Home | EthioNL English pages | EthioNL Dutch pages | Back to documents index |

Images of water in religion, myths, literature and art

This session will deal with different aspects of the cultural construction of water – from ancient days until contemporary time. We are calling for papers on for example the role of water in the world religions, myths of rivers as a source of life, and water as an object of art. Other themes could be the free flowing river as a state of equilibrium or as a chaotic and violent nature meant to be controlled by man.


1. Daniel Aberra, Ethiopia (116)

Portrayal of Reflections about Rivers and Water in Ethiopia: A Study of Amharic Songs and Proverbs

The objective of this project is to draw attention to the songs and proverbs of various Ethiopian languages depicting various aspects pertaining to rivers and water, specifically in this paper the official language of Ethiopia, Amharic with 35% speakers of the total 60 million people of the country have been studied. The study highlights on the performers of songs and proverbs – the people. Their perceptions, responses, feelings and attitudes with the underlying assumption that songs and proverbs are repositories of people's unguarded reflections and images of their world outlook.

In order to do so therefore 10 songs and 250 proverbs with thems on rivers: (Nile (locally Abbay), Awash and Omo and water have been considered in this study as a sample. These have been analysed thematically for their metaphoric and connotative meanings and sociolonguistically for their cultural, social, economic and historic backgrounds and nature.

The result indicate that oral literature, mainly songs and proverbs are an indirect and unguarded access to people's images, feelings, conceptions and reflections. The River Nile is especially depicted as a source of demise for Ethiopia by bying enemity from her strong neighbouring countries like Egypt and Sudan. Moreover, the songs and proverbs express the contempt of the people towards its uselessness in the country.

In view of this, the study-paper suggested the need of an in-depth study of the literature heritages of other Ethiopian languages including of course Amharic that focus on rivers and water. They i.e., the songs and proverbs (the literary heritages) re manifestations of the creatively, dynamism and vision that people exhibited in their attempt to conceptualize, explain and recreate rivers' and waters' images.


2. Daniel Alemu, Austria / Ethiopia (114)
Discourse analysis of Claude Sumner, Hailu Gabre-Yohannes, Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin Poems on the Blue Nile

The article makes a prelimmenary enquiry into the nature and significance of poetry that takes as its subject matter Blue Nile, which more than its counterpart the White Nile was responsible for the rise of Pharonic Egypt, one of the earliest civilizations of mankind. It provides a modest anthology showing the following range of sentiments: nostalgia for the histiry of Ethiopia, philosophy, profound appreciation for its identity and marvel at its scenic beauty, especially that of its great cataract locally known as Tiss Issat (Smoke of fire). These deep feelings, however, are manifested in sonnet and poetry forms reflecting history, philosophy and theology, poetically juxtaposed with wrath and indignation at the utter indifference and destruction the river brought home with the enormous benefits it rendered abroad.

The article first and foremost shades light on the historical, philosophical, theological and political background of the poems to be analysed in an effort to decipher the embeded meanings of the sonnet and poems of Claude Sumner et al using the linguistic method called Discourse Stylistic Analysis. This analysis utilizes an intuitive response to be followed by a linguistic analytic description.

In my conclusion, I underline the need for the riparian states to seek a peaceful solution in harnessing the bounty of the Blue Nile River. Therefor, cooperation must take place, concerning the river Nile. The lack of clear general rule, necessitates the riparian states to resort for a peaceful solution based on sustainable agreement and equitable distribution of water in the region. Peace in the "Great Lake Regions" squarely depend on the ability of the riparian states to respect their needs in mutual consent.


3. Mukerjee Aniruddhe, India (324)

Religious Activities and Management of Water Bodies. Case Study of Idol Immersion in Context of Urban lakes Management

Immersion of idols by Hindus and taking of tazia possession by Muslims are old traditions in all parts of India. After completion of the festival idols and tazias are immersed in water bodies which are nearby or accessible to the people. Earlier the immersion used to be done in the lotic water resources but now people have started using lampic water bodies too. The urban settlements have limited water resources which are accessible to the people, so people have started using even small lampic water resources for the immersion of idols as per their convenience. It is immaterial for them that the water resources get polluted, whether they are being used for drinking water or have other important uses but rituals are performed all the same without considering the environmental consequences or impacts.

The idols of Lord Ganesh and Goddess Durga worshipped by Hindus are immersed in the month of September and October respectively every year. Similarly during the Moorum festival, tazias are being immersed by Muslims in the month of May every year. The idols are been made up of Clay, Hay, Cloth, Paper, Wood, Thermocol, Jute, Adhesive Material, and Synthetic Paints etc while tazias are made up of almost same material except clay. Out of the all material used in making the idols, Thermocol is Non-Biodegradable while paints contain heavy metals such as Chromium, Lead, Nickel, Cadmium and Zinc.

Upper lake of Bhopal is an example where even a sources of potable water is being used for idol immersion. Similarly the well known Buda Talaab of Raipur and Hanuman Taal of Jabalpur are examples of water bodies which are being used for idols immersion and other rituals. The famous Pichola lake of Udaipur, Rajasthan is also used for idol immersion. It has been observed that religious activities and way of worship, performing of rituals are somehow closely linked with the water bodies. Earlier such activities were linked with the reverse but now people are using lakes, ponds, tanks etc for the same.

Immersion of idols after the rainy season allows the biodegradable and non biodegradable matter in the water bodies to settle down. This leads to eutrophication of the water bodies. The bio-degradable matter after decomposition recycles to the system while non biodegradable substances form sediments. The recycling of bio-degradable components directly enters to the food chain of aquatic ecosystem and accumulates in the different parts of the plants and animals. The bio-accumulation of heavy metals in biological system transfers the toxic element from producer to consumer level which can be a future health hazard.. This contribution addresses the highly sensitive issue and attempts that are being made to tackle them.


