FOREST KNOWLEDGE, FOREST TRANSFORMATION: POLITICAL CONTINGENCY, HISTORICAL
ECOLOGY AND THE RENEGOTIATION OF NATURE IN CENTRAL SERAM
University of Kent at Canterbury
Since the mid nineteen-eighties Nuaulu swidden cultivators
and sago extractors living on the edge of lowland rainforest1 in central
Seram, Maluku, have become increasing active in countering threats
to their traditional resource base. This latter has been dramatically
eroded, mainly through government-sponsored settlement and logging.
Nuaulu have successfully defended land claims in the courts, there
have been violent incidents at a nearby transmigration area leading
to their imprisonment, and in their representations to outsiders
they have become articulate about the damage done to their environment.
However, Nuaulu have a long history of contact with the outside world,
of forest modification and participation in the market. They were
politically engaged as early as the Dutch wars of the late seventeenth
century and have been indirectly, and, more recently, directly, subject
to the oscillations and economic fall-out of the spice trade ever
since. The seventies and eighties of the present century have seen
the expansion of cash-cropping, together with accelerated rates of
land sale and forest extraction.
I wish to argue in this paper that as different material and social
changes take place, so Nuaulu have renegotiated their conceptual relationship
with forest in perceptibly different ways. In particular, I seek to
ask why, given an apparent historic readiness to accept environmental
change, they have now adopted a rhetoric which we would recognise
as `environmentalist'. I claim that part of the explanation is that
older, local, forms of knowledge which underpin subsistence strategies
are qualitatively different from knowledge of macro-level processes
-- `environmental consciousness' in the abstract -- which only comes
with a widening of political and ecological horizons.
HOW THE NUAULU HAVE CHANGED THEIR ENVIRONMENT
Conventional Western conceptions of nature are usually of
some unaltered other, of wilderness; and conventional views of traditional
peoples living on forest margins or ecotypes, of tribes benignly
extracting from an essentially pristine ecosystem. Such a view is,
of course, now wholly unacceptable and there is mounting evidence
of the ways in which humans dependent on forest actively change it.
Much tropical lowland rainforest -- in Indonesia as elsewhere -- is
the product of many generations of selective human interaction and
modification (deliberate and inadvertent), optimising its usefulness
and enhancing biodiversity. The outcome is a co-evolutionary process
to which human populations are crucial. Indeed, particular patterns
of forest extraction and modification are often seen as integral to
its sustainable future. For some authorities, the evidence for intentional
rather than serendipitous human influence is so compelling as to invite
the description of `managed' forest [Clay 1988; Schmink, Redford and
Padoch 1992: 7-8].
The empirical work supporting these claims comes mainly from the Amazon
[e.g. Balée 1993, 1994; Posey 1988; Prance, Balée, Boom
and Carneiro 1987]; but there is emerging evidence that it also applies
to large parts of Malaysia and the Western Indonesian archipelago
[Aumeeruddy and Bakels 1994, Dove 1983, Maloney 1993, Peluso and
Padoch in press , Rambo 1979]. My own work, supported
by recent botanical research, suggests that it is no less true for
the forests of Seram, which have long been a focus of subsistence
extraction, and where human agency has had decisive consequences for
ecology. This has been largely through the long-term impact of small-scale
forest-fallow swiddening and the extraction of palm sago over many
hundreds of years [Ellen 1988a], but also through the introduction
and hunting of deer, selective logging and collection for exchange
in more recent centuries [Ellen 1985: 563]. Since sago is a frequent
reason for venturing into forest beyond the limits of the most distant
gardens, and since it illustrates so well the kind of co-evolutionary
relationship I have just been discussing, it is helpful to say a bit
more about it here.
Sago (Metroxylon sagu ) is extracted by Nuaulu both from
extensive swamp forest reserves along major rivers and from planted
groves much nearer to settlements. They manipulate vegetative reproduction
by replanting and protecting suckers from recently cut palms, selecting
suckers from some palms rather than others, and transferring root
stocks to village groves. The result is an interchange of genetic
material between cultivated and `non-cultivated' areas, even though
there is no particular evidence of domestication through selective
planting of seeds. Although most reproduction of sago palms in the
lowland riverine forest areas of Seram occurs quite independently
of human interference, in certain areas human involvement is highly
significant, and the contemporary phenotypes of Southeast Asian sago
palms are best seen as the outcome of a long-term process of human-plant
interaction. Indeed, the historic spread of Metroxylon
from its assumed centres of dispersal in New Guinea or Maluku suggest
very strongly anthropogenic factors. Ecologically, the heavy reliance
placed by Nuaulu and other indigenous peoples of Seram on sago has,
over some hundreds of years, reduced the necessity to cut forest
for swiddens. This has an important bearing on Nuaulu changing conceptions
of their environment, as we shall see.
The distribution of many other useful trees throughout the lowland
forests of Seram reflects patterns of human modification, and serve
as convenient botanical indicators of settlement histories. Many are
certain or probable domesticates and semi-domesticates. One of the
most culturally salient of these is the kenari, Canarium indicum
(=commune) . This is found so widely in lowland areas, and
in particular configurations, that its distribution must almost certainly
be explained as a consequence of human interference, both motivated
and inadvertent [Ian Edwards, personal communication]. Kenari provides
nuts rich in protein and essential oils, which are an important ingredient
in local diet, but which for the Nuaulu also have a salient symbolic
role, the precise character of which I shall return to later2.
Nuaulu practices of swidden cultivation and movement have, over several
centuries, altered the character of forest vegetation in measurable
ways: increasing the proportion of useful species, increasing the
numbers of stands of particular useful species, decreasing the proportion
of easily-extracted timber trees against those which are resistant
to extraction, creating patches of culturally productive forest in
more accessible areas, and creating dense groves of fruit trees in
old village sites. Many of the trees nowadays found in areas otherwise
not obviously modified by humans represent species introduced historically,
and even prehistorically, for their useful timber, fruits, and other
properties [Ellen 1985]. Indeed, approximately 78 percent of the 272
or more forest trees identified by the Nuaulu have particular human
uses which make them potentially subject to manipulation through forms
of protection and selective extraction. No wonder, then, that the
distinctions between mature forest, different kinds and degrees of
secondary regrowth and grove land are often difficult to establish.
