ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE AND THE DEPARTMENT OF AFRICA, OCEANIA AND THE AMERICAS OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM

Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

(P08)
"The Oldest Human Heritage": Biodiversity and Cultural Heritage
Location Senate House - Torrington Room
Date and Start Time 27 May, 2016 at 11:30
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • Kathryn Lafrenz Samuels (University of Maryland) email
  • Trinidad Rico (Texas A&M University at Qatar) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Biodiversity has been quipped as the "the oldest human heritage" by E.O. Wilson. In this session we will hold a discussion workshop of pre-circulated papers that explore the promise of heritage practices for fostering biodiversity in the face of global climate change.

Long Abstract

This session investigates the contribution of cultural heritage practices to fostering biodiversity. Amongst the many risks and impacts of global climate change, biodiversity loss is an often overlooked process. In part, this is likely due to the long-term habitat and species destruction already wrought by human hands that has existed for centuries, so that there is nothing particularly "new" about biodiversity loss compared to other effects of climate change. The human-caused pandemic of biodiversity loss—a dovetailing of older and newer, direct and proximate, anthropogenic causes—pushes against the limits of resilience, which in the domain of species loss has been recognized as the sixth mass extinction in the history of the Earth. Therefore, biodiversity loss in the context of climate change does throw in stark relief the precarious balance of earth systems, composed of an unraveling biotic fabric already too weakened to absorb the shocks of changing climatic conditions. Heritage practices offer one means to steward biodiversity (e.g. in agriculture, foodways, sustainable landscapes, heirloom seed saving, heritage livestock breeds) by joining environmentally sustainable and dynamic, culturally responsive actions. This session is organized as a discussion workshop around a collection of five pre-circulated papers by sociocultural anthropologists and archaeologists that address cultural heritage practices related to biodiversity, including the challenges and vulnerabilities facing these practices and biodiversity due to global climate change. Participants will give a brief summary of their paper, followed by discussant responses, and questions or comments from the audience.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Mapping the Commodification of Tourism, Rainforest Conversion, and Lacandón Maya Self-Identity Resulting in Evolving Biodiversity Indicators.

Author: Luz Martin del Campo-Hermosillo (Long Island University-Brooklyn)  email

Short Abstract

The Lacandón Rainforest is the largest rainforest in North America. My research reveals how tourism and governmental bureaucratic policies calibrated an image of the Lacandónes which identified, authenticated and commodified an indigenous community and control biodiversity.

Long Abstract

The Lacandón Rainforest (La Selva Lacandóna), an autotrophic system, is the largest Neotropic rainforest in North America. Located in the Southern State of Chiapas, México, it is the home of the Lacandón Maya community, and other indigenous and nonindigenous residents. My research in a Lacandón community reveals how tourism and governmental bureaucratic policies calibrated an "eco-tribal" image of the Lacandónes being "Guardias de la Selva (Guardians of the Rainforest)," a term specifically used to identify, authenticate and commodify an indigenous community. This identity expression has been used by the federal government for the purpose of promoting tourism and geopolitical stability in the State of Chiapas while masking their political role as architects of the socioeconomic inequalities and disparities existing in the region. Needless to say, to understand the Lacandón Maya self-identity conundrum involves familiarity with evolving biodiversity indicators governing the regional rainforest conversion and landscape change, and the Lacandón historical social-economic origins in the State of Chiapas, México.

Keepers of Diversity: Cultural and biodiversity preservation for climate change adaptation among the Tagbanua

Authors: Imelda Olvida (PHILRICE Los Banos)  email
Sophia Maria Cuevas (Philippine Rice Research Institute)  email

Short Abstract

The Tagbanua ensured resiliency of their major staple by preserving a diversity of traditional rice cultivars. This can be attributed to a thriving swidden agricultural system, a background of "performative knowledge", and adaptive human agency developed within the Tagbanua lifeworld.

Long Abstract

Since time immemorial, the Tagbanua subsisted on swidden agriculture, hunting, and foraging at the West Coast of Palawan province and these traditions are still being practised today. The authors argue that preservation of traditional practices is a crucial element for climate change adaptation, particularly in the preservation of genetic diversity. The Tagbanua ensured resiliency of their major staple by preserving a diversity of traditional rice cultivars. However, this has been achieved largely by maintaining the traditional agricultural system that not only includes material culture and technology, but also founded on social relations, dynamic decision-making, and a rich background of "performative knowledge" developed within the cultural framework of the Tagbanua. Traditional systems have sufficed, but for how long will these traditions last?

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Harmonising the Natural and Human Worlds: Indigenous Cultural Heritage for Adapting to Climate Change in Sabah, East Malaysia

Author: Yunci Cai (University of Leicester)  email

Short Abstract

I demonstrate how indigenous people in Sabah, East Malaysia, have drawn upon their indigenous cultural heritage, ascribing to traditional knowledge, to cope with the global concerns of climate change and unsustainable development.