4. Adrian Armstrong and Mary Hancock (330)

A Christian perspective on water and water rights.

Although Christian origins are deeply imbued with imagery of water as the source of life, western Christian theology does not say very much about water. Indeed, it can be argued, along with Lynn White, that because of its strict segregation of this world and its concerns from the divine world, Christianity is in some respects responsible for some of our current environmental problems. Nevertheless, there is also a strong basis in Christian theology for a concern for creation. We can base this on a variety of parallel insights derived: a) from the incarnation, b) from the love of God for all creation, and c) from the Christian social gospel. Ultimately we cannot follow a God who teaches us to love one another without translating that into a full demand for Water Rights for all human beings. But the command to love also extends to the whole of creation, and so leaves us with the problem of balancing the needs and rights of all creation, both human and inanimate: both the human need for water, and the place of water in the whole earth ecosystem.

5. Jon Askeland & Alvaro Ramirez, Norway (211)
Images of water in films from Latin-America

The New Latin American Cinema of the sixties had a clearcut political profile and dealt to a large extent with social and economic issues in a direct manner. The film was considered an important weapon in the political struggle and was supposed to contribute to raise awareness about inequality and injustice. One of the socio-economic problems presented had to do with the unjust distribution of fundamental natural ressources like land and water.

More recent films like the ones Fernando Solanas made in the nineties ("The Voyage" 1992 and "The Cloud", 1998) present a new approach to the same subjects and the images of water acquires new symboli c and allegoric meanings.


6. Fred Batengaya, Uganda (41)
Hydro-development and its victim. Has the Collapse of Traditional Religion Arrived?

Regardless of the level of development, all known societies have certain basic needs which have to be met in order for people who live therein to lead a complete life. Besides the conventional basic needs - Shelter, food, and Medicare – are other needs that are many a time underscored or forgotten altogether whenever mentioning basic needs. Some of the underscored needs of people are the psychological and spiritual ones. The purpose of this paper is to recount the psychological and spiritual needs of an African Community amidst development interventions and other related influences from the West.

To satisfy their psychological and spiritual needs African people turned to a religion, which various writers have called the traditional African religion. This is a religion, which sits the level of development and is thereby practiced within that framework, a fact which is reflected by the places/areas where it is practiced/performed namely, forests, hills and water bodies, rivers, lakes, stream. As a point of reference, this paper will focus on the significance of water bodies in Traditional African Religion in contemporary African Communities that live on the banks of river Nile.

Traditional African Religion dates back to the days before the continent came into contact with the outside world. At that time, the river Kiira as it was called then belonged to Katonda (God) but kept by Balubaales or spirits as there were no central administrative and international structures to look after it. However all this changed with the penetration of colonizers as not only were administrative structures put in place to pacify the Africans who had resisted colonialism but also new religions were introduced to help them in this effort.

Despite the gusto with which the Western religions were spreading, they didn’t affect or conflict directly with the Traditional African Religion. Due to the similarities in view of water as spiritual symbol shared by both sets of believers there arose a dualism of sorts as some Africans embraced the Western religions but also continued with theirs. This dualism has persisted because there has been no competition over space between the two. Furthermore the timing of the two does not conflict, as they are carried out/performed at different times. The paper will explore in detail these and other reasons for the dualism and the future of that dualism in face of major development interventions.

However this dualism is about to the affected as a result of the impending construction of a second dam, just less than 10kms from the Owen Falls Dam, which is to start sometime in the year 2001. With this Hydro Development project, there is going to be an inevitable competition over space between the project and Traditional African Religion institutions like shrines, sacred spots and other functions (All found in the flowing river).

The likely changes in Traditional African Religion that will happen in the event of this development intervention will be: limited access to the free flowing river which is seen as purifier, destruction of shrines which are places of abode for spirits and change in definition and explanation about spiritual symbolism of water, which three are all pillars of the Traditional African religion.



8. Mauricio Borrero, USA / Russia (52)

Lake Baikal: Frontier and Icon

Located in southern Siberia, close to the Russian border with Mongolia, Lake Baikal is one of the true wonders of nature. This paper examines the history of the lake from two interpretive perspectives: as a frontier region and as an icon of religious and environmental significance. It is part of a larger history of Lake Baikal that I am currently researching based on Russian, English and Buriat sources.

In pre-Soviet times, Baikal served as an internal, multi-faceted frontier of an expanding Russian Empire. For generations of political exiles it became a political frontier. For government officials and engineers building the Trans-Siberian railroad to link Moscow with the Pacific Ocean it became a strategic frontier, since the lake was the last natural obstacle preventing its completion. For ethnographers, limnologists and other scientists attracted by its cultural and natural diversity Baikal became a scientific frontier. Finally, Baikal became a religious frontier where Christianity from the west and Buddhism from the south met and superimposed themselves on the shamanistic traditions of the indigenous populations.

Religion and environmentalism have been the main sources for Baikal’s iconic status. The lake has long had a sacred meaning to its original inhabitants and to the Buriats, a Mongol-speaking people who had migrated to the area by the sixteenth century. In the 1960s, public uproar over plans to build industrial in the vicinity of the lake marked an important stage in the development of a Soviet environmental consciousness. In the 1980s and 1990s, the struggle to protect the lake achieved a place of prominence in the global environmental movement, a process best symbolized by UNESCO’s addition of Baikal to its list of World Heritage Sites in 1996.


