South Africa boasts some of the richest diversity of fauna and flora in the world; it also claims to be a world in one country given its cultural diversity. In a time of climate change, rapid population growth and urbanisation, the country’s natural resources as well as its cultural diversity are under threat. We report a multi-dimensional survey conducted among Xhosa-speaking people in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, that collected detailed information on indigenous knowledge of nature and its impact on cultural practices and well-being. Survey respondents included both rural and urban dwellers, a majority of whom professed to be Christians who also held traditional religious beliefs and acknowledged the ancestors. Survey respondents described their Best and Worst periods of life in line with Bernheim’s Anamnestic Comparative Self-Assessment, and indicated whether going into nature had contributed to their Best life experience and helped them to cope during their Worst one. Being in nature typically contributed to well-being across many of the Best social domains of life, such as celebrations with family, personal achievements and milestones in life, including traditional rites of passage to adulthood. Deaths in the family represented by far the most common Worst experience in life when going into nature often provided comfort and solace. Findings suggest that experience of the multiple benefits of being in nature may be universal across cultures and that many traditional Xhosa religious beliefs and cultural practices go hand in hand with access and exposure to nature that enhances well-being.
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Funding was provided by National Research Foundation (Grant No. 119399), South Africa Netherlands Research Programme on Alternatives in Development.
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Møller, V., Cocks, M. & Vetter, S. Nature-Connectedness and Well-Being Experienced During Best and Worst Times of Life: A Case for Safeguarding Biocultural Diversity. Soc Indic Res 165, 1053–1089 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-023-03063-3