By E Petter Axelsson and Kevin C Grady
Beyond ecological values, trees bring benefits that, whether used in artisanal products or construction of a musical instrument, play critical roles in cultural evolution and connecting people to nature. Such ecocultural connections characterize people’s interaction with and evaluation of nature. Here, we focus on incorporating cultural relationships to musical instruments into global reforestation because enjoyment of music is a mainstream component of most world cultures. Music can be an entry point for people that have become disconnected from nature and can stimulate greater participation in stewardship of nature.
In this paper, we highlight the ways in which exotic species have been widely incorporated into forest exploitation by colonial societies, displacing native species and cultural connections formed between trees and people. When these interactions are disrupted by ecosystem degradation and large-scale landscape remodelling, there is a need to restore cultural connections as much as more widely discussed ecological values. This is especially true in tropical regions where extirpation of native plants and displacement of people were employed as deliberate colonization strategies. Incorporating native trees in global reforestation efforts can be viewed as a form of decolonialization, of recapturing nature-culture interactions, recreating cultural ideologies that include high valuation of nature, and developing new bio-based and sustainable industries.
We use three case studies focusing on links between native tree species, their wood characteristics and musical qualities, to demonstrate the value that native trees bring in shaping cultural identities and how they might help reconnect people to nature. We illustrate that without colonial influence, the maintenance of native ecosystems in Europe allowed a continued refinement of the violin over 500 years, from Andrea Amatis to Stradivari, leading up to the artistic expression now enjoyed by millions of people and supporting a multi-million dollar industry. Contrastingly, case studies from Africa and Hawaii illustrate how native trees of value for musical expression were nearly lost through colonialism. Loss of instruments and songs have diminished cultural connections to nature. We suggest that there is a great opportunity to incorporate music-based linkages to nature into large scale reforestation and ecocultural restoration to revitalize nature-culture interactions and promote restoration of native ecosystems.