SOPHIE CHAO, then a graduate student at Macquarie University, Macquarie, Australia, was awarded funding in October 2015 to aid research on 'Agribusiness Land Grabs and Transforming Indigenous Foodways: Towards a Theory of Hunger and Satiety in West Papua,' supervised by Dr. Jaap Timmer. This research explores how oil palm expansion and deforestation are experienced and conceptualized by the indigenous Marind-Anim of West Papua, Indonesia. Six months of fieldwork were carried out in three Marind villages, complemented by interviews with corporate, government, NGO, and United Nations bodies, as well as by research in an oil palm plantation. Initially focused on transforming indigenous foodways, the research reveals a much broader cosmological context in Marind culture in which plants constitute particular kinds of persons, endowed with their own agency and desires. Oil palm (a non-native plant cultivated commercially as food and fuel source) and sago (the endemic and traditional Marind food crop) come to act as the two extremes in a dynamic spectrum of morality, embodying political, historical, and spiritual meanings that shape how the Marind experience the advent of oil palm. The research suggests that landscape transformations in the Anthropocene may be usefully approached from a multispecies perspective, in which non-human beings (in this case, plants) participate in their own and different ways in the making of emergent ecologies. It also reveals the importance of engaged anthropology towards informing the policies and prospects of state, corporate, and civil society stakeholders in contexts were development-driven transformations fail to take into account the worldviews of those communities directly affected by them.
Dissertation Fieldwork Grant
Chao, Sophie Marie Helene, Macquarie U., Macquarie, Australia - To aid research on 'Agribusiness Land Grabs and Transforming Indigenous Foodways: Towards a Theory of Hunger and Satiety in West Papua,' supervised by Dr. Jaap Timmer