Although the contribution of non-agricultural activities, narrowly-defined,
to overall Nuaulu energy expenditure and production is not to be under-estimated,
and by comparison with other Indonesian swiddening peoples is rather
high, my earlier contrast [Ellen 1975] between `domesticated' and
`non-domesticated' resources was, in retrospect, drawn too starkly.
THE NUAULU IN THE WORLD SYSTEM
The patterns of ecological change indicated in the preceding section
cannot be understood properly except in relation to the history of
contact between the forest peoples of Seram and the outside world.
The details of the early phase of the movement of biological species
in and out of Seram [Ellen 1993b] is not relevant to the specific
argument put forward in this paper, but that it happened is a part
of the general background picture. Thus, the circulation of valuables,
upon which the reproduction of Nuaulu social structure became effectively
dependent over several hundreds of years [Ellen 1988a] was based on
articles traded in from the Asian mainland; and what we know of the
dynamics of the regional Moluccan system suggests contact which goes
back much further than this, and which must have involved the export
of forest products.
The most important single factor affecting Moluccan forests during
the early period was the rise in the international demand for spices,
which by the early sixteenth century had led to the spread of production
from the northern to the central Moluccan islands. Expansion and fluctuation
in growing clove in particular from this time onwards [Ellen 1985,
1987: 39-41 played a crucial role - both directly and indirectly -
in the lives of inland and coastal peoples alike. The Nuaulu, for
example, had an identifiable role in the relations of European contact
as early as the Dutch wars of the late seventeenth century, as we
know from the VOC archives and from the `Landbeschrijving' of Rumphius
[Ellen 1988b: 118, 132n2]. We have a remarkably clear idea of the
general location of their settlements in the mountains of central
Seram from this time to the end of the nineteenth century, through
oral histories, corroborated by surface archaeology, botanical evidence
and eighteenth century maps [Ellen 1978, Ellen 1993a]. By the end
of the nineteenth century, most Nuaulu clans had relocated around
Sepa on the south coast [map 1], largely as a result of Dutch pressure,
though they have continued an essentially highland, interior-oriented,
way of life down to the present, relying on historic zones of extraction.
In the eyes of the government, other coastal peoples, and in terms
of their own self-definition, they have never ceased being uplanders
and people of the forests.
[MAP 1 ABOUT HERE]
In the present century there has been renewed clearance, on Seram
as a whole, for clove, nutmeg and other tree crops, such as coconut,
cacao and coffee. The seventies and eighties have seen the expansion
of market participation and cash-cropping (of clove, nutmeg and copra
in particular), the planting of fast-growing pulp trees, together
with accelerated rates of land sale and forest extraction. This has
mainly taken place through logging and in-migration, first spontaneous
and then official. Forest is being destroyed through unplanned slash
and burn cultivation by non-indigenous pioneer settlers, and by the
expansion of transmigration settlements into surrounding areas. There
is no doubt that rapid forest clearance of this kind is damaging,
and that long-standing sustainable practices are being eroded by technological
innovation, population pressure and market forces. Local populations
are encouraged by government to deliberately cut mature forest for
cash crops, and commercial estate plantations are spreading widely.
Logging is a particularly serious threat in the area where the Manusela
National Park meets the Samal transmigration zone. Here and elsewhere
so-called `selective' logging of Shorea selanica has
led to water shortages, serious gully erosion and soil compaction;
and has undermined existing forest ecology, resulting in more open
canopy structures, Macaranga dominance, a greater proportion
of dead wood, and herbaceous and Imperata invasions.
In terms of fauna, there has been an obvious reduction in game animals.
These effects have been systematically inventoried in the Wahai area
by Ian Darwin Edwards [1993: 9, 11], but it is instructive to compare
his description with that provided in the Nuaulu text discussed later,
and which is appended to this paper. However, it has been transmigration
and its various knock-on effects which -- more than anything else
-- have been responsible for forest transformation
NUAULU RESPONSES TO INTRUSION SINCE 1970
The phasing and character of indigenous responses to the
kinds of change I have highlighted depend very much on local perceptions
of government policy and on the character and extent to which law
and policy are interpreted by officials and translated into action.
It is now widely acknowledged, for example, that the Basic Agrarian
Law of 1960 and the Basic Forestry Law of 1967 are fundamentally contradictory
and overlapping, and viewed differently by different government departments
and in different situations. Sometimes they are used to defend the
rights of indigenous peoples, but more often they override adat, legitimating
the confiscation of land, and criminalising those local inhabitants
who insist on asserting long-established rights of use [ Colchester
1993: 75, Hurst 1990, MacAndrews 1986, Moniaga 1991, SKEPHI 1992,
SKEPHI and Kiddell-Monroe 1993, Zerner 1990]. Where there are doubts,
national interest is invariably placed above local interests [Hardjono
1991: 9]. Up until recently, Nuaulu have been beneficiaries of an,
on the whole, advantageous interpretation of the law, though as I
go on to explain, this may now be changing.
During the period covered by my own fieldwork, the Nuaulu population
has continued to grow dramatically: from 496 in 1971 to an estimated
1256 in 1990. This has led to greater pressure on existing land, intensified
by competition along the south Seram littoral with people from traditional
non-Nuaulu villages, and due to unplanned immigration, mainly of Butonese.
Growth along the south coast has been facilitated by the extension
of a metalled road during the early eighties. At about the same time
the government began to establish transmigration settlements along
the Ruatan valley [map 1].
