbouring plants, causing the buck to move on to a different clump of plants.