9. Michael J. Chiarappa, USA (280)

Cries Across a Freshwater Sea: Oral History and Lake Michigan's Contested Fisheries Legacy

Cries Across a Freshwater Sea: Oral History and Lake Michigan's Contested Fisheries Legacy Following World War II, the debate over Lake Michigan's fisheries became acute as four stakeholder groups-state government, commercial fishers, sport fishers, and Native Americans-made highly vocal and strident claims to the fisheries resources of this ecologically sensitive freshwater basin. The documentary record commonly depicts this history of contested viewpoints as emerging solely from two abstract issues: allocation of the resource to respective users and conservation to insure greatest economic return. While financial interest is critical in the positions taken by each group over the past fifty years, oral history reveals that each stakeholder has, and continues, to historically construct and justify its claims through an array of cultural, political, environmental, and technological considerations. This paper examines oral history's capacity to illuminate the most longstanding cultural and political dimensions of fisheries claims on Lake Michigan. In short, oral history will contextualize the four principal stakeholder positions of the later 20th century: state governments re-claiming managerial control they had informally relinquished to the federal government; sport fishers creating what they saw as a more economically and ecologically sustainable fishery; Native Americans re-claiming treaty fishing rights in an act of cultural and economic re-vitalization; commercial fishers seeking to occupationally survive. These verbal expressions of the history of divergent Lake Michigan fisheries values will reveal paradoxical considerations that will continue to inform the evaluation of fisheries history and the formulation of future fisheries policy and stakeholder relations.


10. A. Damodaran, India/Canada (16)
Cultural Vehicles and Cases of Man-Water Relations in Rural India: Righting the Wrong

Traditional systems of man-water relationship in rural India mark the stamp of amazing complexity. Social and cultural factors have customarily served to guide and structure the economic utilization of fresh water resources in village India. Fresh water sources and resources has been for long a cultural symbol of the caste system. These intricacies have been however lost to policy makers. Program interventions attempted by the India’s State apparatus to render water a truly socially egalitarian and ecologically sustainable natural resource have thus not taken off. Indeed, water policies of the State have tended to operate in a milieu of cultural neutrality both in pre-independence and independent rural India. This is natural given the fact that centralized State power had no means of capturing the local community idiom or enthusiasm for upholding the norms of local justice exemplified by ‘village community republics’. The result is that high volume public investments made by the State in rural India to create self-sustaining hygenic water sources fail for want of cultural acceptability. This contrasts with the situation within rural communities where cultural vehicles are creatively employed to secure desired and advantageous adjustments in man-water relationships. Village communities of India creatively use cultural vehicles to blunt the edge of State driven water resource development and conservation programs.

This paper presents three cases from South India to advance its propositions regarding the relevance of cultural vehicles in regulating man-water relationship in rural India. Of the three cases, two are contemporary while one is historical.. The first case is that of a semi-arid village, situated in a ground water depleted zone, which constructively employed "rituals" to mobilize the villagers to pressurize the Provincial Government of Karnataka to relax its prohibition on drilling of bore-wells. The second case is that of coffee plantations of the hilly Western Ghat zone of Chickmagalur District in Karnataka. These plantations when faced with notices of closure of their operations for discharging of waste water into freshwater reservoirs of low-lying communities, converted their victims (the lower-reach human communities) to their cause by invoking the spirit of the common cultural heritage of Chikmagalur District to which coffee plantations had significantly contributed. The third case brought out in the paper relates to the collapse of a public drinking water supply program of the Nizam of Hyderabad in the 1940s, to induce changes in water use habits of rural communities. The new "architecture and design" of drinking water wells introduced by the ruler under this program, in order to obviate the guinea worm disease, was culturally found unacceptable to the rural populations of the Hyderabad State. The result was the decline and collapse of these safe drinking water wells and the persistence of the guinea worm disease even to this day.

The thrust of the three case studies is to suggest that the cultural connotations of man-water relations in rural India have to be imported into policies and program interventions even where the objective of policy is complete restructuring of man-water relationship in the sustainable direction. The paper is narrative and analytical in its method and is based on the field level and archival work conducted by the author in India in the past 10 years


12. Erlend Eidsvik, Norway / Nepal (200)

Dimension of a River: Bagmati River in Kathmandu, Nepal

The Bagmati River in Kathmandu is a small river, but still a major physical feature in the townscape of Kathmandu. Its religious and cultural meaning in the Hindu-Buddhist society of Kathmandu Valley is of great importance. The Bagmati’s religious importance is described in several religious Hindu-textes, and in a mythical context the river flows in the name of Saraswati, the mythical river from which the ancient Vedic society rose. The source of the Bagmati River is situated in the hills north of Kathmandu only 20 km from Pashupatinath in Kathmandu, the most important Hindu-schrine in Nepal. 10 km further downstream, at the outlet of the valley, several tributaries has joined the Bagmati River which by now has been converted into an open seewer. Due to the bowl-shaped topography of the Kathmandu Valley, the Bagmati River is the only drainage out of the Valley. As the river reaches the populated areas on the Valley floor it becomes heavily polluted by industrial and domestic waste, the latter being the most important. The river’s status as a polluted river is rather a modern status, as it only 20-30 years ago was in drinkable condition, highly appreciated for its purity, both physical and ritual. 20-30 years ago many Hindu devotees conducted daily rituals on the banks of Bagmati River, but at present rituals concerned with the river are mainly performed during festivals, using tap water in stead of the contaminated river-water.

The reasons for the polluting state of the river can roughly be summarized as the consequenses of increasing population in combination with lack of proper waste management, both domestic and industrial, and lack of sufficient seewage-line system.

On this basis the main research question is: What happens to the holy meaning of the river when it become physical polluted? How do people conseptualize the river as it has become physical deteriorated? To get an idea of different perception of the river in terms of age, main empirical focus is young students and old ritual-practising people. The paper will deal with the different concepts of Bagmati people cope with, and try to go further into the consepts of holyness, purity, pollution, modernity and the meaning of the holy river. Fieldstudy for the paper was carried out in the period September 1999 – February 2000.