The overtures by provincial government authorities to the Nuaulu,
with respect to these developments, were, at least initially, benign
and paternalistic. In part they have been guided by the special administrative
status of the Nuaulu as `suku terasing' [Koentjaraningrat 1993: 9-16,
Persoon 1994: 65-7]. Thus, the government recognised uncut forest
in the vicinity of transmigration settlements as `belonging' to the
Nuaulu, following the widely-held view of many non-Nuaulu inhabitants
of south Seram. They then encouraged them to move into one of the
new transmigration zone settlements along the Ruatan river, at Simalouw
[map 1], an area which abutted sago swamps long claimed and utilised
by Nuaulu. Although by 1990 only the villages of Watane and Aihisuru
had moved permanently from their earlier locations on the south coast
(about a quarter to one-third of all Nuaulu households), many Nuaulu
established temporary dwellings, used the improved transport facilities
to reach ancestral sago areas, and began to cut land for cash crop
plantations. Moreover, two clans (Matoke-hanaie and Sonawe-ainakahata)
moved even further inland and upland, out of the transmigration zone
altogether to a place called Tahena Ukuna. Many Nuaulu saw these
shifts as a return to traditional land, and for outsiders it confirmed
Nuaulu status as upland forest peoples rather than lowland and coastal.
Although Nuaulu had been located around the Muslim coastal domain
of Sepa for the best part of one hundred years, and subject to the
tutelage of its Raja, their self-image and the image of them held
by non-Nuaulu, had never been otherwise. Moreover, implicit government
recognition of Nuaulu preferential rights to over one-and-a-half thousand
square kilometres enabled them to sell land in the Ruatan area to
other incomers. This unusually positive approach was reflected in
a successfully defended land claim in the courts at Masohi, the capital
of Kabupaten Maluku Tengah.
The practical consequences of all this were alleviation of the growing
pressure on Nuaulu land generally, and an opportunity to sell land
along the more crowded south coast, most of which was sold to the
inhabitants of Sepa itself and to incoming Butonese. This latter land,
mainly old garden land and secondary forest, was a mixture of land
gifted by the Raja of Sepa since the late nineteenth century, and
land further inland which had always been regarded as Nuaulu. As I
have argued elsewhere [Ellen 1993c], altogether, this created a rarely
reported situation whereby an indigenous forest people appeared to
be endorsing further forest destruction (both in the interior and
along the south coast) by themselves and by others, for short-term
Nuaulu cash incomes certainly increased through sale of land and trade
with immigrants. Moreover, the practices which accompanied this were
not dramatically contrary to any locally-asserted principles of indigenous
ecological wisdom. However, there has recently been increased conflict
with other autochthonous villages over rights to land, disenchantment
with the effects of logging, and, since 1990, serious conflict with
settlers resulting in convictions for murder of two Saparuan migrants
being brought against three residents of Rohua. This incident was
widely reported in the local press, who made much of the manner of
death (decapitation), and of the removal of heads back to the village
and their burial near a `rumah adat'. The episode has understandably
been viewed by some government officials and other observers as a
reversion to head hunting, or confirmation that it had never ceased,
though the protagonists themselves strenuously deny such interpretations.
Whatever the case, this narrative amply highlights the fundamental
ambiguity in the concept `suku terasing', seemingly indicating both
the vulnerability of a people so labelled, their need of special protection
and advancement by the state, as well as their primitive threatening
character, which the state must subject and change. Either way, Nuaulu
are frequently viewed as prime candidates for `pembangunan' (development)
in its moral and ideological sense [Grzimek 1991: 263-83]. Moreover,
recent events reinforce a particularly pejorative local Ambonese stereotype
of interior peoples as `Alifuru', and have made it easier for the
government to explicitly expropriate territory when the occasion
I argue here that as different material and social changes have occurred
- changes which have accelerated over the last 20 years - so Nuaulu
have renegotiated their relationship with forest, and nature more
generally, in perceptibly different ways. How people conceptualise
nature depends on how they use it, how they transform it, and how,
in so doing, they invest knowledge in different parts of it. I have
argued in another paper that concepts of nature have underlying pan-human
cognitive roots, all people appearing to derive them from imperatives
to identify `things' in their field of perception, situate these in
terms of a calculus of self and other, and identify in discrete bits
and aggregations essential inner properties [Ellen in press
]. However, identifying these commonalities is not to deny
that such concepts are everywhere ambiguous, intrinsically moral
in character and a condition of knowledge [Strathern
1992: 194]. Nature is not a basic category in the sense
specified by Pascal Boyer , and means different - often contradictory
- things in different contexts. It is constantly being reworked as
people respond to new social and environmental situations [Croll and
Parkin: 1992: 16], and provides in the guise of something all-encompassing
what I have elsewhere [Ellen 1986: 24] called a 'theory of selective
representations'. Ambiguity itself, as Bloch  has pointed out,
can be socially useful. In the Nuaulu case there is an evident underlying
tension between an oppositional calculus of forest and `village' (nature
versus culture) and a non-oppositional calculus which draws much more
on the lived experience of particular strategies of subsistence which
unite what we loosely call nature and culture. Such an ambivalent
conception of nature is wholly consistent with the difficulties faced
in classifying the Nuaulu mode of subsistence according to conventional
anthropological criteria [Ellen 1988a].
Before examining how these different concepts and their relative balance
might be the outcome of a particular sequence of past events, and
before highlighting contemporary patterns of change, it is necessary
to sketch out in general terms the substance of the two apparently
competing models or orientations. I do so on the basis of ethnographic
data acquired by me at various times between 1970 and 1990. Since
it is so obviously central, I start with the Nuaulu category of forest.
The Nuaulu use the term wesie to refer to forest
of most kinds, but the term belies a complex categorical construction.
Nuaulu relate to different parts of the forest - indeed to different
species - in different ways. This mode of interaction is inimical
to a concept of forest as some kind of void or homogeneous entity,
and certain parts require different responses and evince different
conceptualisations. Some bits of forest are protected, others destroyed
without thought. Forest is never experienced as homogeneous, but is
much more of a combination (rather than a mixture ) of
different biotopes and patches. As such it well reflects the complex
historical ecology which I referred to at the beginning of this paper.
With its emphasis on human acculturation, it fits comfortably into
a non-oppositional model of the kind we more usually associate with
hunting and gathering peoples [Ingold in press ].
