ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment


"Indigenous" space and local politics

Location Playfair Building, Main Hall
Date and Start Time 21 June, 2014 at 09:00


Jenny Lawy (University of Edinburgh) email
Takamasa Osawa (University of Edinburgh) email
Mail All Convenors


This panel scrutinises the meaning of indigenousness in relation to space. We invite panelists to present research that is located in indigenous space where the local politics of indigenous peoples are foregrounded thus unraveling, undoing and remaking space through which we understand the world.

Long Abstract

This panel scrutinises the meaning of indigenousness in relation to space. Space has a long history in research surrounding indigenous peoples, yet spaces are changing. James Hutton's enduring work from the Enlightenment, that the world is in a constant process of change, has pertinent qualities. Arguably even more so with indigenous people who have a fraught history within anthropological contexts that helped to foster a 'timeless' state.

Space helps to define the way one interacts with the world. Norms in part define the space for those within (and without) its boundaries. Individual or collective agendas such as negotiation, pride and performance in local politics may transform space. Space can refer to not only land, but also space where discussion and interaction occurs. Space is the site through which belonging and exclusion, that relate to 'indigenous-ness', play out.

In using 'indigenous' we implicate 'indigenous-ness' which is prescribed by 'their' world rather than one defined in relation to laws and rights. So although internationalised indigenous rights are associated with this terminology the panel will explore localised politics rather than political policy. Where do indigenous people present their indigenousness and how does it change the boundaries of space?

We invite panellists to present research that is located in indigenous space where the politics of indigenous peoples are foregrounded. We welcome research that deals with the politics of those seeking rights, rather than the rights themselves, thus unravelling, undoing and remaking the space through which we understand the world.

Chair: Professor Alan Barnard
Discussant: Professor Kazunobu Ikeya

Propose a paper


Indigenous space, 'indigenisation,' and social boundaries among the Tshwa San of western Zimbabwe

Author: Robert Hitchcock (University of New Mexico)  email


Some Tshwa San of western Zimbabwe occupy their original territories and others have been relocated as a result of government land reform. This paper considers some complex issues raised by the use of 'indigeneity' in Zimbabwe particularly with regard to social, political, and land rights.

Long Abstract

The Tshwa San of Zimbabwe are an indigenous people who have resided in the dry, savanna regions of the western part of the country for generations. The Tshwa historically have had complex dealings with their neighbors, mostly Ndebele, the Kalanga, and Europeans. In 1928 hundreds of Tshwa were removed from the Wankie Game Reserve (now Hwange National Park) by park authorities and resettled in areas to the south of the reserve, in the Tsholotsho Communal Lands. Today, Tsholotsho is divided into a number of different wards. Tshwa are found mainly Wards 7, 8, and 10, with some San households in Wards 1 and 2. Wards are units in which there are local authorities who have representatives in the Tsholotsho District Council. The Tshwa, who have largely been excluded from the local authority structures, want to be represented at the ward, district, provincial, and national political levels. This paper addresses the processes of social identity formation, 'indigenisation' and social boundary creation among the Tshwa, and it discusses local Tshwa politics in the context of the complex politics of contemporary Zimbabwe. The Tshwa face major challenges since the state does not recognize them as distinct indigenous peoples, taking instead the position that all black Zimbabweans are indigenous.

Robert K. Hitchcock, Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico

Ben Begbie-Clench, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

Ashton Murirwa, Lecturer, International Relations,University of Zimbabwe

Spaces of indigenous politics: from the Kalahari to the United Nations

Author: Maria Sapignoli (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email


The paper examines the complexities of the social and political situations in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana. It assesses the ways in which the peoples of the Kalahari live their indigenousness and the effects these had on the ways in which they are perceived and treated in Botswana.