13. Evy Johanne Håland, Norway (150)

"Let It Rain", or "Rain, Conceive": Rituals of Magical Rain-making in Ancient Greece, A Comparative Approach

Rain-making rituals is an important theme in all religious festivals in Greece, ancient and modern, because the religious rituals are performed by the farmers to ensure the forthcoming rain, so the crops may grow, and give a plentiful harvest. The early rains in autumn are of great importance as a preliminary to the sowing. From this perspective, rain-making rituals represent fertility-cult.

Ancient and modern Greece represent two peasant communities, inhabiting the same landscape, with the same climate and almost the same technological level. Both communities show similarities in several ways, such as folk religion, which relates to the basic economic needs of the community. The sowing of cereals today extends from the middle of October to the end of December, depending of the rains. The best guide for the farmer has always been the rain, the condition of the soil, and his own experience and weather-wisdom. The season of sowing was and is a time of great anxiety for the Greek farmer. Perhaps the rains will be delayed or will not come in the right amount, at the right intervals. People feel a greater need for ritual and magic on occasions when their own technical skills are limited.

In ancient times, springs where representing water-nymphs. Today springs are dedicated the Virgin Mary, the Life-giving Spring. In ancient times the life-giving spring was also a female goddess, connected with Mother Earth, but she needed to be fertilized by a male god. The Mysteries at Eleusis was celebrated around the first of October, one month before sowing, to ensure rain to make the corn grow. During these ceremonies dedicated the Corn-mother, a magical formula "rain, conceive" was uttered and a water-puring ritual was performed.

Since there are some important characteristics connected with the rain-making rituals in Greece, ancient and modern, despite many changes in the dynamics of history, modern rituals as observed in rural Greece can give a clearer picture of the way ancient people perceived the way they could influence the gods to ensure their life-giving water.

The paper will make a comparison between some important ancient festivals celebrated before sowing, and modern parallells, celebrated "to let it rain".


14. Basia Irland, New Mexico, USA (227)
Water Library

"Water Library: A Sculptors Research into the Phenomenon of Water" is the title of a series of international projects and exhibitions by Professor Basia Irland. Each project is housed in a portable sculptural repository containing research, maps, water samples, hydrology reports, photographs and video documentaries. The Library is sub-divided into Chapters, each of which is being compiled into a book. A brief synopsis of some of the Chapters follows:

Chapter I: "Inscriptions: Stars, Tides and Ice". Sculptural projects based on water research done in four countries incorporating overlays of pre-Keplerian archeoastronomy drawings of the moon's pull on the tides.

Chapter II: "A Gathering of Waters: The Rio Grande, Source to Sea". A five-year grassroots project, focusing on diverse communities along the 1,875 mile length of the Rio.

Chapter III: "Tools for measuring and finding water" which includes such work as divining rods for dry river beds and sculptural hydrographs.

Chapter IV: "Reading Water". Carved wooden books covered with earth from river shores are embedded with natural objects from specific sites forming "words" and "paragraphs", thereby creating an international language.

Chapter V: "Holy Water". Sculptures constructed in Indonesia during a Senior Fulbright Grant and in Brazil.

Chapter VI: "Waterborne Diseases". A vast and ongoing series of projects including Port Hope, Ontario's problem with ground-water contamination due to radioactive waste and the city of Walkerton, Ontario, Canada where e-coli seeped into the city drinking water supply.

Chapter VII: "Desert Fountain". A permantly installed cast-bronze "fountain" at the Albuquerque Museum that only flows when there has been rain, thereby making visible the arid eco-system.


15. Arie Issar, Israel (21)
Water, Gods and Rituals

Since the earliest period of his history, and most probably since prehistoric times, the human being sought to explain to himself the nature of the phenomena which mean life and death. In the arid and semi arid regions whether water was available or not meant life or death. Thus, it is no wonder that the first documented "scientific theories" namely the mythologies of the Ancient Near East start with the "hypothesis" of the Primeval Water, which existed before creation. The Sumerians in southern Mesopotamia told the story of a universe composed only of water, a primeval sea which engendered a cosmic mountain consisting of heaven and earth united. The Babylonians, of Semitic origin, who adopted many of the Sumerian traditions, used to chant during their New Year festivities the epic tale of the victory of Marduk, the benevolent god, over Tiamat, the goddess of abyss. In the Hebrew Bible the existence of a primeval ocean "Tehom" is taken for granted. In the Canaanite myths El, the primeval deity, lives at the sources of rivers in the midst of the outlet of two deeps, called "Teohomotaim". The ancient Egyptians equally believed in the emergence of the first solid mound from an abyss of primeval water, at the site of the temple of Atum-Ra at Heliopolis. Outside the ancient Near East in the cosmic myth of India, the god Visnu, the source of the world and all things, is grasped in the state of pre-creation as being asleep in the primeval ocean, on the thousand head serpent Sesa. A similar concept one finds in the pre-Hellenic mythologies of ancient Greece. Although in these myths creation was attributed to a woman's touch, still the main motifs of a primeval ocean of water and a snake can be perceived.


16. Joicy James, India (68)
Highlights on Rivers from the Vedas, Epics, other ancient books and traditional practices of India

The importance given to water in ancient India is reflected from the several hymns of the vedas and epics and the narratives from other valuable works such as the Arthasastra of Kautilya. The concern for water turned their attention to the rivers, on which they depended for their entire water requirements, and to the basins of which they confined their main activities. Therefore, their entire life centered around the river systems, so much so that rivers played an important role in moulding and sustaining their civilisation. This influence is seen in their religious practices and social observations as well as in their literature, art and architecture.

