Dana : a village on the path of life
Dana is a small village in the south of modern Jordan, near the city of Shobak in the governorate of Tafila. The presence of a village here dates back many centuries and, despite being in the mountains, was made possible by the many springs providing water for the population. During the 19th century, after the Ottoman administration had sent more officials to run southern Bilad al-Sham (Greater Syria), a number of houses were built in the village. At that point most of the population lived off the land.
In the 1970s, the village was gradually abandoned in favour of the nearby town of al-Qadisiyya, where a cement works had been built and was an important source of employment. The historic village, with its typical Ottoman rural architecture, small flat-roofed houses, built of stone and covered with mud, gradually declined until the 1990's.
In 1989, a nature reserve, the Dana Biosphere Reserve, was created near the former village. This reserve is famous for the rarity and diversity of its fauna and flora. In 1994, with funding from the Global Environment, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) started a project to develop the site trying to combine conservation with economic development. This project called on the local population to help and become actively involved, and has resulted in a marked increase in tourist-based activities and the building of hotels, camp-sites and hiking-trails. The RSCN has also encouraged a craft cooperative producing jewellery and food.
The creation of the nature reserve has in turn generated new policies to renovate and rehabilitate the historic village, so it will attract tourists. In the early 1990's, a group of women, linked to the RSCN and called the Friends of Dana began to renovate some houses with the cooperation of the villagers. A new renovation project has now been set up by USAID, the U.S. Agency for Development, and implemented by the RSCN. This project, however, faced major opposition from local residents who felt left out of the decision-making and questioned whether the need to make money out of green tourism was consistent with local development. Since 1990 several hotels have been constructed in the village to receive tourists visiting the park.
The village of Dana and its region typify the new policies of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, which seeks to encourage new tourist areas, such as green tourism, while also trying to preserve traditional villages. The Ottoman village of Tayba, near Petra, is another example of the dilemma. This high-level insistence on Jordanian traditions and folklore generates conflicts of interest with local communities.
Laurie A. Brand, « In the Beginning was the State...’: The Quest for Civil Society in Jordan », in Augustus Richard Norton, Civil Societyin the Middle East, vol. I, Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1994, pp. 148-185.
Matthew Gray, «Development strategies and the political economy of tourism in contemporary Jordan», In G. Joffé, Jordan in transition, 1990-2001, Londres, Hurst and Co., 2002, pp. 308-329.
Emad Hejazeen, Tourism and local communities in Jordan. Munich, Vienna, Profil, 2007.
Katharina Lenner, «Helping Nature, Helping People? The Politics of Development in and around Dana Village, Jordan», Paper presented at the conference State, Society and Economy in the Modern Middle East; School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, May 7-8, 2011 and at the 18th International DAVO Congress, Berlin, Oct 6-11, 2011.