Off to London, to speak about the state of public policy regarding climate change in Vanuatu, and contrast that to: 1) examples of indigenous knowledge practices that can interleave with and enrich some of these initiatives as well as broader international efforts in this direction, and 2) provide indispensable insights into how some local communities perceive and react to the whole issue of climate change.
Some more detailed info regarding our upcoming presentation for the IPMPCC conference.
Seasonal environmental practices and climate fluctuations in Melanesia.
An assessment of small island societies in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.
Frederick H. DAMON
a paper to be presented within the context of the workshop:
19 – 21 July 2011,
Mexico City, Mexico
II. Changing Scenes in eastern Papua New Guinea
- Background to Milne Bay Province, PNG
- Sea level changes
- Crossing times. The new confusions…
III. Torres Islands
- The physical environment and traditional knowledge
- Regular (annual) climatic fluctuations
- Longer term fluctuations (quakes, and the 7 and 14-17 year cycles; and ENSO)
Climate change impact and adaptation
 Department of Social Anthropology, University of Virginia, USA
 Centro de Estudios de Asia y África, El Colegio de México, MEXICO
* Organized by the United Nations University (UNU), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Next month Fred Damon (my mentor and colleague from UVa) and I will be presenting a paper at an international workshop titled Indigenous Peoples, Marginalized Populations and Climate Change: Vulnerability, Adaptation and Traditional Knowledge.
I’m particularly glad about having had our paper accepted for this event, because it will allow us to come into contact with some of the great work that the UN, the Christensen Fund, and other important agencies are carrying out in Melanesia in relation to traditional knowledge and climate change.
Herewith the details:
Frederick H. DAMON
Department of Social Anthropology, University of Virginia, USA
 Centro de Estudios de Asia y África, El Colegio de México, MEXICO
Seasonal environmental practices and climate fluctuations in Melanesia. An assessment of small island societies in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.
Keywords Seasonal production systems, climate fluctuations, indigenous adaptability, small island societies, Melanesia
The aim of this paper is to offer an overview of environmental knowledge practices and short- and long-term climate fluctuations in relation to two small Pacific Islands’ societies in the region of the Western Pacific commonly known as Melanesia. The societies in question are located 1) in the island of Muyuw (Woodlark Island), on the northern side of the Kula ring, in Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea, and 2) in the Torres Islands, in the north of the Vanuatu archipelago. The principal object of our paper is to offer a critical assessment of the contemporary state of human-environmental relations in these communities, with special attention to the inherent adaptability of the food production systems of each society, as well as the multifarious forms of guardianship and exploitation of forest and marine resources. We will include descriptions of the manner in which local productive and ritual activity relates to climate fluctuations, and attempt to draw conclusions regarding the potential adaptability of these traditional practices in relation to the consequences of anthropogenic climate change in the near future. For the past decade the authors of this paper have carried out collaborative research regarding the seasonal environmental activities of both island groups. Since 2008, with support from the National Science Foundation, we have carried out an ambitious, comparative research initiative undertaken with more than 15 colleagues who specialize in different areas of the Pacific Islands, Asia and the Americas; our primary focus has been the flexibility of traditional environmental knowledge in different parts of the Pacific Rim and Islands. This work has been facilitated by closely collaborating with specific local actors. In the case of Vanuatu, this has involved the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and National Museum through its unique Extension Fieldworkers’ Program, which is aimed at enabling the participation of local people in the processes and output of scientific research. In the case of Muyuw, Damon has worked closely and on a long term basis with various key informants in relation to the analysis of forest growth and the use and conceptualization of trees in the construction and use of Kula-related canoes.
I have sometimes been asked (on and off blog) about what I read. I recently found that reading about other colleagues’ current readings can be interesting, and even motivated me to look into a couple of books I wouldn’t otherwise have known about. So without more ado, here are five readings that I am currently going through or have just recently finished (within the past week):
Steven Roger Fischer, Island at the End of the World, London, Reaktion Books, 2005.
This is part of my current readings regarding Rapa Nui, in preparation for a follow up trip this Summer (Austral Winter) and an initial paper that I am working on regarding contemporary indigenous struggles on the island. Also part of a broader look at Eastern Polynesian history, of which I have been relatively ignorant until recently. I confess that I had initially had my doubts about the author, when I first encountered Fischer’s work via his History of the Pacific Islands, I wasn’t sure what to make of him. The History is a competent summary, but didn’t really seem to add much and fell short of the kind of innovative historical writing I have come to associate with Oceanic scholars in recent years. However, I was really impressed with his history of Rapa Nui. It is, I dare say, the most comprehensive summary of the unfolding of Rapa Nui events and periods that I have come across in a format that is readable by a general public. His sources are highly interdisciplinary, he is evidently very well acquainted with the place, people AND language (this last one matters to me). Five starts, all round.
Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore, Melbourne, Vintage, 1988.