On the other hand, the generic term wesie exists,
and is linked into general symbolic schemes such that it stands for
some kind of conceptual exterior, a natural other. In some significant
respects it is rather like the received twentieth century English
concept of nature. Although subject to degrees of effective control
through practical and supernatural mastery, wesie
is associated with essential qualities of danger and otherness, and
opposed to an unmarked category of `culture', most palpably evident
in the category numa, `house'. As such it is intricately
linked with gender imagery [c.f. Valeri 1990]. This forest : house
: : nature : culture logic is evident in a whole raft of rituals,
and in the symbolic organisation of space. In some ways it is not
what we might expect given Nuaulu lived subsistence, with its heavy
reliance on extracting forest resources, where gardening is traditionally
rudimentary, swiddening practised on a forest-fallow basis, where
regenerated growth supplies many `forest' resources over the longer
term, and where - consequently - there is a definite blurring of
anthropogenic and other forest.
The two somewhat contradictory models we find with respect to forest
are repeated at the level of interactions with specific parts of nature.
Thus, Nuaulu are primarily vegetative rather than seed propagators,
and most of their starchy garden crops are tubers (taro, manioc, yam,
Xanthosoma ). Such agricultural regimes are widely associated
in the ethnographic literature with notions of continuity between
nature and culture, in contrast to seed propagators who tend to emphasise
a sudden transition between nature and culture [Coursey 1978]. In
particular, Nuaulu are sago palm starch extractors, and as we have
seen, this species is ambiguously wild and domesticated. Such a view
is reinforced by the highly reliable character of palm starch as a
staple, with a stable output little subject to fluctuation, lack of
economically significant pests [Flach 1976] and considerable potential
as a food reserve. In these ways, not only does sago contrast with
grain domesticates, but is superior to tubers such as yams and taro,
and is, therefore, an even better symbol of the continuity between
nature and culture.
Given that many `forest' trees show evidence of human manipulation,
occur simultaneously in cultivated and uncultivated areas, and provide
long-term supplies of particular resources without continuous human
attention and susceptibility to hazard, they too reinforce the applicability
of the non-oppositional model. However, `trees' are only homogeneous
as a category if we ruthlessly simplify it to some common cognitive
morphotype (woody, foliaceous, rigid) and different modes of extraction,
use and characteristics involve different relationships with people,
different social profiles and potential symbolic values. This often
leads to classificatory patterns which appear to cut across conventional
logics, and which are almost provocatively ambiguous. I have already
indicated that two extremely important sources of food - the sago
palm and the kenari tree - are ambivalent in terms of the nature :
culture :: forest : village logic. Both show evidence of proto-domestication,
incipient cultivation, and their distribution is heavily affected
by human use, despite the fact that they are for the most part culturally
'of the forest' and reproduce without much human interference. The
problem is accentuated by the symbolic complementarity of the two:
sago is the everyday starch staple and the product of - almost always
- male labour, while kenari is collected for special festive occasions
(such as female initiation ceremonies), when it is
combined with sago to make maia [Ellen and Goward
1984: 32]. Thus, in certain contexts sago and kenari are linked together
in opposition to products of the garden; in others they are contrasted
in terms of an implicit gender distinction. Similarly, in the sphere
of interaction with forest animals, I have [Ellen in press ]
been able to demonstrate how a single ritual associated with killing
(asumate) can simultaneously reflect a perspective
which stresses the unity of all living things, and one which stresses
human opposition through killing [c.f. Wazir-Jahan Karim 1981: 188].
Nature, I repeat, is not a basic category in the sense that it has
a rooted perceptual salience, but though it may be symbolically deployed
in radically different ways, it is still able to convey notions of
In developing a model which will help us understand how social and
ecological changes have influenced Nuaulu conceptions and representations
of forest and nature, we also need to recognise that in almost every
instance this will have been motivated by an alteration in the character
and intensity of relationships with the outside world, and how the
Nuaulu deal with this socially. As I have indicated, ecological change
has almost always been a consequence of exogenous factors: whether
this involves the introduction of new species, outside appropriation
of endemic resources or clearance of forest for extraction or agriculture.
But whenever there is an environmental interface of this kind, there
is also a cultural and social one. Transfer of new cultigens is not
just about the movement of genetic material, but of cultural knowledge
as well, knowledge which always carries a social burden. Contact
with the outside world, in particular, seldom involves actors operating
on equal terms, and the relationship is always mediated by considerations
of power and control. For their part, the Nuaulu, inevitably, represent
changes of all kinds in terms of the interplay of principles of opposition
and continuity, complementarity and hierarchy3, symbolic schemes as
opposed to practical experiences, outside influence versus persisting
tradition. To show how this might work, we can, I think, provisionally
identify three historical periods which are likely to have been associated
with somewhat different conceptualisations of the natural world: pre-European
contact, the VOC and early colonial period until about 1880, 1880
to 1980, and 1980 to the present.
From what we can reconstruct of pre-European Nuaulu social organisation,
clans appear to have occupied separate dispersed settlements and had
considerable autonomy, entering into loose alliances only for the
purpose of intermittent political negotiation and to manage hostilities
with outsiders. Thus, that subsistence placed less stress on gardening
than became the case later was wholly in keeping with what we know
of political arrangements. We might, therefore, expect here a concept
of nature which focusses much more on the symbolic logic of vegetative
propagation and the systematic harvesting of forest trees, and which
involves a less oppositional conception of wesie.
Moving around in forest is not conducive, after all, to developing
an enduring opposition with it. Historically, we know gardening
on Seram to be very underdeveloped, and even at the present time gardens
are relatively unimportant in many areas, while in describing Nuaulu
subsistence the distinction between `gathering' and `cultivation'
is very fuzzy [Ellen 1988a: 117, 119, 123, 126-7]. There is no new
evidence, as yet, ethnobotanical or archaeological [Stark and Latinus
1992], to suggest that horticulture amongst the native peoples of
Seram was once more important than it is now [c.f. Balée 1992],
except the general ethnological observation that pioneer migrant Austronesian
speakers, their linguistic if not directly genetic precursors, depended
on domesticates, including - in all probability - seed cultigens [Blust
1976, Bellwood 1978: 141].
