Juni 02, 2014

The Garden of Forking Paths: History, Its Erasure and Remembrance in Sumatra's Kerinci Seblat National Park

John David Neidel, “The Garden of Forking Paths: History, Its Erasure and Remembrance in Sumatra's Kerinci Seblat National Park”, PhD thesis, Yale University (2006).


CREATION OF the Kerinci Seblat National Park was initiated in 1982 as part of a rapidly growing protected area network designed to address rising national and international concerns about tropical biodiversity loss in Indonesia. While Indonesian law defines national parks as areas containing "original ecosystems," this dissertation argues that that modern conception of nature has been discursively imposed on landscapes that have long been shaped by the interaction of humans and biophysical forces. To support that argument, this dissertation examines three alternative discourses about the landscape of Serampas, a region in the highlands of Sumatra that has been largely incorporated into the Kerinci Seblat National Park. Focusing first on the protected area discourse, I argue that conservationists' representation of the National Park as "pristine" and two resident village populations as "forest encroachers" have rested on the metaphorical erasure of local history, particularly the existence of villagers' customary claims and long-standing resource management practices, and the remembrance of an administrative one. That dominant discourse has been challenged in recent years by local villagers who legitimize their continued existence in the Park by pointing to material proof of their long-term habitation in the region, including the existence of dozens of abandoned village sites and a royal edict from the Sultan of Jambi. Recognizing that all discourses are partial and constructed, I then examine the history of Serampas, which has been largely ignored by professional scholars, through documentary sources and other types of archaeological remains that were unavailable to or unrecognized by the villagers themselves. That analysis supports villagers' claims of long-term habitation in the region, as well as a recent hypothesis that the highlands were the demographic and political center of Sumatran civilization during the pre-colonial period. Finally, this dissertation examines the interactions of those alternative discourses during a recent initiative to recognize some local claims by zoning the resident populations of Serampas into the National Park as part of an Integrated Conservation and Development Project. Despite the failure of that project, I assert the conservation benefits of better incorporating local peoples into protected area management and make suggestions for how to achieve that objective.

Keywords: Archaeology, Cultural anthropology, Geography, History, Indonesia, Kerinci Seblat National Park, National parks, Serampas, Social sciences, Sumatra.[]

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