Ecosynthetic Mutation

A Study and Speculation on Ethiopian Church Forests

Pittsburgh, PA
Marantha Dawkins
Fall 2019

The church forests of ethiopia are a very particular result of the conditions of the anthropocene. A resultant of both negative and positive - in regards to ecology - human actions, they would soon vanish back into the desert if deprived of human support.

The vast majority of land in ethiopia has fallen victim to the combined devils of industrial agriculture, deforrestation, and climate change. Now majority arid desert, the only pockets of lush biodiversity surround the orthodox churches in the country.

Recently, small international research programs have begun to study and support these odd preservation efforts. Both media attention and religious fervor have begun to funnel money and labor into keeping these pockets alive. The future for them is far from certain, but poses some interesting questions for study and speculation.

DiagramThe diagram on the right is illustrative of the forces and actors at play on two different scales. The challenging part about studying the phenomena was that it occurs at global, national, and local scales.

The top edge of the drawing hopes to put into perspective the rarity of these ecosystems, and the vastness of the desert seperating them from eachother and from civilization.

The lower perspectagle portion illustrates the combined actions at a local level. Continual maitenance and the occaisional population surge due to religious festivals and pilgrimages balance themselves out with occaisional harvest and attrition.

The first set of pattern studies focused on the formal characteristics of the ecology. Looking at four variables independently produces a clear drawing which has informed later study.

The animation on the following page overlays and spatializes the four abstract drawings, and helps understand the evolution on a time scale. An agent based system was used to simulate the flows of people, and simple looped scripts were employed to generate the canopy and growth portions.

Not being entirely satisfied to understand all the variables in isolation, a new script was developed to link the forces of change to the growth and sustainability of the forest and community.

On the right are several drawings of still differing still frames overlayed on eachother and the context.

The following animation depicts the growth of the forest and expansion of the canopy over time. It integrates factors of maitenance and care, as well as the harvestation of the occasional tree in order to sustain the community. This path is shown in green, the vegetation turned green shows increased growth, but the tree at the end of the path is havested and remains only as a stump in the simulation.

After a certain amount of time has passed, it is understood that the ecology has begun to attract attention, and a simulation of one of the annual festivals takes place. These bring outside populations in to worship and tend to the forest.

In a perhaps not so speculative future, most of the earth has been covered in a desert wasteland, unsuited for any growth. The only fertile lands which remain surround places of worship, religion has become meaningless apart from a desire to survive. People have put aside there differences and come together to ensure at least some kind of future for themselves

The drawing on the right is an illustration of the spread of the desert. Raked by steep winds it threatens to eliminate all enclaves of the now much more common church forrests. We also understand that those places in which religious belief has historically been stronger have had more success in holding their own against the inevitable future. People are more easily convinced, more likely to work together altruistically.

The story on the page after seeks to illustrate this possible future.

In AD 2080 we have forsaken all gods. Well, all but one at least. We have come to recognize the true life-giver of the human race. Most would be shocked that it took us so long, but cultural squabbles and power games have plagued our species for so long it’s hard to imagine us without. In an interesting turn of fate we almost killed our god; the supreme being we thought all powerful, that gave us life, freedom, happiness was mortal after all. Known by many names in many different cultures, but understood as always under our feet, grounding us, giving us a home, and everything else we have. We shall call her, as the first ones to understand did; Gaia.

After centuries of neglect and misuse all that is left of our once beautiful shepherdess is a barren wasteland. We have fought, stained her hide with blood, contaminated her veins with poison, and fouled the air she gave to us. The few believers left safeguard the remaining treasures of a bygone age with their lives.

Religious covenants the world over have long since stopped worshiping their mystic idols, who showed no mercy while we faced impending doom. There was no second coming, no reckoning, only gradual decay. Now those whose minds have become clear seek to maintain the growth of what they can, what is in reach. Some people have been practicing this for centuries, but even with the most experienced hands our dwindled communities can only support so much. When one ventures out of reach of one of these community’s life appears to abruptly end. From lush into barren wasteland, the transition happens within a few feet.

The model that started, not surprisingly, in the place where our entire race began has proliferated and is now understood as our sole hope for survival as a species. But this is not only for us. No, we toil and struggle for all of our lady’s magnificent creations. She bestowed upon us the skills and power to care for the rest of her peoples.

The largest enclaves can support themselves and send aid to the smaller. Some have built walls, some trenches, either way we understand it crucial to keep these treasures safe from the heretics that seek to utilize them for selfish means.

We have created our new eden. The walls and gaia alone shelter us from the Gomorra outside.