The new embeddedness in the world system which developed from the
sixteenth century onwards opened-up new pan-Pacific links, cut-out
intermediary connections, and intensified exchange with Oriental,
Asiatic and European centres. It also had immediate economic consequences
in terms of spice production, and longer term implications for subsistence
ecology. With the introduction of maize, manioc, Xanthosoma
and Ipomea , reliable garden yields increased making
these cultigens competitive with sago in their reliability and superior
in the effort required to harvest them. This appears to have led
to a greater dependence on gardens [Ellen 1988a: 123]. Almost all
the new garden crops were vegetatively reproducing tubers, therefore
sustaining a pre-existing relationship with nature; but they also
began a longer term process of decentering sago from peoples conceptions
of nature. Although sago is still culturally salient for the Nuaulu,
amongst many present-day peoples of the central Moluccas sago (an
indigenous crop) is nutritionally crucial but widely seen as inferior
to (imported) rice. The same crops, because they decreased dependency
on sago and other forest resources, encouraged greater emphasis on
the symbolic opposition between gardens and forest. Increasing attention
to cash-cropping, which both required high yield cultigens to offset
the reduction of time and land available for subsistence extraction,
and which provided opportunities to purchase - for example - rice,
further accentuated this division.
The next major change came when the peripheral areas of Seram were
formally drawn into the administrative system of the Dutch East Indies
in the eighteen-eighties. From this time onwards environmental and
social distinctions which had hitherto been implicit became underscored
by administrative fiat. We have seen that from at least the late seventeenth
century, the Nuaulu have had a distinct political identity. They have
identifiable leaders, and were in various alliances, always including
Sepa. Indeed, this long history of contact has made Nuaulu ultra-sensitive
to questions of identity vis-a-vis other cultural groups, even though
that identity has not always been reflected in any degree of permanent
political centralisation. Formal incorporation into the Dutch administrative
system, however, required that this identity and arrangement of traditional
alliances of mutual advantage be regularised [Ellen 1988b: 118-9],
both for administrative convenience and to provide the Nuaulu themselves
with an effective channel of political communication. It is not, therefore,
surprising, that at this time, when the Nuaulu clans were relocating
around Sepa, when Sepa was - in Dutch eyes - becoming administratively
responsible for Nuaulu `rust, orde en belasting', that there emerges
a line of Nuaulu `rajas'. This, in turn, changes the terms of the
oppositional relationship between Nuaulu and Sepa into a more hierarchical
one. Clans begin to lose some of their autonomy, even though the line
of rajas effectively terminated after only a few generations. And
ever since, the question of a Nuaulu raja and his possible reinstatement
has been an issue which has periodically become the subject of heated
debate, most recently at the time of the establishment of the Nuaulu
presence at Simalouw. The same necessity for formal mechanisms to
communicate with the outside world is reflected in Nuaulu involvement
in rituals of the Indonesian state.
Nuaulu movement to the coast meant a shift from a pattern of dispersed
clan-hamlets and swiddens to concentrated multi-clan villages with
large connected areas of garden land. This, in turn, led to a reconceptualization
of the forest : farm boundary (wasi : wesie
(juridical), nisi : wesie (technical),
and therefore a move towards a more contrastive forest : village scheme.
I have discussed on several previous occasions the changes in Nuaulu
social relations of land use which followed from this [Ellen 1977,
Ellen 1993c]: land sale, cash-cropping, individualisation, permanent
occupancy - all of which still further emphasised a concept of nature
in which contrastive properties predominated.
So, it is at least plausible that the apparent contradiction between
oppositional and non-oppositional models of nature, the one more concordant
with external relations of exchange, the other with internal subsistence
experience, is a dialectical function of a particular transitional
history. It might also be connected with the historic emphasis on
exchange and the influence and internalisation of Austronesian symbolic
schemes otherwise more amenable to seed-cultivation. Whatever the
case, the balance is tipping in favour of an emergent, more oppositional,
reified, concept of forest/nature. Amongst the coastal peoples of
Seram (such as the inhabitants of Sepa) the enduring perception of
the Nuaulu has been of a forest people - the opposite of themselves.
Forest is a much stronger exteriority for coastal Muslims than it
has traditionally been for animist Nuaulu, but it is towards this
view that the Nuaulu are now progressing. Similarly, the Dutch colonial
government, and thereafter the Indonesian government, created forest
as a strong official category, establishing bureaucracies to manage
it, a component in a wider state administrative division of labour,
which encouraged implicit linkages between the geographical designation
of forest and the social category `suku terasing'.
Moreover, as forest has been reduced in extent, so its representation
as some kind of ether in which humans are suspended has been transformed
into a much more restricted environmental category, just one ever-diminishing
part of a wider non-afforested dwelling space. Not only does the small
size of Moluccan islands make the forest more vulnerable physically,
but also, as forest disappears, so it is reconceived as a fundamentally
limited, rather than limit-less, good. Thus, both material experience
of environmental change and the necessity to participate in a state
level of discourse are reifying Nuaulu concepts of forest, just as
environmental degradation and the ecological movement have done in
the West. In order to protect their own lives, Nuaulu find themselves
adopting the discourse of officialdom and national politics, responding
to agendas dictated by the state. From a history of commitment to
environmental change, they have now adopted a rhetoric which we would
recognise as broadly `environmentalist'.
NEW RHETORICS AND RAPID SOCIAL CHANGE
What I have in mind by this new conception of nature and its relation
to a more reflexive, globally-situated understanding of Nuaulu identity
is well exemplified by two empirical cases: the first is a video-recording
(cassette 90-2, 8-3-90) which I was asked to make by the people of
Rohua in 1990 and which was prompted by Nuaulu concerns of state non-recognition
of their religion; the second is a text recorded and transcribed in
1994 by Rosemary Bolton addressed as a personnel appeal to me.