This classic, if slightly dated, historical narrative of the convict years in Australia (1788-1868) had been waiting on my bedside table for far too long. It is now one of my secondary readings, the sort I pick up when I go out for a coffee or am simply sitting around the living room. Much to be criticised in terms of analytical depth, but I am essentially going through this as a primer on facts and processes with which I continue to be only faintly familiar (Aussie history is not my forte, period). But it is also a part of a broader, serious list of readings that I am attempting to get through in preparation for the drafting of a two-volume general history of Oceania in Spanish that I have begun to design with a coauthor (more on that later).
Eickelman and Piscatori (eds.), Muslim Travellers. Pilgrimage, Migration, and the Religious Imagination, Berkeley, UC Press, 1990
I’ve just finished going through this book as part of a much larger set of readings that I had to go through in relation to a collective volume, which I am editing with another two colleagues, regarding the anthropology of pilgrimage. The manuscript was submitted today (yay!), and I am now collapsing after the exhausting work of last minute editorial work. The book itself contains 14 chapters by various authors regarding pilgrimage, or associated phenomena, in different world regions, including China (2 chapters dedicated to that), Tibet (2 chapters to that), Africa (another 2 chapters), North America (5 chapters, including Mexico and USA), Korea, South Asia and the Pacific. I have singled out this particular volume from among a VERY large list which included stuff by Makhan Jha and of course Toni Huber and a bunch of other Middle Easter/South Asian/Himalayan/Tibetanist authors whose stuff I went through, because I think it is one of the few attempts at serious comparative discussion that takes pilgrimage seriously on local terms, rather than attempt to impose it as a universalistic (if wholly Judaeo-Christian) category. Consequently, it provides some important insights from which the specialist work of later scholars has been able to build up.
Books I have just begun to read:
Greg Dening, Islands and Beaches. Discourse on a Silent Land: Marquesas (1774-1880), UH Press, 1980. (hopelessly out-of-print…thank heavens for abebooks)
I just got this today, after some long searching on the net. Am all ready and eager to dive into it. I realise Dening has come in for criticism from important Oceanic historians (including by good friend Bronnie Douglas), however you gotta love his style. This will be my second, much more in-depth, reading of Islands and Beaches, and I am all looking forward to it.
J.M.G. Le Clézio, Raga. Approche du continent invisible, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 2006.
I picked this up in Paris last month. I had not paid much attention to Le Clézio back in 2008 when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, even though at least a couple of his novels were set in and inspired by his Mexican sojourn. However, since he also seems to have been messing around with Vanuatu, seems like its time to see what this is all about. Am hoping I can concentrate long enough to write up a quick review for this blog in the coming weeks.
And that just about does it. During this past Easter weekend I also tried to get up to date with my LRB readings…but I’m still hopelessly three months behind.
Note (added 28 April 2011): This list doesn’t include the numerous seminar readings for this term, which currently focus on the modern history of Island South East Asia (yes, that’s not a typo; I never got used to writing it Southeast Asia anyway). And I also forgot to mention my current bedside reading, which is David Mitchell’s truly astonishing Cloud Atlas.
The transformation of ‘being’ and its implications for rituals of concealment and revelation in Mesoamerica
dans le colloque
Montrer/Occulter. Les actions de modifications de la visibilité dans des contextes rituels. Approches comparatives
organisé par le groupe de recherche « Ontologie des images, figuration et relations rituelles » (Insituto de Investigación Historicas / UNAM – MQB)
et le Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale (CNRS)
Shifting Ontologies in Melanesia and Mesoamerica.
Joint paper by C. Mondragon & Johannes Neurath
Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge
ABSTRACT for Shifting Ontologies:
This paper offers a comparative discussion about the ritual articulations between transformation and reciprocal exchange in two different culture regions – the Huichol of NW Mexico and the Torres Islands, Vanuatu. Our intention is to problematise the continuing notion that ritual practices are informed by stable, hence transcendental, ontological regimes. By contrast, we argue that ontologies do not stand in an isomorphic relationship to ‘culture’ and are best understood as the heterogeneous and dynamic products of creative action. We concentrate on two well-known ceremonial rituals from the so-called peripheries of Mesoamerica and Melanesia. In both cases we observe moments of uncertainty and shifts between contrasting, even irreconcilable, principles of existence and prescriptive value systems. Our field of comparison for both contexts is the tension between rituals acts of reciprocity (gifts) vs. transformation (‘free gifts’).
It might be true that humans are impervious to reason and compassion, and are therefore unredeemable. If they are, history is indeed “bunk”, because its intrinsic purpose is to increase the role of reason and compassion in this world.
“The History Question: Who Owns the Past?”, Quarterly Essay, No. 23, pg. 37.
(Note, full access to the text in that link is by paid subscription only)
Clendinnen is definitely one of my favourites: an Aussie historian who decided she could displace herself from her regional environment and ended up writing brilliant, innovative stuff on both Mayan AND Australian historical episodes of culture contact.