Animism and Extractivism in Southeast Asia
Part 1Session 6
Thu 14:00-15:30 Room 3.03
Part 2Session 7
Thu 16:00-17:30 Room 3.03
- Nguyen Quoc-Thanh Institut d’Asie Orientale
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Marine mammals cult in Vietnam, spirituality VS overfishing and offshore drilling?
Nguyen Quoc-Thanh Institut d’Asie Orientale
According to Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, oil drilling in the South China Sea is more intense than ever since the last decade. With overfishing, the reclamation works and the creation of artificial islands by different countries caught in the territorial dispute for sovereignty, the environmental disaster has already begun. In this context, it seems to be much more difficult for the Vietnamese small-scale fishermen to keep their beliefs alive. But despite all the difficulties, these fervent whale worshippers still celebrate their marine deities. In every fishing village there is a temple dedicated to the whale’s bones and altars celebrating marine mammals. Once a year, the fishermen pay tribute to the whales and the dolphins. Their ancient beliefs lead them to protect the sea as the living space of their deities and it contrasts with the way of life of urban citizens. But rather than separating communities, these cults attract those who have lost their bearings in modern cities. Every whale festival leads to fishing villages thousands of pilgrims coming from the cities searching for spirituality. Through decades, beyond sympathy for the fishermen, maritime culture is also becoming a refuge, reminder of old traditions. Are we witnessing a process leading to a return to ancestral beliefs? This subject aims to understand how traditional marine mammals cult can inspire the protection of the environment and fight overfishing or offshore drilling.
New Animism? Indigenous Perspective on Development and Environmental Movement in Eastern Indonesia
Didimus Dedi Dhosa Universitas Katolik Widya Mandira
Longgina Novadona Bayo Universitas Gadjah Mada
Mahesti Hasanah Universitas Gadjah Mada
Yonathan Hans Luther Lopo
When we conducted research regarding frontier making in East Nusa Tenggara (Nusa Tenggara Timur) Province, Indonesia — both eco-tourism projects of Komodo National Park in West Manggarai and community based-energy forest in South Central Timor — we often found ecological movement use indigenous cosmology as cultural strategy to challenge the state led-development. They seek their activism legitimacy through new animism discourse, which criticises modern cosmology due to alienation produced by the separation of the human sphere of culture from the non-human field of nature. This paper aims to elucidate how the frontiers expansion in Eastern Indonesia, essentially encourage to the emerging of new animism as an identity of indigenous resistance facing destructive and extractive ideology of state development. Strengthening the identity of local resistance through new animism departs from the unrest of indigenous people who are increasingly marginalised due to frontier expansion. Excavation of animism as the identity of indigenous peoples is not an effort to romanticise local tradition (adat), nevertheless, it should be understood as the failure of the state to accomplish citizens’ rights, particularly when state-led development render indigenous peoples excluded from their space of life. This situation is exacerbated by Church’s position as a robust institution in NTT, which views itself vis a vis indigenous peoples. Instead, the Church seemed stressful accusing some of the indigenous rituals as idolatrous practices and magical myths. Subsequently, the indigenous people found local belief — animism— as the only alternative institution that supported them against destructive state-led development.
Spirit of Mandalika: Sacrifice, Development and Extractivism on Lombok, Indonesia
Kari Telle Chr. Michelsen Institute
The Indonesian government is investing heavily in the development of tourism infrastructure. This paper zooms in on the Mandalika resort, a US $ 3 billion megaproject on the island of Lombok, which is envisaged as one of ‘10 new Bali’s’ to be developed within the coming decade. The process of ‘carving out’ the new Mandalika ‘tourism special economic zone’ has involved forced displacement of local communities and the violent erasure of existing places. This paper will examine how state-officials (local, provincial, national) have sought to legitimate this megaproject by mobilizing myths and ritual practices. More specifically it investigates how state and commercial actors are invoking the ‘spirit of Mandalika’, a mythic Sasak princess who kills herself by jumping off a cliff and reappears as sea worms (nyale). Her sacrifice is commemorated in the annual sea worm festival that celebrates the interdependence of human-animal-agricultural fertility and cosmic cycles. By naming this infrastructure project after this female spirit, state actors seek to convey that Mandalika will yield abundant wealth. Yet, my analysis suggests that the brazen efforts to harness the ‘spirit of Mandalika’ for commercial and state-building purposes are also inspiring counter narratives and quite possibly reinvigorating animist relations with the diverse ‘metapersons’ that inhabit the sea and the land.
The spirit of ‘Kalimantan’s asset’: Orangutans, communities, and conservation as extractivism
Viola Schreer Brunel University London
This paper explores the relationship between extractivism and animism through an in-vestigation of Bornean villagers’ engagement with efforts to protect the orangutan, an icon of international biodiversity conservation. While recent works have emphasised a correlation between indigenous ontologies and nature conservation, this paper asks in-stead what animistic responses to such interventions can tell us about the nature of con-servation.
Central Vietnam’s wildlife extraction frontier, between animism and modernisation
Nicholas Wilkinson International Union for Conservation of Nature/Saola Working Group
Nikolas Århem Uppsala University
For people in Vietnam’s mountain villages, working in and with the forest has long been seen as a relationship and negotiation with powerful spiritual entities. A complex and tragic recent history has brought many forms of extractivism to Vietnam’s mountains and forests but today the illegal wildlife trade is probably the most powerful. While unquestionably an extractivist industry, the wildlife trade is unusual in two ways; the extraction itself is handled mainly by small-scale operators and that the value of the products is augmented by animist traditions surviving in the late-capitalist wider society. High-modernist enterprises such as cash-crop expansion and industrial mining seek to erase or ignore the spiritual landscape of the forest. The wildlife trade, by contrast, enters it, bringing capitalist extractivist principles into the houses of the spirits. The world of the forest spirits has never been static or certain. The actions of wildlife traders, whether locals or outsiders, test the intentions of the spirits, and the spiritual power of modernity itself.
