Excerpted from Within the Shadow of the Palms: Extra-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua. © 2022 Duke College Press. Reprinted with permission from Duke College Press.
The ebook In the Shadow of the Palms tells the story of how one group of individuals has encountered a plant that has radically upended their forest-based lifestyle. Over the previous a number of a long time, Indigenous Marind within the Indonesian-controlled area of West Papua have seen this launched plant—oil palm—increase throughout their customary forests, lands, and territories within the type of industrial plantations.
Drawing from my long-term ethnographic fieldwork as an anthropologist and my work in human rights advocacy, the ebook recounts the experiences and views of Marind villagers from three rural settlements in West Papua—Khalaoyam, Mirav, and Bayau*—as they reckon with the arrival of monocrops and climate-change induced excessive climate occasions, together with a serious drought.
The ebook explores how oil palm developments undermine Marind’s intimate and ancestral relationships to kindred crops and animals, on the identical time they reconfigure Marind’s sense of place, time, and personhood. It focuses on the ambivalent place of oil palm: Marind resent the plant for its damaging environmental impacts—but additionally pity it for its personal violent subjection to human and technological exploitation. Finally, the ebook is an important story of Indigenous creativity and persistence within the face of entrenched and emergent techniques of racism and capitalism that threaten their survival.
In the next excerpt, Marind share their critiques of presidency maps that flatten the panorama, and so they provide different Indigenous cartographies that carry mapmaking again to life.
A group of Khalaoyam neighborhood members and I gathered to relaxation within the shade of a mango tree close to Bayau village. We had simply returned from a three-day fishing journey on the western banks of the Bian River within the West Papuan district of Merauke. As they handed round slivers of baked sago pith and coconut meat, my buddies began discussing the drought. A number of pointed to the shriveled rambutans and jackfruit littering the bottom. They in contrast the withered fruit to the peeling pores and skin of their forearms. The drought, my companions affirmed, was the longest in a long time.
They vehemently agreed with Claudia, an aged lady and conventional midwife, that oil palm was in charge. Oil palm, Claudia defined, was grabbing the waters of the Bian, identical to it was grabbing the land of Marind. Oil palm was sucking the soil and rivers dry. Quickly, she exclaimed, the forest can be simply mud and scars.
Claudia’s impassioned diatribe was interrupted by Paulinus, an lively younger villager, who got here working towards us with a cumbersome cardboard field, hollering, “I discovered one other map! Test it out!”
Paulinus, who was identified in Khalaoyam for his sharp wit and savviness, described with satisfaction how he had efficiently satisfied a consultant of the Merauke Board for Planning and Regional Growth to lend him the doc at a current oil palm promotion occasion within the metropolis. The group was excited. Communities within the Higher Bian have restricted entry to official maps. These they do possess have been troublesome to amass. Some have been stealthily pocketed from the cabinets of presidency places of work throughout cigarette breaks at multistakeholder conferences. Others have been photographed covertly throughout negotiations with agribusiness firms utilizing HD spy cameras in half-frame studying glasses given to neighborhood members by technologically savvy Jakartan nongovernmental organizations.
Paulinus fastidiously pulled out the laminated A3 map. Claudia’s husband, Paolo, stood guard in entrance of the platform the place we have been seated. He needed to verify intel employed by the oil palm firms didn’t intrude on our gathering. Whereas taking images of the map with my cellphone, I listened to the group’s cartographic critique.
Crouched beside me, Claudia used a callused finger to comply with the color-coded straight traces carving up the panorama right into a collection of overlapping geometric shapes: administrative areas, oil palm and timber concessions, army zones, transmigration websites, palm oil mills. The traces on the map segmented huge swaths of forest into nondescript squares and rectangles, categorised within the legend in keeping with their productiveness kind: Everlasting Manufacturing Forest, Restricted Manufacturing Forest, Convertible Manufacturing Forest, Industrial Plantation Forest, Timber Forest Concession, and lots of extra.
