Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The National Parks of Indonesia: Searching for an Identify? (Part 1)

Indonesia parks map from here.  
Now that I'm back home in Hawai'i after my year of fieldwork on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, I've been working on the monumental task of writing my doctoral dissertation.  This requires a big shifting of gears and changing focus; whereas in the field I was always thinking about logistical issues and gathering data, now my task is to sort through, classify, interpret, and analyze all the information that I gathered while in the field.  The cognitive tasks are also different; instead of solving actual problems of how to get from point a to point b in Indonesia, I am instead working to remember all the theory I studied in the early stages of my PhD adventure and use that as a lens with which to examine the things I saw in the field.

As I was reading and rereading some of the planning documents I scanned from the library of Kerinci Seblat National Park (where I did my fieldwork), something in the language of the documents struck me.  The way that the task of conservation was framed, in the phrases used and the ways in which tensions between the park and the people living on its edges were described.  Something seemed to have changed since the fall of Suharto in 1998, who sat at the top of an authoritarian regime that ran Indonesia for more than three decades.  The approach to conservation and the understanding of the problems seemed to be fundamentally different.  Since my project focuses on how the political decentralization that was implemented after the end of the Suharto years has affected national park-based conservation in Indonesia, I was quite interested in this potential paradigm shift.  Over the course of the next two or three posts I'll be describing this change.

The Origin of Forest Protection in Indonesia

In order to really describe the paradigm change, I've got to start from the very beginning of western-style forest management in Indonesia, way back when there wasn't even such a thing as Indonesia.  Beginning in the 17th century the Dutch began to assert control over certain parts of the Indonesian archipelago.  At first they worked gradually under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC), a chartered corporation that was granted monopoly power to trade in the islands.  The VOC set up partnerships with local rulers and signed treaties, little by little gaining territorial possessions in various places.  Then in the last years of the 18th century the company went bankrupt, forcing the Dutch government to formally take over administration of the colonies.  They continued the slow consolidation of control over the thousands of islands of the archipelago, a process that lasted into the twentieth century.  Eventually, though, all but a small portion of what would eventually become Indonesia fell under the domination of the Dutch government.  When the Japanese conquered the Dutch East Indies in World War II the nationalist movement that had been growing across the archipelago gained a great deal of momentum, and when the Japanese were defeated in 1945 war broke out between the Dutch, who were attempting to reassert their hold on their colony, and locals wanting independence.

From my perspective, one of the most important things about this very short historical synopsis is the fact that before the Dutch began colonizing, there was no unified political identity (like a country or an empire or kingdom) that spanned the entire archipelago.  Over the centuries there had been a few powerful kingdoms (read about some of them here) but none that had managed to control all the islands, and even the most power kingdoms never really had demarcated borders like the Dutch.  There were (and still are) hundreds of ethnic groups speaking at least as many languages scattered across the islands, with a wide range of religions and cultural traditions as well.  In short, the only thing that really united all the people when Indonesia declared independence in 1945 was the fact that they had all been colonized by the Dutch.  

Teak logs photo from here.  
Why were the Dutch so interested in Indonesia?  Well, to make a long story short, Indonesia has a lot of spices, like nutmeg, that were EXTREMELY rare in Europe hundreds of years ago, and hence very valuable.  This is what drew the Dutch and other colonial powers.  But besides spices, among the most important resources in the islands were the teak forests, since teak wood is very resistant to rot and fungus and doesn't deform much in water, and so it is excellent for shipbuilding.  Teak is found mainly on Java, historically the most populous of the islands and the island that became the center of administration for the Dutch (1).  The Dutch saw the teak forests of Java as a strategic resource, but at the same time the forests were a source of livelihood for many many people.  The Dutch colonial administrators saw the people as a threat to the resource, and so they took steps to exclude the people.  The ways in which they did this still influence the management of forests there today and have been studied by dozens of scholars through the years.  A brief discussion of some of the key concepts and assumptions will help me describe the transformation I think is currently underway in national park management in Indonesia.  

"Technologies of Governance"

As I mentioned above, Java's teak forests were viewed by the Dutch as a strategic resource.  In order to control and harvest teak trees the Dutch created elaborate systems of management, including the establishment of forest reserves and use rules.  In the academic literature these measures are referred to as "technologies of governance", and while the term seems a bit overly-collegey, there is something to it.  Scholars like Arun Agrawal (2005) and Nancy Peluso (1992) make the point that scientific forestry, which grew out of the European universities of Nancy and Frieberg in the 19th century, makes it easier to administer and control forests by reducing them to statistical measures, including numbers of trees, species composition, and volume of timber.   Scott (1998) calls this "bracketing", an assumption that all variables are constant except for those directly affecting the yield and cost of growing and harvesting of the selected species.  Tanya Li (2007) refers to this process as "rendering technical"; according to her this is an essential step in packaging a "problem" so that it ca be addressed or "solved".  others have referred to this characteristic as "legibility" (Scott, 1998).  Now we recognize this as a tremendous simplification; these management techniques didn't take into consideration all the ecosystem services that forests provide, like water catchment services and carbon sequestration.  Not only that, but this definition of forests as a "timber resource" completely overwrote all of the ways that local people had been using the forests for generations.  This includes consumptive and non-consumptive uses.   You might think of this as not seeing the forest for the trees.  While  this "modern state forestry" was ostensibly based on liberal notions of the greatest good for the greatest number, the approaches that grew out of this philosophy were often used to justify complete and absolute state control over forests.  

