Saturday, February 6, 2010

Spaces, Places, and Histories: A Political Ecological Perspective

Notes from first Dr.Bikram Dasgupta memorial lecture on 5th February 2010 by Prof Alberto Gomes at Marathi Sahitya Seva Mandal Hall, Panjim. The topic of his lecture was "Spaces, Places, and Histories: A Political Ecological Perspective"

Environment is also about politics and not just ecology. That’s how it is Political Ecological Perspective. It is important to connect with Social Justice Issues in ecological movements. There is a delicate balance between Politics and Ecology.

Alberto has been researching changes taking place amongst Malaysian aborigines for the past 35 years. Long time back he heard the sounds of chain saw in the forests of Malaysia and went about to see as to from where is it was coming. He along with his few friends entered the forests and located the source: a man had put chain saw deep inside the tree. Within short time it fell down to the ground. Alberto had tears in his eyes. He was not the only one with tears in eyes; he noticed aborigines gathered around the felled tree were also with tears in theirs eyes. Alberto joined the aborigines in defense of forest. He along with his four friends launched campaign to protect the forest from the dam project. The dam company defeated the campaigners by designing the dam project in the shape of one of the symbol of Malaysian nation. The country declared the opponents of the dam projects as anti-nationals. Hence protest was not possible any longer. This was one of the first lessons Alberto learnt as to how Politics was interlined with disruptions of ecology and aborigine people. He realized that chopping of trees is required for our lifestyles.

His association with Indigenous People in Malaysia has taught him that ‘where’ is an important focus of engagements while ‘when’ was was not important. History was related to Space and not Time. While Alberto journeyed with Aborigines in the
forest they would point to stone and trees and narrate particular incidents like the behavior of their invaders with links to the particular stone or a particular tree. Each place was named. What is it mean to take away forest? Places are important because of great social significance. The aborigine histories are intimately connected with stones and trees and corresponding memories. To do away with trees from the forest also means to do away with aborigine histories. Displacement is equal to erasing of history of lives of Indigenous People.

Aborigine People have deep relation with their spirits. Before taking any significant decision people in aboriginal societies would consult and seek permissions from the spirits of the locality. After taking permission they would act based on the interpretation of their dreams. Forest belongs to the spiritual world called “Yanik Kavo”. Hunting ability of the male is located in the knees. This ability is a spirit called “Karen Sangho”. Karen Sangho is also means wife. So when a man fails in his hunting wife invokes Karen Sangho to be with her husband.

When wild pig is hunted by aborigines, just before his death the hunter goes and apologizes to the animal for hunting as they are forced to hunt in order to feed their families”.

The root cause of ecological problem is greed. Aborigine people do not have greed hence they do not create ecological problems. No individual has a right to own land. People collectively belong to land. Mainstream societies must learn from tribal people.

Tribal People’s stories needs to be recorded. Violent economy has its nemesis in ecology. Greed leads to exceeded consumption patterns. This creates situation of grievances amongst those exploited by system. The grievance then matures into armed revolts fuelling further violence.

We still do not know enough about alternatives. Instead of confronting the system there is a need to wrestle with the system as sometimes when the system is too strong it can crush its opponents. Aborigines of Malaysia have learned this art of wrestling with the system and that’s how they are surviving in Malaysian forests.

Alberto is currently working on book on ‘non-killing’ tribes world wide and understand the transformation that led them into violence. Media focus is mostly on violence. In actual reality for every incident of violence in society that are over thousand incidents of non-violence. Yet media choose to report and highlight only violence. Amongst aborigine societies violence is ridiculed.

Economic growth and sustainability cannot go together.

Sebastian Rodrigues

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