Long Abstract

Over the past fifty years, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve region of Botswana has been a place in which in which struggles over land and resource rights, identity, indigeneity, and citizenship have occurred. San and Bakgalagadi peoples have claimed indigenous identity and have engaged in collective and individual efforts of negotiation, legal action, political organization, and performance in an effort to transform the space of the Central Kalahari into an area in which they could determine their own futures. Social networking on the web, taking part in international, national, and local meetings, writing up and disseminating declarations and statements, and providing information to lawyers have been some of the strategies that they have employed. In the process, they have engaged with the Botswana state, with national and international institutions, non-governmental organizations and the indigenous movements. All these encounters have contributed to the re-signification people's sense of indigenousness. This paper examines some of the complexities of the social and political situations inside the Central Kalahari and in the resettlement sites created by the Botswana government outside of the reserve in the past two decades. It also assesses the ways in which the peoples of the Central Kalahari incorporate and express their indigenousness and the effects these had on the varied ways in which they are perceived and treated in contemporary Botswana.

"Paraje y parajización": the economic and political space of an indigenous community (Chaco-Argentina)

Author: Zelda Alice Franceschi (Università degli Studi di Bologna)  email


My paper concerns my field work: during the period 2004-2014 I have been working in Chaco (Argentina) in an indigenous wichí community (mataco-maka linguistic family). At the end of the nineties Argentine government has given back to indigenous population 20,000 hectares of land around Franciscan Mission.

Long Abstract

Traditionally Wichí were hunters-gatherers organized in semi-nomadic bands, homogeneous regarding the sharing of their economic resources, today they are passing a phase of deep transition.

At the end of the nineties Argentine government has given back to indigenous population 20.000 hectares of land around Franciscan Mission (built by the Propaganda Fide missionaries in 1889 ). Wichí population settled following interesting dynamics : 1) they have built a series of parajes (households) far from the adjacent areas to the Mission (area which is mostly criolla), demonstrating, that they continue to share their economic resources; 2) the persistence of uxorilocality; 3) the birth of new leaders which has superseded the traditional figure of cacique (nyat).

These dynamics mean a complex transition from hunting-gathering activities. A deep and accurate analysis of kinship and of the economic activities demonstrates that a series of traditional dynamics are re-emerging again which re-propose a new space for social-political organization.

Space, language ideologies and linguistic differentiations in Xiangxi Hmong area, China

Author: Lijing Peng (LinkedIn Ireland Unlimited Company)  email


This paper examines the ethnography of space, which contextualizes and differentiates the performances of indigenous language socialization in Hmong communities in central China.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the relationship between space and local politics, especially in regard to language, of Hmong communities in Xiangxi Tujia and Hmong Autonomous Prefecture, central China. Current Chinese language policies towards recognized minority ethnics advocate their language rights with a hidden premise that the targeted communities are language communities (recognizing a unified use of a single language) and language right only refers to the right of speaking the language. This paper argues that the layout of living spaces influences the socialization of language uses according to local customs and therefore influences local language rights. For this purpose, it purposes to examine the Hmong Zhai (traditional congregated households) and bilingual public schools of indigenous Hmong communities in central China. The Hmong Zhai have facilitated gathering of relatives and communal meeting about village affairs. Hmong teenagers are socialized to local polities and the related language usages in this environment. As a parallel contextualizing space, the bilingual schools are different in physical layout and group-arrangement from traditional congregated households. They break up territorial and kinship links between students, and implant them with standardized knowledge and interpretation system through teaching standardized alphabetic Hmong language (an artificial and standardized written system that levels the local differences between dialects) and national courses in modern standard Mandarin. Accordingly, the spatial dimensions of rural life in these minority ethnic areas embody various ways in which the transmissions of traditions are organized.

'Being Enlightened' Ncõakwe in Botswana

Author: Jenny Lawy (University of Edinburgh)  email


The term 'being enlightened' is used by educated Ncõakwe. It reveals how young people conceptualise their contemporary position as marginal to the dominant Tswana language and culture yet they are highly successful within education.

Long Abstract

In the last decade more Ncõakwe (indigenous San) have been successful within the mainstream education system in Botswana, and abroad, and are enrolled in or have completed higher education. This paper examines the boundaries of the dominant rhetoric used by educated Ncõakwe that; (this) education helps 'us' to be Ncõakwe. A process of education that is culturally and socially 'other' to Ncõakwe home life and community opens possibilities of knowing that are from outside the local world and at the same time position traditions as 'dark' and by insinuation, 'ugly'. 'Being enlightened ' as used by educated Ncõakwe offers a paradox of experience between being socially and politically marginalised yet highly educated and mobile.