It is with the vedas that the Indian philosophy takes its shape; the Rig vedic period is attributed to 1550-1000 B C. In a hymn on Creation, the Rig veda gives precedence to water over everything. The veda mentions the names of all the important rivers in the country. Some of these references help in understanding the details of some of the rivers, such as Saraswati, wich have disappeared in course of time. The excavations in the Indus Valley have brought to light the drainage system and the wells which existed during this civilisation (3000-1500 B C). There are several legends, rituals and ceremonies associated with the River Ganga, which is considered to be the lifeline of the country. The epics ( 4th century B C - 4th centuary A D) also highlight the importance given by the Indian to water, especially the fresh water of the mountainous rivers.

The Arthasastra of Kautilya (3rd centuary B C) gives a vivid picture of the first ever-used rainguages in the world. The Jungadh inscripyion enlightens on the reservoir made during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya by the construction of a dam.Several such records highlight the water management practices in ancient India.

The theme of water has found its expression in art, architecture and literature of the people of India. The paper also highlights the important cultural elements of India related to water.


17. D. Janaki, India (279)
Aadiperukku, Water Ritual through Religious Practice

It is described that rivers are accounted for divinity. In India the rivers Ganges and Jamuna, Cauvery and Gothavari are considered with sanctity. Just like earth gives us food, water also is considered as a sacred necessity to meet the needs of human individuals. People began to worship water in the form of wells, tanks and rivers. It is common among Hindus in India to throw fruits, saffron cloths, etc., when the rivers are in flood purely with the belief that these rivers are the species of female deities. Similarly every temple has sacred wells and tanks and water in these resources are considered as sacred. There are Hindu mythologies, which highlight many variations on the theme of primeval water which shows that water culture and civilization represent the human interest with sacredness.

In narrowing down to the ritual case study of Aadiperukku – a water ritual practice by women on the bank of river Cauvery, the longest one in Tamil Nadu, one of the federal States in India, this paper elucidates water ritual practice. In this ritual practice, water is considered as natural resource resulting in the use of water for cleaning the body with a bath.

Aadiperukku, otherwise called Padinettam Perukku – this is peculiar to the Cauvery delta and is intended to celebrate the rising of the river, which is considered to occur invariably on the 18th day of the solarmonth, Adi (Sanskrit Kalaka) corresponding to 2nd or 3rd August every year. Hence the "Padinettamperukku" Padinettu signifies eighteen and Perukku, rising. This festival is observed predominately by women in Tamil Nadu. The Aadiperukku as a water-ritual by women is said to honour Nature. The myths of this ritual practice explain that the water is propitiated as Mother- Goddess. It is formed that water is metaphorically linked to the reproduction i.e. a significant medium of exchange as reflected in the water ritual. The association of this ritual practice with Fertility, Sex and Reproduction is both natural and human. This water ritual practice is performed on the banks of Cauvery River in Tamil Nadu, which is described as a rice-cultivation tract. The history of this ritual practice dates back to the ancient period and patronised by the Kings and Royal households. This ritual practice existed in various historical periods. The water ritual practice AADIPERUKKU – is a cultural system of Cauvery delta where women are involved.

To describe the ritual practice in detail, it may be seen that it is a Hindu religious practice. It is associated with the use of water for the prosperity of the farmer community. It is linked with the reproduction of natural capacity of the earth and women. i.e. a significant medium of exchange as reflected in the water rituals. The form and shape of this ritual varies as per vision and imagination of the people over a period of time in different regions. But it is having a cardinal symbolism of associating fresh water with the fertility of the earth. This ritual practice is increasingly becoming a cultural factor related to worshiping water as nature – ritual valour and demand the role in honouring water as Goddess.


18. Deepa Joshi, India (163)
Water, Mythology and an Unequal Social Order

This paper argues that water and the human body in the Hindu social paradigm, are not merely physical entities but social constructs too. Seeking justification and legitimacy from religious doctrines and texts, in practice, the inter-relatedness of water and the human body has historically been used as instruments to institutionalize social inequality. The externalities of ignoring this reality are highlighted in drinking water projects, which reduce the existing inequity in water distribution to physical water scarcity linked to technological irregularities.

The spiritual connotation of water, traceable to ancient Vedic religion, structures the water behaviour of a Hindu society. Surface water positioned in Hindu Vedic mythology as a Goddess, ‘Jal Devi’, is endowed physical and spiritual, cleansing and purifying properties. Vedic Hinduism also ascribes the human body states of social purity and pollution, which can then pollute the ‘sanctified’ construct of water. Individuals born into an irreversible social order of castes, and placed lowest among the social hierarchy are internalised to be ‘polluting’. Women, irrespective of their social caste are universal pollutants - related purely to their biological conditions.

Field research on water uses and rights show that local interpretations of notions of pollution and purity in a rural setting determine and reinforce an inequitable access to, control over and distribution of water. The ritualistic attributes of water are translated to exploitative social practice, legitimised as culture.

Current policy visions of 'participatory and decentralized' community participation in water projects idealize the altruism in 'communities' and sanctification of inequality as local culture. Popular visions of restoring the ‘community’s’ supremacy in water management are grossly counter-productive if the ground realities of the social distribution of power are unidentified and reinforced.


19. Erjen Khamaganova, Russia (241)

The Concept of Water in the Worldview of Buryat-Mongols

Representing the Northeastern area of the Central Asian Mongolian cultural-historical region, Buryats—the nation to which I belong—connects its origin, history, and life with Lake Baikal. Native pre-shamanistic beliefs, Central Asian shamanism, as well as Buddhism, played an important role in the shaping of Buryat environmental attitudes, ethnoecological views and traditional environmental ethics. This paper examines water sentiments in the worldview of Buryat-Mongols. Different images of water in Buryat-Mongolian societies in historical retrospective will be presented.

