November 2018

The health of populations and the sustainability of ecosystems

Gelede is a Yoruba-Nago ceremony that takes place in the current countries of Benin, Nigeria and Togo declared in 2008 Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco. The ceremony requires a long artisanal work to make masks and costumes, in which many people are involved. It is celebrated on the occasion of important events, both for personal and social life and related to the natural environment where those events take place. Among the first stand out celebrations and rituals about births, marriages and deaths; between the second, crops, droughts or epidemics. The mask that illustrates this Piece of the month – deposited in the National Museum of Anthropology, in Madrid – is part of an important collection of ethnological objects collected by the Spanish military Luis Sorela Guaxardo-Faxardo at the end of the 19th century, when he was commissioned to perform a scientific mission on the African west coast.

The celebration of the ritual guarantees the transmission of the oral heritage through songs that narrate the history and myths of the Yoruba-Nago people, intermingling epic and lyric poetry. The dancers – mostly men – have their faces covered with a polychrome wooden mask, which always represents a woman. Its origin coincides with the transition from a matriarchal society to a patriarchal one, and its objective is to pay homage to the primal mother, Iyà Nlà, and to the role played by women in social organization and development.

The masquerades symbolize the importance of the generational transmission of traditional knowledge and collective identity, emphasizing the role of the ancestors in three essential aspects for the maintenance of social equilibrium: the transmission of accumulated environmental wisdom, the surrender of honors to the power of women (gelede) and the placement of young people to continue the generational transmission of their cultural heritage.

Unesco, the specialized agency of the UN in all educational areas, functions as a laboratory of ideas, with an important normative and innovative function based on the incorporation of new contributions from researchers and experts, and its dissemination. The certainty of the preindustrial peoples on the need to maintain solidarity and collaborative societies, based on the intergenerational transmission of their wisdom about the functioning of nature and the universe to ensure its sustainability, are the aspects that are today recognized as intangible cultural heritage of the peoples, as well as the basis for a sustainable future that was already proposed in 1987 by the Bruntland Report, Our Common Future.

This image is an excellent symbol to synthesize what you want to discuss in the VII Scientific Conference of the Association for the Study of Human Ecology (AEEH), which, co-organized with the National Museum of Anthropology, will be held in Madrid in the coming days 29 and November 30 and December 1: the interrelation between population health and the sustainability of ecosystems in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations (UN) Agenda for 2030.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainability proposes a new conceptual and methodological model based on governance through its different SDGs, whose success depends on our ability to understand the interaction between the essential dimensions of life with their environment, to measure their progress and transmit it to the public. Since its foundation, the different specialized agencies of the UN have made important contributions and discursive and methodological advances for the progress in human rights. The action model proposed by the 2030 Agenda integrates the equal attainment of these rights in a context of sustainable development. Its conceptual novelty lies in the cross-cutting definition of sustainability, as the result of an environmental, socio-cultural, economic and political process that allows the needs of current generations to be met equally, while at the same time ensuring that of future generations, as the pioneer Brundtland Report, which introduced the term Sustainability.

Human Ecology studies life and human activity in the ecosystems that our species occupies in the present and in those that it has occupied in the past. It focuses on the biocultural interaction of the human being with its environment, explains why culture is the main environmental factor capable of modifying the physical and biological means of ecosystems, of modulating the expression of biological processes and the health of our species and of the species that coexist with it, and to condition their future trends. Its theoretical bases, its methodology and its practical applications are adequate to advance in the understanding and evaluation of the socio-environmental problems established in the  2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and provides a transversal, effective context to act from very different Knowledge Areas, thus contributing to the advancement of the SDGs. From different professional fields, researchers and academics, the people invited to this Conference have focused on understanding the interaction between the health of populations, the gender gap and the sustainability of ecosystems, highlighting the importance of acquired knowledge on the environment in which people live and, through formal and non-formal education, their determination to transmit it through the generations.


Virtual Museum of Human Ecology (MVEH). In the MVEH you can visit the exhibition space “Women and Sustainability” (and its Chambers on Health, Poverty, Biodiversity and Water), and the temporary exhibition “The Sustainable Development Goals”, prepared by Francisco Sánchez Aguado. The full program of the VII Scientific Conference of the Association for the Study of Human Ecology (AEEH) / National Museum of Anthropology (MNA) can be found in Population Health and the Sustainability of Ecosystems.