Environmental change in native and colonial histories of Borneo: lessons from the past, prospects for the future. (Regional News).
During the closing decades of the twentiety century, the island of Borneo and its peoples have faced many critical environmental challenges. Controversial transmigration, oil palm plantation development, continued logging and mining, and devastating forest fires are only a few of those problems. Set against the transition into a new century, this international seminar focused on environmental change in Borneo historically through native, colonial, and national perspectives, and considered what these processes might bring for the island's future.
This seminar focused on histories of human-environment interactions and included contributions from a wide range of scholars and researchers working throughout Borneo. The notion of history here was broad and concerned both the ancient and the recent, and the past therefore was viewed with no arbitrary beginning or end points. A major emphasis was on transitions and on-going processes of change and continuity. Equally important was what the past can tell us about how things have come to be as they are today and the lessons it might have for the future.
The themes included in the seminar were long-distance trade ties, conservation and extraction, land rights, health and disease, perceptions of the environment, social and linguistic change, and development. The presentations covered 11 centuries of history in Borneo--from trade ties with China to new development policies. The dominant, though often implicit, theoretical perspective was that of political ecology, with its focus on the dynamics surrounding material and discursive struggles over natural resources. In addition to the presentations, comparative commentary was given by Freek Colombijn (IIAS) and Peter Boomgaard (KITLV) in order to place the contributions within the broader context of Southeast Asia. Discussions were enlivened by the participation of scholars attending from Germany, Denmark, Australia, Russia, New Zealand, Indonesia, and the Netherlands.
The paper titles and contributors were:
* "Onto the Coasts and into the Forest: Ramifications of the China Trade on the Ecological History of Northwest Borneo, 900-1900 A.D." (Eric Tagliacozzo, Cornell University, USA)
* "Histories of Conservation or Exploitation? Case Studies from the Interior of Indonesian Borneo" (Cristina Eghenter, University of Hull, UK)
* "Forests for Subsistence, Forests for Trade: Sustainability, Extractivism, and Trade History in Northern East Kalimantan" (Bernard Sellato, CNRS-IRSEA, France)
* "Land Tenure and Settlement Patterns: Two Examples from the Mahakam Area of East Kalimantan (Indonesia)" (Antonio Guerreiro, EHESS, France)
* "Lines in the Forest: Boundaries and Resource Access in the History of the Upper Kapuas, West Kalimantan" (Reed L. Wadley, IIAS)
* "Controlling the Land: Property Rights and Power Struggles in Sabah, Malaysia (North Borneo) 1881-1996" (Amity Doolittle, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, USA)
* "One Hand Clapping: Malaria in Borneo, Past and Present" (A. Baer, Oregon State University, USA)
* "In the Eye of the Beholder: Development or Exploitation? Changing Perceptions of the Borneo Environment" (Graham Saunders, University of Leeds, UK)
* "Commodity and Environment in Borneo: Links between Environmental Paradigms and Economic Value" (Lesley Potter, University of Adelaide, Australia)
* "The "Poison Tree," and the Changing Vision of the Indo-Malay Realm: 17th Century - 20th Century" (Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, USA)
* "Environmental, Social and Language Change: The Tola' Dayaks of Southwestern Kalimantan" (Sujarni Alloy, Institut Dayakologi, Indonesia and James T. Collins, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia)
* "Rice as a Bridge between Two Symbolic Economies: Migration within and out of the Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak" (Monica Janowski, University of Greenwich, UK)
* "Many Lessons--No Learners: Development Policy and Local Impoverishment among the Ibans" (Jayantha Perera, New Delhi, India)
* "From Subsistence to Plantation Economy: A Transformation of the Iban Farming Systems in Sarawak" (Dimbab Ngidang, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak)
A selected set of the seminar papers are being prepared into an edited volume under the tentative title, "Histories of the Borneo Environment: Economic, Political, and Social Dimensions of Change and Continuity." Other seminar papers will be submitted to academic journals.
The International Institute for Asian Studies was the principal sponsor of the seminar, and the Leiden Universiteit Funds and the Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen contributed supplementary funding. The Borneo Research Council acted as an intellectual sponsor, providing its mailing list and invaluable support network.