A network of traditional knowledge: the intangible heritage of water distribution in Bahrain
Rudolff, Britta and Muhammad alZekri. 2014. A network of traditional knowledge: the intangible heritage of water distribution in Bahrain. International Journal of Intangible Heritage 9: pp. 83-97.
Traditional knowledge of the system of water distribution to farmlands sharing the same scarce fresh water resources has created relationships which are based on justice and equal rights among members of the farming communities of Bahrain. Over the centuries, the need to manage water irrigation led to the development of customary codes which regulated schedules of irrigation, the division of water resources and their equitable distribution. This framework was informed by both pre- Islamic customary oral traditions and Islamic ethics, and was transmitted from generation to generation. The inherited intangible heritage of irrgation law is complex and remained in use until the 1960s. In more recent times, individual farmers using water pumps and networks of pipelines of government treated sewage effluent (TSE) were not motivated to maintain traditional water management customs and have consequently stopped attending communal gatherings and disregarded the customary laws which regulated notions of fairness among them for centuries. The resulting uncontrolled usage of the underground aquifers y those digging their own wells has in many areas, led to over-exploitation of water resources and to the increased salinisation of the underground water reservoirs. At present, initiatives are being set up to raise awareness of A network of traditional knowledge: the intangible heritage of water distribution in Bahrain the importance of the customary irrigation laws in ensuring the fair distribution and sustainability of a rare resource on the island. Fortunately, a number of Bahraini farmers continue to follow the traditional codes and have become valuable knowledge bearers who are encouraged to share their wisdom and skills with their colleagues. In this article, the authors document aspects of the sophisticated intangible heritage of customary water irrigation law in Bahrain, covering its features, key players, and the cross-generational transmission as part of an oral knowledge system, which in parts survived and in other parts ceased to exist. They further highlight how this ancient knowledge can become a basis for sustainable water resource management in Bahrain, as well as playing a role in disseminating notions of fairness, equity and consent, public deliberation and conflict resolution.