Wildlife in Asia: Cultural Perspectives

By John Knight | Go to book overview

8

FARMING THE FOREST EDGE

Perceptions of wildlife among the Kerinci of Sumatra

Jet Bakels


Introduction

Anthropologists have long viewed hunter-gatherers and farmers in mutually exclusive terms. They have contrasted the ‘relations of sacred companionship between men and animals’ of hunter-gatherers with the dualistic view of nature among farmers (Sinclair 1977:20). As Sinclair argues, in the shift from hunter to farmer, ‘[t]he psychology of the forest man gave way to the psychology of the field man, as timber retreated before the ax’ (ibid. ). Nurit Bird-David states that cultivators ‘see themselves as living not in [the forest] or by it, only despite it… opposing it with fear, mistrust and occasional hate’ (Bird-David 1990:190). According to Peter Boomgaard, ‘peasants and farmers throughout history in whatever part of the world…feared and often hated ‘wild nature’ (Boomgaard et al. 1997:17).

To what extent is this true? In this chapter I shall examine the view of wildlife among a group of forest-edge cultivators in the Kerenci district of Central Sumatra. I show that for these cultivators the view of ‘wild nature’ is rather more complex than is suggested above. These farmers, cultivating rice, vegetables and cash crops, routinely suffer from wildlife pestilence and in response hunt these animals—in what might be called defensive hunting. Farmer antagonism with wildlife is therefore clearly evident among the Kerinci. But forest wildlife are not viewed simply as ‘pests’ that can be straightforwardly removed by hunting and trapping. Rather, the hunting of these crop-raiding animals has to be understood in terms of the larger relationship between these cultivators and the forest around them.

In what follows I shall sketch the conceptual framework in which the forest domain, with its spirits and wild animals, stands in a dynamic relationship with the village domain. I shall describe the forest as a ‘cultural space’ which is populated by animals and spirits that live according to their own rules of

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