Environmental Perspective in Action: The Balete Tree Story

Why are balete trees treated with fear by folks in the Philippines? How can this fear be harnessed to preserve or enhance the ecosystem and maintain its integrity? Read on to find out.

People’s beliefs comprise the environment that can determine or predict their behavior. Although intangible, unseen objects take real form in people’s lives and cause them to behave in ways that can help maintain ecosystem integrity. An example is provided below to illustrate this point.

The Balete Tree and Enchanted Beings

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In a tropical tree like the Philippines, the balete tree (Ficus sp.), is believed to be a favorite abode of supernatural beings. The tree is believed to be enchanted and inhabited by the so-called encantos or encantados, beings living in a different plane but who can appear to those they desire at will.

People avoid the balete tree by any means possible, afraid that they would be placed under  a spell of misfortune. Many folks testify that they contracted unexplained illnesses such as rashes that would not heal, beings that show themselves to them although unseen by others, monsters that frighten the wits out of them, among others of similar nature.

They attribute these afflictions to supernatural beings because they happened to pass by or approach a balete tree. As a result, nobody would dare approach a balete tree for fear that they will become victims of unseen beings.

The Significance of Balete Tree to the Environment

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A balete gradually works its way around a host tree.

What has people’s beliefs got to do with environmental integrity? I provide an explanation below on how this works.

Since people do not want to approach nor touch nor cut down any balete tree, forests where these trees grow will remain intact or exempt from logging activities; provided, of course, that those who perform the logging activities believe in such lore or superstitious belief.

Environmental managers can build upon this prevailing belief among many people in the rural areas to maintain natural resource integrity. For example, a target reforestation area may be planted with balete to ward off intruders and to serve as buffer against unsustainable economic activities. Surrounding the whole area with balete trees can keep poachers and illegal loggers away.

Conclusion

The above description advances the idea that intangible things are important parts  of the environment because they are perceived real by many people. When people get baffled by unexplained events or circumstances that may or may not be related to their proximity to balete, this further reinforces their belief. It is a reality in one’s mind that dictates his actions. This is an important environmental concept that must be borne in mind by students taking up environmental science.

You may read further interesting discussions on how man’s perspectives can influence his action in “Five Environmental Perspectives: How Man Treats the Environment“. This article discusses how human actions can be categorized into 5 different environmental perspectives that serve as “lenses” for evaluating man-environment relations.

© 2013 January 6 P. A. Regoniel

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