The purpose of this study was to explore indigenous pathways to well-being within rural adversity contexts of resource scarcity and high risk. Prior to conducting this study, initial, scientific, systematic evidence of indigenous pathways to well-being in high risk and high need South African contexts had not been captured and remained unknown. The Indigenous Pathways to Resilience (IPR) project aims to contribute to developing a scientific knowledge system relevant to non-Western cultures and contexts, and supplement existing well-being knowledge with alternative ways of thinking about well-being. An Indigenous Psychology (IP) theoretical framework was adopted while a conceptual framework for non-Western pathways to well-being was developed by integrating current thinking on indigenous knowledge systems and well-being from a non-Western perspective.
Participatory Reflection and Action (PRA) principles were used within a longitudinal case study research design. Two bounded cases of rural high risk, high need and non-Western world views were conveniently sampled. Local partners assisted with stratified sampling of participants (n=139) for age (youth=132, elders=93) and gender (women=134, men=91). Inductive data generation comprised two waves of interactive PRA-led conversations per site in regional mother tongues, facilitated by trained local translators. Data sources included PRA-conversations (documented as verbatim transcriptions of audio-recorded PRA conversations, translated into English) and observations (documented textually in field notes and researcher journals by multiple researchers, and visually as photographs of the context over time, as well as PRA artefacts). Thematic in-case and cross-case analysis of data sources resulted in inductive themes on indigenous pathways to well-being.
Two indigenous pathways to well-being were found (each with categories), namely Dimensional Connectedness as Pathway to Well-Being (consisting of ‘Communal Pathways to Well-Being’ and ‘Spiritual Connectedness’) and Human Pathways to Well-Being (consisting of ‘Self-Perceived Self-Efficacy’, ‘Maintaining Health’ and ‘Enjoying Simple Pleasures’). This study confirms that sampled South African non-Western pathways to well-being share universal similarities with both Western and non-Western well-being: these are social reciprocity, social engagement, spirituality, objective health, self-development and the experience of positive emotions. Specific non-Western pathways to well-being include the concept of individuals living in relation to their community and the role that cultural values and heritage play in happiness. In contrast to existing non-Western knowledge on well-being, participating non-Western South Africans were silent on the role of ecological systems in well-being, the significance of race and ethnicity, the importance of past selves and the acceptance of life conditions.
This study was silent on the following usually-prominent Western well-being trends: individuals living independently from others; the importance of internal traits, values and emotions; personal goals as priority and the importance of self-acceptance. In this study, participants reported that it was their interdependence that made them happy. Participants also reported that the welfare and priorities of the community took precedence over their own needs and desires. This study posits a conceptualisation of indigenous pathways to well-being in South Africa which may inform relevant psychology research and practice with South African clients from similar contexts.