The first - the video recording - consists of three parts, all of
which refer to performances which occurred on 8 March. The first is
a formal address given by Komisi Soumori (the kepala kampung and most
senior secular clan head). It is an impassioned assertion of the legitimacy
of Nuaulu core beliefs, showing how Nuaulu identity is rooted in land,
forest and sago. This is unashamedly broadcast to an outside, unseen,
audience. What is significant about this is its presentation: it is
given in Nuaulu, because to speak of such things in any other language
is to deny Nuauluness, but also because Komisi is most comfortable
in Nuaulu. But the oratorical style and the physical props - rostrum
etc - indicate the acceptance that discourse is at a state level [figure
1]. The second part is a short dramatic performance by adolescents
about discrimination of Nuaulu customs and religion at school and
in the labour market. This is conducted entirely in terms of a performance
rhetoric which is alien to Nuaulu, and which is, appropriately, spoken
in Indonesian - the language of the state. Paradoxically, such conventions
(and the education through which they are acquired) inevitably result
in the further attrition of Nuaulu identity, and perhaps its eventual
disappearance. The third part is a speech by the ia onate (kepala)
pemuda, Sonohue Soumori, again in Indonesian, which pulls the various
themes together. Such reflections can also be cast in a more traditional
idiom - such as the kepata ararinae and kepata Sepa - though on this
occasion they were not.
[FIGURE 1 ABOUT HERE]
The transcribed text, the English language version of which is provided
here as appendix 1, is a rather different kind of document. It was
dictated by a long-standing acquaintance to Rosemary Bolton, and is
separated in time from the 1990 performance by the harrowing events
of 1993 in the Ruatan transmigration area, which I have already referred
to. These events are structurally significant in Nuaulu representations
of themselves, because an attempt to defend legitimate interests resulted
in defeat. The rugged independence and assertiveness so typical of
the seventies and eighties, and so well exemplified in the 1990 videotaped
events, has - it would seem - been replaced by a new quiescence and
passivity: `we are quiet and obeying them' (section 5). From a position
in which Nuaulu saw themselves negotiating with the
Indonesian state, they are now simply citizens of that
same state. There is an acceptance that events are no longer under
their own control, that they can no longer take them or leave them.
As it happens, Nuaulu have a history of accommodating certain kinds
of pragmatic change. This may explain their cultural survival, when
most other groups of tribal animists on Seram have all but disappeared.
But Nuaulu now claim not to want anything to do with the outside agents
of change: government or logging companies. There is a realisation
that the government does not keep its promises (7).
We can also see from this text how it is that the rapidity of environmental
change has forced the Nuaulu to redefine nature, to see connections
between microclimatic change, deforestation and erosion, and game
depletion; between land clearance, river flow, impacting caused by
logging vehicles, and fish depletion. We can see in it how Nuaulu
now identify their forest as a whole as a commodity, something which
has exchange value, when previously it was inalienable. We find an
equation between big trees and profit (5-6), and governmental prohibition
on sale. To begin with, Nuaulu accepted the advantages brought by
the lumber companies: vehicles used the tracks and kept them clear,
the tracks and trucks facilitated hunting (1,2). We also find recognition
that replacement of large stands is in a time scale that is beyond
the use of Nuaulu, that sustainable use has been superseded by something
which Nuaulu would never seek to sustain (6), that old secondary forest,
based on the cutting of patches and individual stands [Ellen 1985]
has been replaced by wholesale clearance, which results in quite different
patterns of regeneration, including more noxious vegetation (e.g.
thorns). And the blame for these changes is placed quite squarely
at the feet of logging companies and the state
So, recent Nuaulu reworking of their conceptions and responses to
nature show that state patronage and state categories are no less
central to understanding what is going on at the forest frontier than
they are for lowland agrarian processes [c.f. Hart 1989: 31]. `Bringing
the state into the analysis....entails understanding how power struggles
at different levels of society are connected with one another and
related to access to and control over resources' [ op cit
p. 48]. As the forest frontier reproduces the inequalities of the
wider state and its economically dominant groups, and as short-term
production for use arises and is sustained by production for exchange
[Gudeman 1988: 216], as Nuaulu move from being semi-independent `tribesmen'
to dependent peasants, so their conception of nature reflects this.
There is, in an important sense, an ecological, economic and conceptual
continuity between forest modification and farming, and redefining
forest extraction as a kind of farming may help us appreciate its
similarities with the agrarian process.
In the Nuaulu case, intensification of subsistence agriculture, cash-cropping,
forest extraction, commercial logging and transmigration combine to
threaten an existing relationship with the forest. But Nuaulu attitudes
have always been tactical, depending on their perceived material interests,
and their conceptualisation of nature reflects this. The initial
response to forest destruction and consequent land settlement was
seen to have advantages in terms of a traditional model of forest
interaction, based on implicit notions of sustainability
of reproductive cycles of tree growth and animal populations. When
this logic failed, complacency was replaced by uncertainty and bewilderment,
eventually translating into hostility and decisive actions to defend
their subsistence interests. Punitive actions taken by the state in
response to this, have engendered further uncertainty and bewilderment.
What I have tried to demonstrate in this paper is that there is a
connection between shifting Nuaulu conceptions of nature (particularly
of environmental change), their social identity and the way they interact
with the outside world.
There is nothing intrinsically problematic about environmental change
for the Nuaulu. As we have seen, their cultural history is full of
it. There is no overarching `ecocosmology' which rules it culturally
illegitimate. Indeed, during the early phase of transmigration and
logging in the eighties it was regarded wholly positively. What we
need to recognise, however, is that there are different kinds of environmental
change. The crucial distinctions here are between change which you
can control, and change which is outside your control (and more specifically,
is controlled by outsiders), and between change which is readily recognised
as bearing unacceptable detrimental risks and that which is not so
recognised. In terms of both distinctions it is the scale
of change which provokes direct or delayed political responses and
conceptual rejigging. The older, local, forms of knowledge which
underpin Nuaulu subsistence strategies are qualitatively different
from knowledge of macro-level processes, `environmental consciousness'
in the abstract, which only comes with a widening of political and
ecological horizons to a global level.
