2016 Theme — "Mountain Cultures: Celebrating diversity and strengthening identity"
Covering around 22 percent of the earth’s land surface, mountains play a critical role in moving the world towards sustainable economic growth. They not only provide sustenance and wellbeing to 915 million mountain people around the world, representing 13 percent of global population, but mountains also indirectly benefit billions more living downstream.
This year, the celebration of this Day aims to highlight Mountain Cultures. Mountains host communities with ancient cultures and traditions, and are places of religious worship, pilgrimage and rituals all over the world. The concept of traditional heritage, culture and spirituality is intrinsically linked with peoples’ livelihoods in the mountains, where it is often traditional lifestyles that determine the way people make a living and subsist.
Mountains are also the sources of springs and rivers and have been revered as the home of deities throughout history. In times of drought, the Kikuyu people faced Mount Kenya and asked the God Ngai for rain. The Inca people constructed their temples on the highest peaks over 6 000 metres (m) in the Andes. In China, villages traditionally dedicated a temple to the local mountain deity responsible for clouds and rain.
A large proportion of the world's minority populations live in mountain areas. While most of these consist of small numbers of people, some large groups exist, such as the Quechua in the Andes, the Amhara people in Ethiopia, and the Tibetans and Yi in China. Isolation, created by the rugged topographic barriers, has helped create and maintain many diverse cultures relatively intact. Unfortunately, the stability of mountain populations, each with different values and belief systems, is threatened by migration, urbanization and conflict.
Mountain peoples have long held vital roles in the management of their ecosystems. Over the centuries, they have developed remarkable land-use systems, climate change adaptation approaches, traditional diets and mountain products that are unique and rich in globally significant biodiversity.
Often grounded in a deep connection with the land, mountain communities’ worldviews guide them in their agricultural activities and care of the environment and natural resources. In the Andes, for example, mother nature Pachamama, worshipped by the indigenous peoples, presides over planting and harvesting, embodies mountains and is believed to cause earthquakes. Rituals to honour Pachamama reinforce the relations between human communities and their natural environments, bringing together people from different clans and villages at various points of the agricultural cycle.
Furthermore, mountains and mountain-protected areas are places of spiritual solace, inspiration, recreation and relaxation. From skiing and climbing to viewing mountain gorillas in Rwanda and visiting the rock churches in Ethiopia, mountains offer an array of possibilities to all kinds of tourists. According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 376 of the world’s 669 Biosphere Reserves, or 56 percent, contain mountain ecosystems.
The impacts of tourism on culture and identity in the mountains can bring both possibilities and challenges. Community-based mountain tourism can ensure a more equitable distribution of income, help maintain local cultures and knowledge, reduce out-migration and provide incentives for the protection of mountain ecosystems, their goods and services.
While Mountain Culture is the suggested theme for 2016, countries, communities and organizations are welcome to celebrate International Mountain Day through the choice of a different theme that might be more relevant to them.