Making tracks and tracking change: Batek mobility, 1993-2013
Tuck Po Lye
(Universiti Sains Malaysia)
Paper short abstract:
I examine the mobility of the Batek, drawing from twenty years of observations. I’ll be focusing on shortcuts, and the knowledge involved in finding markers in the rainforest. My larger purpose will be to reflect on how to understand changes in mobility, landscape, and knowledge.
Paper long abstract:
As scholars our task is to understand "why" hunter-gatherers move around a lot but for the hunter-gatherers themselves mobility is simply the way to "be" and needs no involved explanation. This is what I found with the Batek of Pahang, Malaysia. Moving in the forest with them, mobility never feels strange: it may be burdensome but it seems eminently reasonable and, indeed, the only way to resolve many everyday problems. The problem, however, is that when something is not articulated and valorized, it is also more vulnerable to gradual decline. In this paper I examine the mobility of the Batek, drawing from twenty years of detailed and then sporadic observations. In particular, I'll focus on shortcuts, and the knowledge involved in finding markers in the rainforest. My larger purpose is to reflect on how to understand changes in mobility, landscape, and knowledge. My early conclusions were that mobility was central to how social and ecological knowledge emerges. These days, many Batek move less than before. They also move differently. What is the place of mobility in the Batek's sense of self today? And what of their ties to the forest? As the Batek craft their ways through modernity, are they becoming like other hunter-gatherers, losing traditional knowledge and practices while gradually shifting to sedentary ways of reckoning space and location, or are they in the process of reconfiguring space while retaining their identities as mobile hunter-gatherers? And what of sociality?
Sociality on the move: finding the way through hunter-gatherer ecological knowledge