The concept of "sacred" water is explored as a vivid embodiment of traditional values, perceptions of and attitudes toward nature. The theory and practice of taboo connected with perception of water is framed and analyzed in detail.


20. Vicky Khasandi, Kenya (152)

Of Frogs and Cows Having a Drink: Water in Olukabarasi Folklore, Kenya

" The eyes of a frog do not scare the cow from having a drink" so goes the Olukabarasi proverb. Water has always occupied a prime position in Olukabarasi folklore. This is because water is the very essence of life among the Kabras of Kenya, East Africa. Right from dawn the Kabras women and children balanced earthen pots on their heads and breathed the fresh morning air, snaking their way down the valleys to the whispering springs. They braved the chill and the dew on the grass lining the narrow pathways in order to get to the river first because ‘ she who gets to the river first gets the best water.’ They would, of course, wake the sleepy frogs that would croak and leap away to the flora to hide. The crickets would click away, as would the crabs, fish and other river life. From the huge evergreen indigenous trees, the birds would continue their sweet morning tunes, which would turn into a veritable harmony for sheer variety. On arrival at the door to the mud and thatch houses, the women would carefully unload their pots since ‘isiongo yatichilanga amuliango’. (The pot breaks at the door). These porous pots ensured evaporation hence provided a cool drink, especially to the men who came from working in the fields in the hot tropical sun. Proverbs in Olukabarasi reflect the vitality of water in the lives of the Kabras of Western Kenya. Rainwater was collected for drinking, ‘mudding’ houses and was used in agriculture. People would gather to wash clothes, and take a bath in the thickets by the streams. Young boys would enjoy a splash as they grazed their animals and fished. The river was also significant during initiation rites since it was symbolic of life and spiritual power.

In this paper we examine the portrayal of the river in Kabras folklore, particularly in proverbs and oral narratives. These will be analysed to reflect the importance of water sources as well as any dangers associated with rivers. Folklore is dynamic and Kabras proverbs reflect the changing trends in the role of the river in their lives. For instance going to the river entailed a distance but now due to population growth and other socio-economic factors, settlements are close to the rivers, leading to a host of problems. Similarly, the streams are getting so polluted that one hardly sees animal life in the rivers anymore.


21. Gert Knutsson, Sweden (248)

The History of the Use of Springs in Sweden

There is an all-pervading theme that springs have been used for local water-supply during all time. Many of the pre-historic settlements of the inland, for example from the stone-age in the county of Västergötland, have been found in close connection to springs. The water-supply of the first small towns was in many cases based on water from springs for example S:t Erik´s spring in Uppsala and the Kallebäck´s spring in Gothenburg. And several of the more modern water-supply wells for cities are located within or close to springs. Another typical use of springs during time is for water cults: in heathendom for offering (for example in the spring of Woden and Thor) and in early Christian time for baptizing and healing. Many saints have given their names to springs (for example S:t Erik, S:t Olof and S:t Sigfrid) but the springs were often the same as in heathendom. A very intensive period of using springs started in the 17th century, when the famous chemist Urban Hjärne introduced water-therapy at Medevi spring, whereafter a lot of spas was established at springs all around Sweden during the 18th and 19th centuries. Most of them were closed in the first half of the 20th century but some are still active and/or mineral water is tapped for example at Ramlösa, Porla and Loka. Today there is an increasing interest to use springs for environmental control, for example for monitoring the acidification of soil and groundwater.

23. Fibian Kavulani Lukalo, Kenya (131)

"The Waterside Dwellers Sleep Thirsting:" Cultural Interpretations of Water Forms in a Rural Community

Rural areas in Kenya receive water from a variety of sources: rainwater, bore holes, wells, piped water, streams, rivers, large water masses (Dams, Lakes, The Indian Ocean), and surface seepage. The manner in which these people access and use the water resources is as important as the intrinsic quality and quantity of these resources. Consequently people are responsible for the use and misuse of water and its related benefits like food and the security these water forms.

Water resources are rapidly being depleted through various mismanagement practices. The extensive use of this resource has led to presentations of water being linked to life in many rural communities. These presentations distinctly edify the intricate relationship between water, man and society. In this paper an exploration of the cultural presentations of water among the Bantu – Maragoli group in Kenya is presented. The focus on this community lies in the current high population being experienced, agriculture, and the pivotal role water plays in society. Further, the paper examines the philosophy of life, of the Maragoli community, the imaging of water as projected in oral traditional forms of song, proverbs and cultural practices. A historical presentation of the exploitation of water is presented and is linked to the philosophy of life of this community.

The paper subsequently examines broadly, the social construction of the reality of the place of water within this community as presented in oral traditions.


24. Meredith McKittrick, USA / Namibia (145)
"The Wealth of These Nations": Rain, Rulers and Religion on the Ovambo Floodplain, 1870-1910 (Namibia)

Using missionary and trader accounts and oral history, this paper considers the history of water in the late precolonial Ovambo societies of northern Namibia and southern Angola -- or, more precisely, how the quest to control water shaped people's relationships with their environment and with each other at a time of incorporation into a colonial world. "Water is life," the current government of arid Namibia proclaims while proposing drastic plans to ease the country's water crisis -- including a pipeline from the Congo River. That motto, however, was equally apt in the 19th century, when elders, kings, ritual leaders and others justified claims to authority and privilege in terms of their ability to provide water for people living on the edge of the "thirstveld," at the southern margin of agricultural viability. A missionary noted that rain was considered "the wealth of these nations" in a region with no permanent lakes or rivers. The control of water was understood in simultaneously religious and secular terms: ensuring the seasonal rains and flooding in a region where precipation varied wildly from year to year and managing the supply of precious ground water were equally important bases of political power. Water lay at the heart of processes of political centralization which occurred in the first half of the 19th century, creating strong kingships in most regions and civil war in others. And water was important to another change later in the century -- the arrival of missionaries and the creation of Christian communities in the region.

