INDIGENOUS ECOLOGIES & ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS
Issue 2 Autumn/Winter 2023
This summer, Europe was in flames. The largest wildfires in recent history ravaged lands in Greece burning land, trees and animals. The 18 burned bodies of asylum seekers found in northeastern Greece’s Dadia Forest are emblematic too of the cruel nexus between climate change and forced migration. The fires exemplify the planetary crisis which each year becomes more obvious. It is with urgency therefore that we turn our attention to the theme of Indigenous Ecologies. We, the editors, understand Indigenous Ecologies as a way of inhabiting Earth that permeates the cultures of peoples who feel they are a part of and exist in a relation of interdependence with everything that is, whether visible or invisible, and where all our senses are required to ‘know’ the world. Indigenous ways of being and inhabiting the Earth are usually based on a relational understanding of the world where the ways of organising social life revolve around communalism, respect for the Earth and harmony with nature, such as for example the Andean philosophy of buen vivir (harmonious living).
We draw together think pieces from historians, artists, anthropologists and geographers from across UCL and beyond whose work touches on what can fall under the broad idea of Indigenous Ecologies. We therefore take the term ‘Indigenous Ecologies’ as an entry point, a conceptual foray to think through how ideas generated beyond modernising and colonial ways of understanding life can offer alternative ways of meaning-making in times of overlapping crises.
The aim of this special issue is to bring to the fore ways of relating and conceiving the world that go beyond narrow, rigid, and modernising ways of understanding life that have become hegemonic and almost overpowering. We want to invite people to think about the myriad relationships where humans are co-becoming with ‘other animals’ or species, where our bodies are one with our minds and spirits. We might be able to rethink the ways in which we experience and conceive of time and to reflect on how culture creates and is constantly being generated in and with nature.
Alice Vittoria beautifully illustrates how the act of walking through the forest is for the Bayaka people of the Republic of Congo essential for knowing. Through walking, they understand which paths are safe to walk, and which places are forbidden, best avoided. Through the embodied practice of walking, they attune themselves to the trees and leaves, learn how to read animal tracks and interpret the sounds and smells of the forest. It is in this spirit that we present this Issue as pathways to promote ways of thinking more holistically about the world we inhabit.
This issue testifies to how land and territory comprise an array of complex relationships between other-than-human and human. Like the artists who look at interspecies connections in Lucia Stubrin’s piece, we ask how we might learn from the multispecies landscapes that comprise our world. How can we also help them in their survival?
This is a theme addressed by Fíacha O’Dowda in relation to the ecologies of Antongil Bay, Madagascar. O’Dowda shows that local histories in Antongil Bay are in flux, never static. What does it mean to belong to a place when that place is characterised by waves of human movement, settlement, re-settlement? Are we either insiders or outsiders, original inhabitants or visitors, or is it perhaps more complex and intertwined than that?
The pieces based in Latin America highlight the ‘open veins’ of this continent, revealing the scars of pillage and extractive development and what this means for Indigenous people’s survival. Robert ‘Tito’ Petitpas reminds us that the Pewenche people from the south of Chile regard the sacred pewen tree and other human and non-human beings as interconnected with the land in an act of co-becoming. This piece highlights the threat that the forestry industry in Wallmapu territory poses for the survival of Indigenous peoples as they are one with the land and cannot exist apart from it.
In the context of Venezuela, Gianfranco Selgas reveals how not only oil defines the country’s extractive economy. Twentieth-century solar salt production in the town of Araya, an apparently ‘green’ energy source, was also at the heart of Venezuela’s petro-fuelled modernity.
Through the work of Maria Paula Prates we learn that the Anthropocene is so much more than a geological or theoretical framework, and that it leaves marks on the bodies of Mbyá-Guarani women in Brazil and their people’s traditional practices. We hope these pieces will unsettle, inspire, and inform our readers. While the Bayaka believe that walking together is a process of ‘becoming with’, we hope that this issue is a similar exercise of reading and thinking together, of cultivating connections between our bodies and our minds. We invite you to share these pieces widely, to discuss them with others, as a way to expand our collective knowledge and hopes for alternative possible futures.
Olivia Arigho-Stiles and Adriana Suarez Delucchi
Guest-editors and IAS Postdoctoral Research Fellows 2023
Taking Claude Lévi-Strauss’s memoir Tristes Tropiques as an example – what role do nonhuman entities play in fashioning narratives about the Amazon, whether produced by Indigenous people or ‘newcomers’?
Bioart emerged in the 1990s and its artists generate a critical debate about biotechnology and life processes. This piece provides an overview of the bioart scene in Argentina.
Walking occupies the everyday life of the Bayaka. It is a prerequisite for their well-being and one of the main sources of both cultural continuity and innovation. Forest walking is also an initiation into Bayaka relational ecology
MARIA PAULA PRATES
Mbyá-Guarani Indigenous women’s children are ever more likely to be born in hospitals and thus without the support of ambojau va’e (‘those who bathe’). What does this mean for the women’s reproductive and sexual health?
Delving into the Pewenche ecology of the pewen tree, this piece reflects on the problems and injustices of a colonial way of inhabiting the world and its related conservation approaches.
The period between 1890 to 1980 marked Venezuela’s insertion into the vortex of oil extraction. But the political and cultural discourses built around oil rendered invisible other cultures nurtured around the extraction of nature.
Many of the contemporary practices and ideas that underpin biodiversity conservation in Madagascar are imported and implemented from abroad. What does that mean for Indigenous’s practices?