This paper draws on the history of colonial and postcolonial education in Botswana, anthropological literature on social change surrounding Ncõakwe, debates about enlightenment education, and my own ethnographic fieldwork to ask what it means to be an educated/enlightened Ncõakwe. Moreover, how does education fit in with the overall collective project for Ncõakwein Botswana?

Shape-shifting spirits and genuine fakes: vindicating indigenousness through culinary themes and variations in Hadiya, southern Ethiopia

Author: Valentina Peveri  email


In Ethiopia the geography of landscapes goes hand in hand with maps of likes and dislikes in terms of politics and food. This paper analyses how the Hadiya people taste modernity in small bites, inside and outside the kitchen, and cleverly cruise through the spatial and eating practices of the State.

Long Abstract

After being conquered by Emperor Menelik II, the Hadiya, herdsmen and breeders, semi-nomadic warmongers, were forced to adopt agriculture. Since the occupation, many southerners have shared a strong antipathy towards the system of the conquerors. The political situation in present-day Hadiya is punctuated by repression and suffering; and their seeming passivity is to be understood not as apathy but as an expression of a political stance.

In addition, issues of food and cuisine are fraught with inequality and political domination. Since national products and dishes contain painful memories of imperial conquest and evoke the power of the northerners, food taboos and preferences become a sensitive marker for understanding what people conceive to be civilized or barbaric. What is the logic of place-making for people whose move was forcibly prevented? How does a sense of belonging develop if ancestral spirits are dead, migrated or constantly shape-shifting? It is through the rhetoric of food that the Hadiya vindicate their indigenousness and keep their ancestors' memory alive; local recipes provide an underground device for taming exotic foods and rephrasing the national idiom of modernity.

People are selective in their appropriation of things that they consider as national or alien; but also systematic in indigenising ingredients, in adulterating 'authentic' recipes, and merging together the traditional and the modern. I will therefore look at this Hadiya combinatorial attitude of tasting modernity in small bites, and making it local/palatable, while at the same time contesting the nation-building project which lies behind the official hierarchy of 'good' and 'bad' cuisines.

The water world of the Orang Suku Laut in Southeast Asia

Author: Cynthia Chou (University of Copenhagen)  email


This paper will explore how the indigenous Malay roving fishing communities known as Orang Suku Laut perceive the water world in Southeast Asia. The challenge is in developing new ways to conceptualise "water spaces" to widen our academic inquiry into the less understood ways of spatial imaginings.

Long Abstract

The Riau Archipelago which is now part of modern-day Indonesia, was at one time part of a larger Malay World. It is still home to indigenous roving fishing communities known as "Orang Suku Laut" or literally, "people of the sea." For centuries, the sea and coastal areas have been their life and living spaces. New laws and discourses concerning development are however challenging their territorial rights.

Discussion on ownership of territory have long been dominated by state-centered definitions of territorial boundaries in regard to the appropriation, mapping and ownership of space. Likewise, inquiries into territorial ownership are often made from land-based perspectives based upon the understanding of appropriation of space by land-based peoples. Critical to this is that while equivalent behaviour among land-based groups is described in terms of land ownership or land tenure systems, little if no such recognition have been given to sea-based mobile groups.

In this paper, I intend to discuss the ethnography of the Orang Suku Laut. Rather than perceiving the sea from a land based perspective, I shall explore the way in which the Orang Suku Laut perceive the water world in Southeast Asia in order to raise questions pertaining to the diverse yet equally compelling ways in which people feel, experience and think about water spaces in Southeast Asia. The challenge is in developing a new way to conceptualise "water spaces" in Southeast Asia to widen our academic inquiry into the less understood ways of spatial imaginings.

"Ancestral land" and collective identity among Suku Asli of Sumatra

Author: Takamasa Osawa (University of Edinburgh)  email


This paper explores some of the ways in which the connection between people and space has changed among the Suku Asli ("Indigenous People") living in Sumatra. As a result of government policies, their day to day living space, banks and river estuaries, has been transformed into their ancestral land.