Shamanism and the politics of care in East Kalimantan and West Timor, Indonesia
Siti Maimunah The University of Passau
Since the colonial period, the island of Kalimantan has been seen as wild and backward. The perspectives it continues and beliefs that the island must be opened and promoted to economic growth through extractivism, such as logging mining to a proposal of the new capital city. This paper refers to the experience of East Kalimantan province as the largest coal production area in Indonesia in the last 25 years that without counting the socio-ecological costs burdened to the local environment and community, mining is claimed to contribute to the national and regional economy. However, extractivism continues the colonial spirit and makes the law a tool of power to legitimize the massive exploitation of coal and benefit the elites. As a result, mining law reform has become an arena of consolidation for oligarchs, a tool for businesses to run from legal obligations and criminalize the people. Using the Environmental Justice lens, this paper argues that the dependence on coal extractivism has weakened the law and created the social-ecological vulnerability spaces that produce the intergenerational and inter-island injustice and make the most vulnerable groups, especially the poor, women, children, and disabled, suffer the most. Furthermore, the new policies supporting the extractivism economy have created a “legal setback.” Facing the complexity of mining problems, this paper explains the need for responsive laws to “multiple of environmental injustice” and the “policy affirmations” that ensure intergenerational and inter-island justice, as well as climate justice.
The Baram Dam as “curse from hell”: The Kenyah’s duty to taking care of their ancestral heritage and God’s creation
Annina Aeberli University of Bern
The government of Sarawak, a Malaysian state on Borneo, promised to bring development with the proposed Baram Dam; the affected Indigenous Peoples reacted with unprecedented protests. At the core of the conflict lie different modes of relating to the world: In the government’s developmental narrative, exploitation and production predominate. “Taking care”, on the other hand, is the Indigenous Kenyah’s dominant mode of relating. Historically, the Kenyah’s lives emerged around their land, paddy fields and rivers. The land does not only serve as basis for their agricultural livelihood, but also builds a bridge between generations and functions as heritage. The Kenyah’s intrinsic duty to take care of their ancestors and their land urged them to resist against the Baram Dam. This duty has also been reinforced by Christian beliefs: The inundation was compared to the Biblical Flood, the dam was called a “curse from hell” and the land and the river were regarded as God’s creation. Closer scrutiny reveals the complex entanglements between hierarchical animist beliefs and Christianity that emerged as a strong inner force in the struggle against the dam. This paper contribution is based on data obtained from field research and interviews conducted between 2016 and 2020 for a doctoral thesis in Social Anthropology.
The Egalitarian Turn? Mentawaian’ Animism, Forest Extraction, and Politic Redistribution on Siberut Island, Indonesia
Darmanto Simaepa Czech Academy of Science
Siberut Island (West Sumatra, Indonesia) has been continuously targeted for logging, forest estate, plantation, and other large-scale resource extraction platform. These extractive activities have reconfigured the relationship between Mentawaians, the indigenous inhabitant of Siberut, and their ‘nature’, especially the forest. In the Mentawaians’ animism (sabulungan) ontology, humans and the spirits have a primordial pact in which the spirits occupy the forest and are invisible to human. They are living in separate domains and constantly maintaining reciprocal relations where no parties feel dominated. The egalitarian principle of sabulungan generates an ambivalent attitude toward and compels the living Mentawaians to have both respect and fear of, the spirits in the forest. Half-century large-scale logging operations intensified the idea that forest is a just commodity and marginalized the traditional view. However, experiencing forest transformation and the introduction of environmentalism and indigeneity discourse have reified the concept of the forest and revitalized the fundamental aspect of sabulungan politic: egalitarian ethic and equal share of forest extraction. Mentawaians do not overtly reject large forest exploitation but continuously protest, accuse, and resent timber companies because they do not provide an equal share of fortune and, instead, generate social differentiation. I argue that the egalitarian ethic of sabulungan serves a political-economy discourse for the Mentawaians in the struggle to gain equal redistribution and shapes their attempt to maintain autonomy and political equality amidst hierarchal social relations brought by a new mode of accumulation. I claim that Mentawaian animism poses an egalitarian ethic which is important in the discussion of politic redistribution.
Southeast Asia has been a prime target for land grabbing and extractivist projects in the 21st century, from logging, palm oil plantations, gold, coal and nickel mining, to oil and gas extraction. Underlying the extraction of raw materials from the environment at large scale are modernist assumptions that posit a fundamental separation between nature and culture. At first sight, such naturalist assumptions differ drastically from the ways in which many rural people across Southeast Asia relate to the environment – some of whom have animist orientations, attributing sentience, subjectivity or interiority to the non-human world. So how do people with animist orientations (which are often held alongside other religious affiliations) experience and respond to extractivist projects? How does it affect and transform relations they have with each other and with the environment? Does extractivism lead to a reinvigoration of animist practices? Or are animist orientations weakened by the encroachments of capitalist developments? When do extractivist projects actualise difference? And when do they lead to transformations or co-optations of human-environment or corporate/state-society relations?
To answer these questions, the panel will engage with debates in social anthropology and political ecology on new animism studies, cosmopolitics and political ontology, as well as critical materialist approaches to extractivism that emphasise the uneven distribution of power inherent in contemporary geopolitics. This approach will allow us to theorise how multiple contradictory ways of relating to the environment co-exist within the same setting and to examine how localised religious and cultural dynamics can infuse global political and economic processes