Li (2007) applies these ideas and theoretical background to the Indonesia case.  She writes that "rendering technical" started to happen in the Dutch East Indies (which would eventually become Indonesia) under the short but influential rule of Sir Stamford Raffles, who believed that market forces and the liberalism that were in vogue in Europe at the time could transform the native population into something more resembling industrious Europeans.  These assumptions were also held by the Dutch when they returned to Java and other islands (2).  This was especially apparent on the island of Sulawesi, where the colonial rulers had three main objectives: 1) "improve the population by reconstituting them as orderly villagers"; 2) protect forests from abuse; and 3) improve the productivity of the land to raise money and prosperity.  

And it wasn't just in Indonesia where this was taking place.  Agrawal (2005) looks at the forests of India under the British and describes how numbers and statistics were used by colonial authorities.  He makes the argument that several goals, including conservation, deriving revenue, and improvement depended on this process of creating statistics, because these centralized endeavors required a whole series of official procedures and their incorporation into government practice.  Statistical measurement, according to Agrawal, makes it possible to manage the forest and put together things like 50-year cutting schedules.  As Agrawal puts it:

"The purposive selection of a set of features that could be statistically represented--among them number, area, value, and percentage tree cover--helped define Indian forests and facilitate interventions to alter their shape...Representation by numbers transformed beliefs among foresters about ideal forests and made possible the reworking of existing vegetation in terms of scientific forestry, sustainable yields, and profit maximization." (2005:57-58)

At the same time, though, this "rendering technical", or creating legibility, or whatever you want to call it erased the history of forests as populated places, or as a resource that local people depended on.  It also erased variety and difference from place to place as national or colony-wide policies were developed to administer the forest resources (Vandergeest and Peluso, 2006).  


Another related stream in the literature has to do with "territorialization".  Robert Sack (1986:19) defines territoriality as "the attempt by an individual or group to affect, influence, or control people, phenomena, and relationships by delimiting and asserting control over a geographic area".  As Vandergeest and Peluso write (1995:388), "territorialization is about excluding or including people within particular geographic boundaries, and about controlling what people do ad their access to natural resources within those boundaries", including the use of strategies such as classification by area and regulation of who ad what activities are allowed in the territorial zone.  Many scholars, including Raymond Bryant (1997) have applied this concept to colonial regimes and protected areas, including forest reserves and national parks. 

One interesting thing about the transition from colonial to post-colonial eras, at least in my mind, is when many new countries were founded, the "nationalists" in many cases wanted to distance themselves from the colonial regimes, and so they dismantled many institutions that might have reminded people of the old regime.  In many places businesses that were owned by people or companies in the former metropole were nationalized with little or no compensation.  But all over the world when new countries were founded, they often kept the protected areas (national parks, hunting reserves, etc) they inherited intact.  Why?

As political ecologist Rod Neumann (1998:97) observed in the case of Arusha National Park in newly independent Tanzania:  "Securing control over access to, and the benefits derived from, natural resources was a critical process in the early formation of the colonial state in Tanzania.  Natural resource laws were essential not only for generating revenue for the state and fueling accumulation for private interests, they were symbolically important for the assertion of the dominance of the German Kaiser and later, the British Crown, over all aspects of the territory's economy and wealth.  The resulting centralization of control was produced at the expense of an existing system of communal property relations and customary rights to lad and resources within African societies". 
So in this post I've presented a couple of ideas about how governments control and manage resources.  With territorialization, governments establish spatial boundaries to control behavior and/or limit access.  And with "rendering technical", governments simplify complex situations or processes so that they can be managed more easily.  Both of these aspects of resource control and management figure prominently in the national parks of Indonesia (as in many other countries).  In the next post I'll describe how the national park system in Indonesia came to be, and why the parks are facing so many challenges at the local level today.  


(1)  Java still is the "dominant" island in Indonesia; although it isn't the largest island in the country it has by far the highest population.  

(2)  Raffles ran Java for a few years during the Napoleonic wars, when Napoleon Bonaparte set up the Kingdom of Holland to be ruled by his brother.  Raffles led an expedition to conquer Java and stayed on as Lieutenant-Governor for a few years.  

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