Missionaries lay claim to authority and privilege within a variety of local idioms, and Ovambo incorporated them into their cognitive world through these same idioms. Among these was missionaries' purported ability to control water -- both by creating and presiding over wells and waterholes and by summoning or blocking the arrival of the rains. Missionaries held prayer meetings during drought to ask God for rain; locals argued alternately that church bells were run to halt the rains or to call them. Kings granted missionaries control over specific districts to curry favor, giving them the ability to allocate water to whom they chose. In times of drought, missionaries frequently built fences and locked gates to waterholes so that others could not use them. Their interventions into Ovambo ideas and practices surrounding water foreshadowed the much greater interventions of the colonial government established in the 1910s, and shaped how Ovambo understood and responded to colonial policies.


25. Mika Merviö, Japan (180)

Construction of Meanings for ‘Water’ in Japanese Culture and Politics

My paper analyses the ways that water has been understood in Japan. First I show what kind of diversity of interpretations existed in various historical settings by analysing cases presented by historical, anthropological and religious studies. After that I proceed to look at the impact of modernisation and how the contemporary Japanese society, and especially its political elite, have adopted quite extreme technocratic attitudes to water and how Japanese river banks and coastlines have been layered with concrete. Since I interpret the situation from the contemporary context, I attempt to build a comprehensive analysis of most important factors related to modern understanding of water in Japan. By doing so I go through such issues as the changed Japanese agricultural methods (in relation to water use), industrial use of water, water as an energy source, water and public works, water as an human rights issue and an issue of basic needs, water and city planning and water security and international co-operation.


26. Azuhan Mohamed, Malaysia (209)

Water in Islam

Water is a gift of God. The importance of water in Islam does not derive from the facts of life in the Arabian peninsula, but directly from the revelation of God. "We made every living thing of water." (21:30). The Qur’an states that water is a source of life. The Qur’an reveals the importance of water in more than one hundred places. The Qur’an generally link water to life and God is the giver of rain and snow. In this respect Allah says in the Qur’an: "See ye the water which ye drink? Do you bring it down from the cloud or do We?" (56:68). The importance of water is also highlighted by the traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad p.b.u.h. and he forbade the wasteful use of water, even when one is at the side of a river. Water plays an important role in Islamic rituals, and Islam also teaches her followers other aspects of water such as pollution, conservation, ownership, endowment, distribution and territorial prerogatives. The Quran also relates water to the water cycle, the separation between freshwater and seawater, the promotion of agriculture, sources of foods and jewellery, and means of transportation.


27. Wendo Nabea, Kenya (188)

Images of Water in Kiswahili Literature

This paper will focus on the images of Water in Kiswahili Literature. In this Literature, water is treated specially for various purposes in the life of a person. It is the source of life, it nurtures the physical and spiritual life, while lack of it is a symbol of death.

This paper will focus on four genres of Kiswahili literature, which exemplify the life of a person from the moment of conception in the womb until death in relation to water. These are a poem, Fumo. (spear) in Salim Zakwany's Diwani ya Jinamizi; Prof. Katama Mkangi's novel, Mafuta ( Oil) ; Prof. Ebrahim Hussein's play, Kinjeketile and "The Epic of Fumo Liyongo."

According to the poem Fumo, water is the source of human life. Life begins in "Kisima" (the water souce), which the poet uses as a symbol of woman's vagina. This takes place when fumo (the spear), a symbol of a man's penis, is implanted in the symbolic water source. In yet another state, a living person is nurtured by clean water. This is evident in Katama Mkangi's novel, Mafuta .The author juxtaposes water and oil symbolically, and argues that unlike oil, which is counterfeit, our physical bodies are nourished by water . In short , those who embrace water are fidel and hence, socialists, while those who crave for oil are corrupt, and in this case, capitalists.

Ebrahim Hussein's play Kinjeketile elevates us to the spiritual world as far as water is concerned. By capturing a historical event which took place in the colonial Tanganyika, the writer shows the spiritual dimension of water. During the Maji Maji (Water Water) Rebellion, Kinjeketile, the leader,treated water with some concotions and spilt it on the bodies of the freedom fighters, convincing them that their bodies had become bullet -proofs to the fire of Germans.

Finally, in the Fumo Liyongo epic, the mighty Fumo Liyongo dies after being tricked by his son to reveal what can kill him. After a number of temptation, Liyongo gives in to the questions of his son and reveals that he can only die if he is speared right in the navel. His son kills him hoping to get a lavish reward from Liyongo's adversary, a king in a neighbouring country, but he is disappointed. But where does the body of the gigantic Liyongo rest? Right at a source of water. Unfortunately, country people are not aware that he is dead, but imagine that he is annoyed. For fear of Liyongo, they refuse to draw water and go thirsty, a symbol of loss of life, thus, loss of water.


28. Charles M. Namafe, Zambia (111)
The Lozi Water Tradition

The Lozi people of the Upper Zambezi river in Western Zambia have been known in both the popular and academic literature to conceive a distinct idea of themselves as contrasted with others. The Lozi think of themselves as leaders of a particular mode of Noahs flooding as opposed to the widespread humanity who portray Noah's flood event as predominantly destructive. The Lozi, therefore, recognise their destiny in a particular tinge of flooding. In

this regard, the purpose of this paper presentation is to provide an interpreted official Lozi version on water, in general, and flooding, in particular, as it has existed over time since the creation of the world.


