Iwork with climate vulnerable indigenous and ethnic communities in the Philippines1 weaving permaculture with Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) through my organization, Green Releaf Initiative.2 As the COVID-19 pandemic limited our face-to-face training, we had to adapt by developing blended learning approaches such as digital and printed tools to share. Additionally, this invited us to translate permaculture materials into different major languages of the Philippines through Permawika, a collaboration with permaculture translators from different parts of the country. As we were developing the translations to honor the diversity of our local languages, however, I didn’t feel we were honoring our local knowledge in its entirety. Thus, I am inspired to share a proposal to add ‘Principle 0’ before permaculture’s 12 design principles:
“Acknowledge an Ecosystem’s Identity, seek consent for its interaction or use from its stewards – visible and/or invisible, and honor valuable traditional ecological knowledge and wisdom that are already held within a place.”
Permaculture is also ‘permanent culture’, a remembering of collective beliefs and narratives that shape how we perceive and relate to an ecosystem. Permaculture is remembering our sense of belonging by designing not just ‘with Nature’ but ‘as Nature’.
Resourcing Back to Source The applied permaculture principle of zoning has a Zone 0, which is a reference to one’s home or a place that is a starting point for designing a regenerative system of energy flows outwardly through a further five zones.3 From a systems thinking approach, this represents the source of one’s worldview, influencing all visible and invisible elements, that results in the application of a design plan.
I believe we can explore a way to reframe permaculture’s 12 principles with the foundational lens of Principle 0 that I know is implicitly acknowledged, but not formalized as one of the key design principles. Because it is unspoken and unwritten, it can be a blindspot for our work. Given that many indigenous peoples and formerly colonized nations communicate more with oral traditions, this can result in permaculture mainly referencing dominant worldviews. Those from oral traditions often do not practice referencing a worldview, system, or method with a name or framework. You will therefore see many books and articles that reference such worldviews, but these are generally authored by Westerners or those from the dominantly white culture. I say this with recognition and appreciation that naming, documenting, articulating and amplifying are the gift of such cultures, without which we also wouldn’t have the permaculture approach nor such an effective methodology for addressing our needs. However, for the thousands of traditions with non-English and oral cultures, ecological wisdom is often embodied, tacit in its ways in everyday living, and outside of a formal Permaculture Design Course (PDC).
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Culture in Permaculture The 12 existing principles of permaculture begin with ‘Observe and Interact’. While they are not a linear set of principles that require this as the first step, my concern with this and the rest of the principles is that they already assume that we are in a place to take stock of what we want to do with the land and engage in observing, interacting, managing and giving feedback. Principle 0 invites us to step back and rethink our relationship to the ecosystem first. It reminds us that permaculture is not just ‘permanent agriculture’ which often is the first and popular reference to this practice. Permaculture is also ‘permanent culture’, a remembering of collective beliefs and narratives that shape how we perceive and relate to an ecosystem. Permaculture is remembering our sense of belonging by designing not just ‘with Nature’ but ‘as Nature’.
“When you think of it, Indigenous peoples possess the biggest book. Because our book is the whole world. We read the forest, the wind, the clouds. It is the biggest book.” Datu Migketay Saway Chief of Talaandig People, Bukidnon, Philippines