Long Abstract

The eastern coasts of Sumatra, Indonesia, are low and marshy lands, which are divided by numerous brackish rivers, and covered by vast mangrove forests. This region was a largely unpopulated area where some orang asli ("indigenous") groups and a few Malay people lived before the colonial era. "Suku Asli" are one of the orang asli groups who were known as "Orang Hutan" (Forest People) in the past - they lived along the banks as well as estuaries of rivers.

Although their space was always somewhat of a "niche" and did not exhibit any clear boundaries in terms of individual or collective ownership, Suku Asli were confronted with the necessity to establish the boundaries after the state independence. However, their way of ensuring their land was not a simple one to claim their antecedent right of the land. At first in the 1960s, they joined the government deforestation programmes of hinterland "for giving lands to our children and grandchildren". More recently, through the involvements with the "indigenous movement" and environmentalism, they have tried to claim the rights of economically-worthless coastal marshy lands as their "ancestral lands".

In this paper, I try to describe the historical changes in the relation between the Suku Asli and the space surrounding them by focusing on the cultural 'logic' that is used to explain and support their connection to it - a 'logic' that enables the Suku Asli to conceptualize their relationship to land as both an embodiment and a manifestation of their collective identity.

A town divided: ownership and belonging in Mocimboa da Praia, Mozambique

Author: Ana Margarida Sousa Santos (Durham University)  email


This paper will address concepts of ownership and belonging in Mocimboa da Praia, Mozambique, by examining the way space and history underscore local political competition.

Long Abstract

The recent history of the northernmost districts of Mozambique has been one of movement and conflict leading people to move far from their areas of origin and into places where they seek to rebuild networks and establish relationships. The Makonde moved from their original area in the Mueda Plateau to neighbouring districts and have to negotiate access to space, as well as questions of legitimacy and belonging with the autochthonous population, the Mwani, seen as the 'owners of the land'. The Mwani traditionally have rights to the land, its resources and history. However the recent political landscape of Mozambique counters some of the long held notions about rights and ownership leading to conflict. The tension between newcomers and indigenous residents is expressed through everyday languages of ownership and comes to the forefront in the political, socio-economic and religious realms. It is also mapped out onto the space of the town as spatial understandings of belonging and competing versions of history are at the heart of these tensions.

Drawing on extensive interviews and participant observation as well as recent literature on autochthony, I will examine the spatial underpinnings of local notions of ownership. I will question how space and history are appropriated by Mwani and Makonde and used to define belonging and as a source of legitimacy in political competition at the local level. These questions have become especially relevant in the wake of democratization processes, increased political competition and struggle for resources.

Spatial perception among the San of the central Kalahari: frames of reference in wayfinding practices

Author: Akira Takada (Kyoto University)  email


The analysis of wayfinding practices of the G|ui/G||ana showed that neither reliance on human artifacts and natural landforms nor framing experiences in terms of old and new circumstances is mutually exclusive, and they have transformed a new geographical setting into their personal environment.

Long Abstract

Two groups of San, the G|ui and G||ana, have lived in the central part of the Kalahari Desert. However, the Government of Botswana relocated them in permanent settlements and gave an enormous impact on their lifestyle. The G|ui/G||ana use various spatial concepts, which have played important roles in their wayfinding practices, to represent landforms. A |qaa, roughly translated as "dry valley," constitutes an example of such a concept. In this presentation, I analyzed face-to-face interactions that occurred during hunting excursion (1) around a |qaa and (2) in a new geographical setting to understand particular types of their spatial perception. The analysis revealed that their use of the trail of Tswana merchants in the new geographical setting was analogous to their use of |qaa in that they used the trail as a frame of reference to ascertain their relative location. The analysis suggests that neither reliance on human artifacts and natural landforms nor framing experiences in terms of old and new circumstances is mutually exclusive in actual wayfinding practices. The use of folk knowledge is highlighted in the interplay between the accumulated empirical observations and the vivid but imagined attributes associated with the environment, which itself is also in constant flux. Such sensitivity to the environment is necessary to enable G|ui/G||ana people to utilize both |qaa and the Tswana trail as frames of reference in the relatively flat terrain of the Kalahari. Moreover, this sensitivity has motivated the G|ui/G||ana to transform a new geographical setting into their personal environment.

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