This global consciousness is no better symbolised than by the arrival
of electronic means of communication in Nuaulu villages, first radio
and then television. Television has not only enabled Nuaulu to keep
in touch with the world by watching English league soccer matches
and Thomas Cup badminton, but - and this is the reflexive twist -
to watch David Attenborough eulogise tropical rainforest in its death
throws. Despite a long history of contact with the outside world,
changing patterns of environmental modification, patterns of subsistence
and the conceptual modulation of these things, it is major changes
associated with cultural globalisation which have forced a really
radical response from them. It could be said that the aggressive individualism
of the eighties, the selling of land and market engagement represented
both the end of an old small-scale conception of nature in which resources
and forest are infinite, and the beginning of a new conception of
participation in an open global ecology of limited goods. The changes,
therefore, are a response to a different problematic, to a different
social and political agenda, rather than a rejection of environmental
change itself or an a priori endorsement of ecological holism. Nuaulu
constructions of environment are changing to accommodate a new level
of discourse, and it is no coincidence that those who currently complain
that their schooled children are unable to obtain appropriate employment
in the Indonesian state because they are told that the doctrine of
Pancasila is an impediment, also -- though paradoxically -- adopt
an environmentalist rhetoric which seeks to keep the state from from
The writing of this paper was supported by ESRC grants R000
23 3028 and R000 23 6082, and EC contract B7-5041-94.08-VIII, Avenir
des peuples des Forêts Tropicales. Administrative permissions
and financial backing for fieldwork on Seram between 1970 and 1990
are fully acknowledged at Ellen 1993a: xv-xvi. I am indebted to
Rosemary Bolton of the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Ambon,
and to its anonymous Nuaulu author, for permission to reproduce the
text presented here as Appendix 1.
1. Lowland is used here to refer to a forest type generally dominated
by the dipterocarp Shorea selanica , in contrast to the
montane vegetation of higher altitudes. In fact, the lowland forest
of Seram covers, on the whole, hilly country and may extend to an
altitude of some 1000 meters.
2. Another striking case of human management of forest trees (though
not one which I have observed in the Nuaulu area) is reported by Soedjito
et al  for higher altitude forests in west Seram. Here, seedlings
of the resin-producing Agathis dammara , important as
a source of cash, are systematically planted to replace older, less
3. Nuaulu symbolically represent their relations with the outside
world, dialectically, in two ways: in terms of relations of complementarity,
and in terms of hierarchy. The first is exemplified in the relationship
between most local clans, in pela partnerships (that
is between individuals linked through historical blood siblinghoods
between villages) and through common membership of the patalima
grouping [Valeri 1986]. The second is reflected in their relations
with Sepa and the Indonesian state. Here they manage to assert, simultaneously,
a mythic superiority (usually expressed in the conventional adik-kakak
metaphor) and a pragmatic political submissiveness. The articulation
of the two principles, however, is on their terms. They insist that
they are prepared to accept the benefits of a good raja, but equally
prepared to withdraw into their own autonomy when it suits them.
Map 1. The eastern part of the Amahai sub-district, Seram, showing
historical, recent and present Nuaulu settlements, and other places
mentioned in the text. The numbered locations are as follows (Nuaulu
settlements in italics ): 1. Wai Ruatan transmigration
zone (Kilo 5 - Kilo 11), 2. Simalouw (Kilo 9), 3. Tahena
Ukuna (Kilo 12), 4. Makariki, 5. Masohi, 6. Amahai, 7, Bunara,
8. Watane, 9. Aihisuru, 10. Sepa,
11. Hahuwalan, 12. Rohua, 13. Tamilouw.
Figure 1. Three frames from a videotape recorded on 8 March 1990 and
discussed in this paper. Komisi Soumori (ia onate Soumori and kepala
kampung) addresses the world. His props include a young clove seedling
and sago palm. Note the makeshift rostrum behind which he stands.
LIST OF REFERENCES
Aumeeruddy, Y. and J. Bakels 1994 Management of a sacred forest in
the Kerinci valley, central Sumatra: an example of conservation of
biological diversity and its cultural basis. Journal d'Agriculture
Tropicale et de Botanique Appliquée 36(2), 39-65
Balée, W. 1992: People of the fallow: a historical ecology
of foraging in lowland south America. In Conservation of
neotropical forests: working from traditional resource use.
35-57, (eds.) Redford, K. H. and C. Padoch. New York:
Columbia University Press.
Bellwood, P. 1978: Man's conquest of the Pacific: the
prehistory of southeast Asia and Oceania. London: Collins.
Bloch, M. 1974: Symbols, song, dance and features of
articulation: is religion an extreme form of traditional
authority?. European Journal of Sociology 15, (1), 55-81 .
Blust, R. 1976: Austronesian culture history: some
linguistic inferences and their relations to the
archaeological record. World Archaeology 8, 1 19-43.
Boyer, P. 1993: Cognitive aspects of religious symbolism.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Clay, J. W. 1988: Indigenous peoples and tropical forests.
New York: Cultural Survival Inc.
Croll, E. and D. Parkin 1992: Cultural understandings of the
environment. In Bush base:forest farm : culture, environment
and development, pp. 11-36. (eds.) Croll, E. and D. Parkin. London:
Dove, M. R. 1983: Theories of swidden agriculture and the
political economy of ignorance. Agroforestry Systems 1,
Edwards, I. D. 1993: Introduction. In Natural history of
Seram, Maluku, Indonesia, pp. 1-12. (eds.) Edwards, I. D., A.
Macdonald and J. Proctor. Andover: Intercept.
Ellen, R. F. 1975: Non-domesticated resources in Nuaulu
ecological relations. Social Science Information 14, (5),
Ellen, R. F. 1977: Resource and commodity: problems in the
analysis of the social relations of Nuaulu land use.
Journal of Anthropological Research 33, 50-72.
Ellen, R. F. 1985: Patterns of indigenous timber extraction
from Moluccan rain forest fringes. Journal of Biogeography
Ellen, R. F. 1986: Microcosm, macrocosm and the Nuaulu
house: concerning the reductionist fallacy as applied to
metaphorical levels. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en
Volkenkunde 142 (1), 1-30.
Ellen, R. F. 1988a: Foraging, starch extraction and the
sedentary lifestyle in the lowland rainforest of central
Seram. In History, evolution and social change in hunting
and gathering societies, pp. 117-34. (eds.) Woodburn, J., T. Ingold
D. Riches. London: Berg.
Ellen, R. F. 1988b: Ritual, identity, and the management of
interethnic relations on Seram, pp. 117-35. In Time past, time present,
time future: essays in honour of P. E. de Josselin de Jong
(Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-,
Land- en Volkenkunde 131). (eds.) Moyer, D. S. and H. J. M.