Blank patches, the place my buddies informed me “pure forest” (hutan alam in Indonesian) was nonetheless standing, have been labeled as “degraded land” (tanah terlantar in Indonesian)—a designation underneath Indonesian legislation for areas deemed obtainable for industrial growth. Over 60 agribusiness firm names lined the underside of the map, every of which owned a number of concessions within the “degraded” zones. A couple of shaded squares have been labeled “protected areas” (kawasan lindung in Indonesian). Claudia informed me that Marind have been prohibited from getting into these areas—together with the sacred sago groves and searching websites inside them—as a result of “the federal government is in management.”
The group went silent. Then, Claudia shook her head and mentioned, “There are not any straight traces in nature [pada alam itu garis lurus tiada in Indonesian].”
The group nodded affirmatively. Beny, Claudia’s youthful brother, turned to me and defined:
“Nothing strikes in straight traces. Have a look at the seasonal flight of the birds. The journey of the cassowary. The monsoonal motion of the fish and prawns. The way in which the sago reproduces following the curve of the Bian River. The way in which amai [plant and animal kin in Marind] and anim [humans in Marind] immediately comply with this motion to feed and defend themselves. Have a look at the move of the Bian—swaying proper, then left, then proper once more, it has course, however it isn’t inflexible. Straight traces exist solely on the highway, within the military, in oil palm plantations. Nothing grows in straight traces, besides oil palm. Oil palm plantations are trendy forests.”
Beny additional contrasted the straight traces of the map to the fluidity of customary boundaries that comply with pure markers and the actions of crops, people, and animals as they develop and multiply.
His sister, Claudia, added:
“We, too, have borders between our territories, however these transfer with the actions of those that inhabit them—the birds, animals, sago, and Marind. Permission is required to cross these boundaries, however it isn’t given by the federal government or firms. Permission is given to us by amai [plant and animal kin]. They, too, are landowners. You may not have your KTP [ID card in Indonesian] at hand or any sneakers in your toes. However if you happen to present your pores and skin and comply with the voices of amai, then the forest and its beings will allow you to by way of. That is the way in which amai and Marind have lived collectively since time immemorial.”
Then, Marcus, a younger man from Mirav with whom I incessantly went to assemble medicinal herbs within the forest, turned to me and requested, “Miss, are you able to make this map alive?”
Confused, I regarded to the others for assist, however their rephrasing of the query—“Are you able to give this map some life? Are you able to carry it to life?”—did not make it clear to me.
“You see, it’s like this. This map, I believe, is what the federal government and corporations see. Simply straight traces and oil palm. However there’s something lifeless about this map. What I imply is that there isn’t any signal of life. This map shouldn’t be alive [hidup in Indonesian]. It’s lifeless. There are not any folks or birds or animals or crops on it. Simply patches of shade that don’t imply something. All the things simply form of stands nonetheless. All the things is flat. After I have a look at this map, I don’t know the place I’m. I don’t know who’s round me. I can not hear the birds. Are you aware what I imply?”
I tried to clarify to Marcus that maps couldn’t embody every little thing for causes of scale and element, and tended to characteristic mounted areas within the panorama reasonably than their cellular inhabitants. However Marcus insisted that with out that type of “life,” the map was just about ineffective.
Borrowing my pen, he began to indicate me what it meant to make the map alive. Faintly at first, then extra pronounced, the weaving line of his hand traced on the map the paths of kindred crops and animals of his clan throughout forest and marshland. Then, Marcus added the areas the place interclan peacemaking rituals, warfare, and congregations had taken place; the funerary websites of nice warriors of the previous; and the routes of the migratory tekle fowl together with the locations the place it rested, fed, and mated.
Claudia, Beny, and different members of the group joined in, including to Marcus’ traces a meshwork of different meandering trajectories: the aquatic journey of the angli-angli fish, adopted carefully by that of its predator, the swooping manhuk fowl; the amphibious proliferation of sago suckers weaving alongside the fluid contours of swamp and mangrove; and the flight of the wallaby throughout slash-and-burn clearing, adopted by its inquisitive return within the moist season to feed on juicy shoots within the forest regrowth.
As the traces, arrows, arcs, and scribbles multiplied, administrative boundaries progressively disappeared in a dense overgrowth of intertwined human and other-than-human paths. Taking turns wielding the pen, my buddies subverted the state’s mounted illustration of area by torquing its straight traces into traces of life.
* Pseudonyms have been used for all locations and other people for causes of safety.
This excerpt has been edited barely for size, type, and readability.