29. Bienvenu D. Nizesete, Cameroon (315)
The Symbolism of Water in African Traditional Societies: A Case Study of North Cameroon

(letter only)


30. Michele Anderson Schmidt, Colorado, USA (107*)

Matushka Volga--An Interpretation of a River

The Russians call her "Matushka Volga"—Little Mother Volga, a diminutive phrase, which verbally reflects the feelings Russians have for their great River. The Volga River, revered as the "Mother of All Russians," represents an image of nature and appears to serve as a microcosm of the entire environment of its nation. The Volga is a dichotomy, much like Russia itself, with both positive and negative elements—it is up to interpretation and perspective to determine which outweighs the other. The Volga also demonstrates the fragility, and yet the resilience, of an environmental entity—a living, ever-changing monument to humanity and all our goods and evils.

The paper I will present began as a "thought experiment," written to reconcile the meaning of nature along the banks of the Volga River. The paper attempts to define the social, cultural, economic, and ecological aspects of the Volga. An American visitor to the Volga may perceive it differently than a Russian who has lived and worked along the River for an entire lifetime. It is these cross-cultural comparisons that may contribute to a new form of historiography that not only helps explain the Volga's role in the cultural construction of Russia, but can also, in a larger sense, acknowledge that any free-flowing river becomes a dynamic, and often chaotic and challenging, entity in nature. The underlying argument of the paper is that nature, and the Volga as it occupies a definitive part of nature, is subject to interpretation. But, as William Cronon points out in Uncommon Ground, isn't all nature subject to interpretation?


31. K.N. Sharma, India (321)
Status of Water in Ancient Indian Literature and Mythology

The Indian Hindu socio-religious scriptures are historically the most ancient pieces of sound knowledge base that are still relevant to the modern times. The wealth of literature created from as back as 8500 years (C. 6500 B.C.) in the form of Vedas, Brahmanas, Upanishadas, Puranas, Smritis, etc. vividly enunciate theories of creation of the galaxies, universe and its stars and planets (specifically earth). Evidences from recent archaeological excavations and supplemented by earth observation data from satellites that reveal existence of numerous palaeo-geological hidden water channels of most described and revered river Saraswati, are establishing and confirming the indigenous evolution of a civilization that flourished as back as 6500 BC, when such earliest treasures of knowledge as the Rig Veda were composed.

In the social and religious traditions and culture of India since the Vedic times, water has been enjoying the most respectable and unique status. Water has been described and referred to as nector, honey, source of life, protector of earth and environment, cleanser of sins, generator of prosperity, and so on. The rivers were considered as divine and worshipped as Godesses in mythological descriptions and people were ordained to use their life sustaining waters most judiciously and with greatest reverence. Water is the single most important tool/mode for performing daily religious rituals or social ceremonies and a primary means for purification of body and soul.

The ancient scriptures present in great detail, interalia, the evolution of earth, the science of rainfall, its measurement and forecast, climatology, meteorology, hydrology, water use and management, agricultural planning etc. while describing and hailing the five elements of nature - water, fire (energy), space (atmosphere), air and earth, of which all living and non-living bodies are made up. Even, today water festivals, popularly called `Kumbh’ are held every third year on astronomically specific occasions where an estimated 1-10 million people congregate on the banks of holy rivers for a dip. From birth till death in a Hindu society, water remains an essential ingredient in performing all rituals.

The paper will present historically the importance and place of water and rivers and their relationship with environment in the socio-religious Indian tradition as propounded in one of the most ancient literatures and cultures of the world and how the prescriptions are still relevant in the water management scenario in modern time.


33. Zheng Xaio Yun, China (146)
Water-Culture as Ethnic Traditions and Sustainable Development in The Tai peoples of China

Tai peoples in China called Dai nationality, more then one million of Tai peoples settled around the drainage area of MeKong River, south China, and this area is biggest tropic forest zone in China. According to Tai peoples`s legend, this ethnic group origin from water, meaning of water in Tai peoples`s mind is holy matter. Water has closely relations with their real-life in every aspects, for example, Tai peoples in China is called Water-Dai, and Tai peoples`s new year festival is called Water festival, water carnival. More, the most importment is the Tai peoples keeping the harmony between human being, water and natureal environment. But goes with currently development, social and environmental rapid change, such a harmony also facing harm and issues, I believe that the traditional water culture is a key for keeping the harmony of human being and nature in their sustainable development, we need deeply understand the value of water culture as ethnic traditions on the contemporary development. My paper focus on explore the relationship between water and the Tai peoples`s history, culture, socail life and sustainable in south China.


34. Terje Østigaard, Norway, Nepal (256)

River and Rain -Life-Giving Waters in Nepalese Death Rituals

Water is the most important life-giving element and process in both Hindu and Buddhist death rituals, but to various degrees and with different qualities, creative capacities and powers. Funerals are a part of a set of rituals by which the living deal with the dead. They are their own interpretation of the meaning of ordinary life. Cremation is generally perceived as the most auspicious funeral practice in Hinduism. The deceased is cremated at holy riverbanks and the corpse is returned to the river as ashes. The ashes immersed into the river will float to Ganges and further on to Varanasi, and the deceased will attain salvation. In the Himalayan Mountains, Buddhist death rituals were rainmaking rituals and the interdependency between cremation and air-burial controlled the amount of precipitation. Water in the forms of river and rain when incorporated into death rituals highlights some general principles of life-giving processes. Ecological constraints can be necessary but not sufficient conditions for natural symbolism in death rituals. Water is a transformative means to other ends, and these aims vary according religion, economy and ecology. Water as an element in the cosmology, the use of water in the rituals, and the importance of water in the society, illuminate why water as a life giving process is incorporated in Nepalese death rituals.

Go to SOURCE of article