Urban Ape | The use of and rights to land

THE AIR we breathe, the sun that shines and the rain that falls from the sky is for all of us! Land is something else.

We are all born with nothing on us, and our very first act of life is to breathe air. When we are able to open our eyes, the first natural light that falls upon us is the bright and gentle touch of sun rays, and that hunger filled by our mother’s milk, yet we still cry out for water that fell as rain from the sky. All of these – air, sunlight, and rain come to us for free in unlimited measure.
We only get to experience contact with land when we learn how to crawl, walk then run. The other benefits we get from land only come our way through brute strength, knowledge and yes… cunning!
So land is very much different.
Unlike air, sunlight and rain; land is limited. Land does not grow, land does not expand, land is not free!
Yet land is at the core of human existence. Without land, any community ceases to exist. Ancient man understood this. We modern humans have set methods, processes, patterns and a whole set of laws that govern our collective understanding and actions towards land.
Early humans (hunter-gatherers) and even indigenous communities all over the planet see land the way we experience air, sunlight, and rain. Land is not owned by the community. Land is for everyone. Land is seen as a resource for everyone. So early humans and the Indigenous Peoples treat land from a different mindset. This mindset comes from the understanding that land; like air, sunlight and rain are free for the taking. This mindset fosters the belief that everything is for sharing and for everyone in the community. Those who have much, have to share with those who have little or even none, without counting the effort made in getting the much that has been accumulated. Why? Because early humans and some Indigenous Communities today have no reason for accumulation or storing what is needed in the future. They hunt and gather whatever is available around them. They just made sure that they let trees bear their fruit in season, and let animals grow their young at certain times of the year.
This started to change when humans became settlers. The settler mindset got fostered by the awareness and understanding that food could be grown in certain locations, and some animals could be raised inside enclosures. Fast forward 3,000 years plus a few hundred years we get the “Regalian doctrine and torrens land titles”. [We will go through these two after use and rights to land.]
Hunter-gatherer societies treated land as a “common” resource. This included the plants and animals that lived on the land. These resources ensured the “wellness” of the community. These made sure that everyone was “well”. By treating land and everything that come from the land as belonging to everyone in the community, hunter-gatherer societies saw land as a “community wealth.” This is where the phrase “common wealth” comes from. As a common wealth, everyone had the right to use the land – based on commonly understood rules. These rules were practical and easily understandable. The foremost rule to the right to use land was – share to the community whatever fruits you gain from that which grows from the land you are using. So people exchanged fruits for meat and whatever else.
The land users shared with the hunters and the gatherers through a barter system. This barter system of fruits, meat, and crafted items existed for more than 2,000 years. This system still exists in many tribal communities on our planet. This barter system reinforced the free “use” of the land. The right to use the land was exercised as long as the user could share the fruits of the land with the rest of the community, so using land and the rights to the land were intertwined with the ability and capacity to share fruits of the land with the rest of the community.
This is a very basic tenet that needs to be put in place in The National Land Use Act. But before we get to the NALUA, allow me to discuss “tenured” land use rights – the Regalian rights and Torrens title.

Posted in Opinion