Claessen. Dordrecht-Holland, Providence-U.S.A.: Foris.
Ellen, R. 1993a: Nuaulu ethnozoology: a systematic inventory
of categories. (CSAC Monogr. 6) Centre for Social Anthropology
and Computing and Centre for Southeast Asian Studies: University of
Kent at Canterbury.
Ellen, R. F. 1993b: Human impact on the environment of
Seram, pp. 191-205. In Natural history of Seram, Maluku, Indonesia.
(eds.) Edwards, I. D., A. A. Macdonald and J. Proctor.
Ellen, R. F. 1993c: Rhetoric, practice and incentive in the
face of the changing times: a case study of Nuaulu attitudes
to conservation and deforestation, pp. 126-43. In Environmentalism:
view from anthropology. (ed.) Milton, K.. London:
Ellen, R. [in press]: The cognitive geometry of nature: a
contextual approach. In Nature and society: anthropological
perspectives. (eds.) Palsson, G. and P. Descola. London:
Ellen, R. F. and N. J. Goward 1984: Papeda dingin, papeda
dingin...Notes on the culinary uses of palm sago in the
central Moluccas. Petits Propos Culinaires 16, 28-34.
Flach, M. 1976: Yield potential of the sagopalm and its
realisation. In Sago-76: First international sago symposium:
the equatorial swamp as a natural resource. 157-77, (ed.)
Tan, K.. Kuala Lumpur: Kemajuan Kanji.
Goss, J. D. 1992: Transmigration in Maluku: notes on
present condition and future prospects. Cakalele, Maluku
Research Journal 3, 87-98.
Grzimek, Benno R. 1991 Social change on Seram: a study of ideologies
of development in eastern Indonesia. Thesis submitted for the Degree
of Doctor of Philosophy: London School of Economics and Political
Science, University of London.
Hardjono, J. 1991: The dimensions of Indonesia's
environmental problems, pp. 1-16. In Indonesia: resources, ecology
environment. (ed.) Hardjono, J.. Oxford: Oxford University
Hart, G. 1989: Agrarian change in the context of state
patronage, pp. 31-49. In Agrarian transformations: local processes
the state in Southeast Asia. (eds.) Hart, G., A. Turton and
B. White. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Hurst, P. 1990: Rainforest politics: ecological destruction
in southeast Asia. London: Zed Books.
Ingold, T. [in press]: Hunting and gathering as ways of
perceiving the environment. In Redefining nature: ecology,
culture and domestication. (eds.) Ellen, R. and K. Fukui.
Oxford, New York: Berg.
Karim, W. A. 1981: Mah Betisek concepts of humans, plants
and animals. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde
137, 1 35-60.
Koentjaraningrat 1993: Pendahuluan, pp. 1-18. In Masyarakat terasing
di Indonesia (Seri Etnographi Indonesia 4). (ed.)
Koentjaraningrat. Jakarta: Gramedia Pustaka Utama.
MacAndrews, C. 1986: Land policy in modern Indonesia.
Boston: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
Maloney, B. K. 1993: Climate, man, and thirty thousand
years of vegetation change in north Sumatra. Indonesian
Environmental History Newsletter 2, 3-4.
Moniaga, S. 1991 Toward community-based forestry and
recognition of adat property rights in the outer islands of
Indonesia, pp. 113-33. In Voices from the field: Fourth Annual Social
Forestry Writing Workshop, J. Fox, O. Lynch, M. Zimsky and
E. Moore. Honolulu: East-West Center.
Moran, E. F. 1988: Social reproduction in agricultural
frontiers, pp. 199-212. In Production and autonomy: anthropological
studies and critiques of development (Monographs in Economic
Anthropology 5). (eds.) Bennett, J. W. and J. R.
Bowen. Lanham: University Press of America.
Persoon, G. A. 1994: Vluchten of Veranderen: processen van
verandering en ontwikkeling bij tribale groepen in
Indonesie. Leiden: Riksuniversiteit te Leiden, Faculteit
der Sociale Wetenschappen.
Padoch, C. and N. Peluso [in press] Changing resource rights in
managed forests of West Kalimantan. In Borneo in transition: people,
forests, conservation and development, N. Peluso and C. Padoch
Rambo, A. Terry 1979 Primitive man's impact on genetic resources of
the Malaysian tropical rainforest. Malaysian Applied Biology 8(1),
Schmink, M., K. H. Redford and C. Padoch 1992: Traditional
peoples and the biosphere: framing the issues and defining
the terms, pp. 3-13. In Conservation of neotropical forests: working
from traditional resource use, (eds.) Redford, K. H.
and C. Padoch. New York: Columbia University Press.
SKEPHI and R. Kiddell-Monroe 1993: Indonesia: land rights
and development, pp. 228-63. In The struggle for land and the fate
the forests. (eds.) Colchester, M. and L. Lohmann. Penang,
Malaysia: World Rainforest Movement.
SKEPHI 1992: Logging and the sinking island. Inside
Indonesia 33, 23-5.
Soedjito, H., A. Suyanto and E. Sulaeman 1986 Sumber daya alam
di pulau Seram Barat, Propinsi Maluku. Jakarta: Lembaga Biologi Nasional.
Stark, Ken and Kyle Latinus 1992 Research report: the archaeology
of sago economies in central Maluku. Cakalele: Maluku Research Journal
Valeri, V. 1989: Reciprocal centers: the Siwa-Lima system
in the central Moluccas, pp. 117-41. In The attraction of opposites.
(eds.) Maybury-Lewis, D. and U. Almagor. Ann Arbor:
University of Michigan Press.
Valeri, V. 1990: Both nature and culture: reflections on
menstrual and parturitional taboos in Huaulu (Seram), pp. 235-72.
Power and difference: gender in island Southeast Asia.
(eds.) Atkinson, J. M. and S. Errington. Stanford,
California: Stanford University Press.
Zerner, C. 1990 Community rights, customary law, and the
law of timber concessions in Indonesia's forests: legal
options and alternatives in designing the commons. Jakarta:
FAO Forestry Studies TF/INS/065.