The Centrality of Islands: Re-conceptualizing anthropogenic interference and natural processes in the Southeast Asia
Fri 14:00-15:30 Room 3.03
- Edyta Roszko Chr. Michelsen Institute
- Oscar Salemink University of Copenhagen
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“Diving the Sand Islands: tradition, trade, and sea cucumbers in the Timor Sea
Florence Durney University of Oslo
This paper explores the social and ecological relationships that tie together a set of coral reefs at the border of Indonesia and Australia and two very different island communities in eastern Indonesia, Pura Island and Rote Island. The area of these border reefs has come to be known as the MOU Box for Australians and pulau pasir (sand islands) for Indonesians. While sited within what is now Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the MOU Box area is open to what are categorized as ‘traditional Indonesian fishermen,’ due to historical use claims negotiated by the two national governments in 1974. Bringing together preliminary ethnographic research with island communities, reef biology, and regional commodity chain analysis, I begin to trace how expert free divers from the island of Pura in the Alor Archipelago collaborate with expert sailors and traders from Bugis communities on the island of Rote across the Savu Sea. This collaboration allows them to harvest sea cucumber in a way that meets the
current regulatory standards regarding tradition Indonesian fishermen in the MOU Box: no boat engines, no diving equipment, no refrigeration. In the past decade however, the current regulatory framework for the Box has faced new challenges in relation to climate change and evolving marine science. All coral reefs, but particularly shallow water reefs like those within the MOU Box, are systemically threatened by climate change. Additionally, emerging research suggests that sea cucumbers may play a larger role in maintaining and revitalizing climate-stressed reefs than previously thought. This means that reef conservation pressure from both governments has increased and the perceived stakes of animal harvest from this type of ecosystem is changing. My examination focuses on how both groups of islanders move through a series of local, provincial, and international trade and shifting regulatory regimes as they continue to harvest. In doing so, the paper highlights how specific marine practices that have very long histories within individual island communities, such as free diving and sailing, become enmeshed in new and evolving state practices of marine zoning.
Tra Co Festival: Restructure and increase the cultural connection of the island community
Cham Nguyen Vietnam Acdemy of Social Science
Tra Co (Mong Cai city, Quang Ninh province, Vietnam) until the mid-twentieth century was still an island and then a peninsula in the northeastern island of Vietnam. Located in the Vietnam-China border area and considered an island far away from the center, Tra Co always has a strong connection with other seas and islands (both domestic and foreign) as well as the central region. Currently, in the context that Vietnam and China have opened the borders (both on land and at sea) and border trade is thriving, this connection has been widened and tightened even more. This fact is clearly shown that Tra Co coastal community has actively restructured the festival, creating Tra Co festival into a highlight, a cultural landmark, and a means of connection. However, those connections are also greatly influenced by powerful discourses, expressing the Vietnamese people’s vision and thinking about the sea.
Waterways: Connecting social, ecological and temporal in hydrology of Vietnamese small islands
Edyta Roszko Chr. Michelsen Institute
In this paper I consider the unifying role played by small ‘waterways’ that integrated highlands and islands along the coast of the South China Sea, thereby conceptually breaking from the tendency to rely too much on oceans or navigable rivers as sites of connections and history-making. Drawing on ethnographic and archeological fieldwork, this paper takes a closer look at Phú Quý Island off the coast of south-central Vietnam, which is located on the historically important maritime trade routes linking Champa – a Malay seafaring polity on the coast of what is now central Vietnam – with southern China and the Malay World. Ancient Cham wells on Phú Quý and other small islands along the coast provided crucial freshwater in the past enabling seafaring, fisheries and trade in forest and sea products, thus making these islands part of an important network of wells providing fresh water to Cham sailors but also Malay, Arab, Persian and other seafarers from the 13th-14th centuries onward. In the absence of rivers, the submarine ground flows continue to sustain Phú Quý’s growing population in the present. In hydrological and oceanographic research there is an emergent consensus that submarine groundwater discharge on small tropical islands form important pathways between land and sea that come under increasing pressure from anthropogenic activity and global warming. Against the backdrop of terrestrial and marine connectivity, this paper argues that subterranean and submarine flows or—in anthropological terms—freshwater wells, not only link tidal cycles and terrestrial permeability but also different geographies, mobilities and knowledge. Interconnecting human and natural processes affecting freshwaters flows, this paper explores the hydrology of Phú Quý island from historical, contemporary and future-oriented practices.
Historically, small islands of Southeast Asia constituted hubs for fishing and trade and were used by seafarers as landmarks for navigation and as fresh water sources. They were part of a wider circulation of marine goods like tortoiseshell, sea urchin, snail, sea cucumber, bird’s nest, fish sauce, cotton and silver that took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries along less frequented maritime routes in the region. Today, these islands constitute important markers of oceanic sovereignty but also climate change. The singularity and connectedness of those islands are displayed in human-caused changes (e.g. rising sea level, plastic pollution, ocean acidification; deforestation, draught) but simultaneously refuted by maritime disputes, militarization, and neoliberal politics. The historically recent legal regime of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) allows coastal countries to extend territorial sovereignty to claim erstwhile high seas as exclusive state property, which can subsequently be privatized. The disputed South China Sea was for example until the late 20th century a zone of ethnic fluidity, maritime connection, and marine resource commons. Legal regimes such as EEZs are the result of Western geographical imaginaries, which became hegemonic on a universal scale, as brought out in analytical frameworks such as the ‘Black Atlantic’ or ‘North-Atlantic Universals´, erasing local histories while vernacularizing European land-based immobile categories. Taking the singularity of the ‘sea’ as a starting point, this proposal foregrounds the islands, beyond territorially bounded nation-states and homogenous national histories. It invites paper contributions that combine the analysis of the marine environment with a focus on maritime connections and movements of humans and their interactions with the islands and seas, conceiving of the marine ecology as a space of anthropogenic interference with natural processes. In this way, the panel empirically and theoretically shows that islands are not a marginal or peripheral, but important vectors in global connections and globalization, both historically and to this day.