Long Abstract

Based on the case studies of two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Sabah, East Malaysia, namely, Partners of Community Organisations, Sabah (PACOS) Trust and Community-led Environmental Awareness for our River (CLEAR), I explore how indigenous people have drawn upon their cultural heritage, ascribing to traditional knowledge, to cope with concerns of climate change and unsustainable development, and to assert their native customary rights to traditional lands, territories and resources. In the face of widespread resource extraction and dam construction projects in Sabah, leading to environmental pollution, loss of biodiversity, and the displacement of indigenous people from their traditional territories, the indigenous people have turned to their traditional knowledge to adapt to the challenges they face. Drawing on their indigenous worldview of maintaining harmony between the natural and human worlds, these NGOs have initiated programmes aimed at rehabilitating their lands and resources, such as cleaning up rivers, planting fruit trees and vegetables, and implementing the tagal, a native community-based resource management system to impose a temporary ban on resource extraction using customary laws to allow resources to grow in quantity and diversity, and promote the values of sustainable harvesting. Through these examples, I demonstrate how indigenous cultural heritage can serve as enablers influencing the adaptive ability of indigenous people to climate change and the loss of biodiversity. I show how this constitutes a form of legacy creation, a process by which the local experts, or insiders who create the traditional knowledge, partake in its restoration, can create alternative futures for the people.

Beyond extinction: Survivor trees and the problem of loss

Author: Trinidad Rico (Texas A&M University at Qatar)  email

Short Abstract

‘Survivor trees’ have acquired and are managed under a heritage status in the context of loss. Their survival observes distinct patterns of integrity and perpetuity, different from those institutionalized through dominant heritage discourses, suggesting more sustainable forms of resilience.

Long Abstract

In the classic cultural heritage picture, nature has been more often constructed as providing the scenography than the protagonist in discussions of heritage at risk. This is true, in particular, in the context of natural disasters when nature is often put at odds with culture. As a result of this artificial split, the problem of loss and destruction in heritage is constructed separately from the realm of the often more resilient and re-emerging natural context that provides continuity and a sense of place regardless of other material losses. This paper aims to problematize this relationship through the examination of 'survivor trees': trees that have acquired and are managed under a heritage status in the context of loss, but whose survival observes distinct patterns of integrity and perpetuity, different from those institutionalized through dominant heritage discourses. Examples of survivor tress from historical events and places across the globe transcend moments of destruction, rupturing the narratives and fabric of loss, and suggesting an interspecies relationship that better defines sustainable forms of resilience.

Climate Impacts to Cultural Practices of Biodiversity on the UNESCO Heritage Lists

Author: Kathryn Lafrenz Samuels (University of Maryland)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the impacts of global climate change on cultural practices that support biodiversity that are listed to the UNESCO World Heritage List and the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Long Abstract

Human contributions to biodiversity are often highlighted in negative terms, that is, as contributing to biodiversity loss. This focus is appropriate, given the scale and tempo of species loss that composes the sixth great extinction, authored by humankind through habitat destruction, resource depletion, and overhunting. However, humans also foster biodiversity. At the heart of the concept of biodiversity is the structural idea that assemblages of elements co-constitute one another in unique configurations, whether at the level of genes, species, or ecosystems. Humans, as one species, one genome, amongst others, constitute these assemblages too. Global climate change introduces compounding feedback loops with biodiversity loss, in threatening to impact human co-constitution within biodiversity assemblages. In this paper I examine the impacts of global climate change on cultural practices that support biodiversity, focusing on those implicated practices that are listed to the well-known UNESCO World Heritage List and the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. I draw attention to practices on these lists due to their widespread appeal and public recognition, as a platform for drawing attention and coordinating action around the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, and the cultural constitution of biodiversity.

Preserving Andean Food Heritage in the era of Melting Glaciers

Author: Matthew Sayre (University of South Dakota)  email

Short Abstract

Farmers from the Potato Park in Peru are attempting to preserve their heritage of diverse varieties of potatoes. The results of this project, focused on preserving biodiversity and on documenting climate change, will be presented here as an example of decolonizing interventions in conservation.

Long Abstract

Plant domestication and agriculture are examples of long-term human heritage. One of the world's earliest domesticates and one of its most important economic plants, the potato (Solanum sp.), originated in the central Andean Mountains of Peru. A group of traditional farmers, from the protected area of the Potato Park outside of Cuzco, is attempting to preserve their heritage of diverse varieties and species of tubers. This park is situated in a region marked by rapidly retreating glaciers and uncertain future water supplies. The farmers of the Potato Park are working in conjunction with the NGO Asociación Andes to protect and preserve the critical role and interdependency of indigenous biocultural heritage for local rights, to create local capacity for action research, policy influence and autonomous conservation, and to develop initiatives based on local knowledge and practices. The specific steps taken by these farmers to preserve the diversity of indigenous potatoes include moving their crops to higher altitudes in order to deal with warming weather patterns and rotating in other crops to prevent increasing pest infestations, also likely a result of climate change. The initial results of this project focused on preserving indigenous biodiversity and on documenting Andean perspectives on climate change, will be presented here as an example of knowledge production aimed at generating decolonizing interventions in conservation. The results of this research analyze the long-term human heritage of the potato within the current context of attempting to manage an Andean biocultural expression in a rapidly changing environment.

Conserving diversity: Understanding biological, cultural, linguistic and ecological diversity conservation practices in comparative perspective

Authors: Rodney Harrison (University College London)  email
Sefryn Penrose (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

This paper considers the value of exploring biological, cultural, linguistic and ecological diversity conservation practices in comparative perspective.

Long Abstract

We are currently in the mid point of what the United Nations has named 'the Biodiversity Decade' (2011-2020). And yet, even though it has come to dominate the ways in which we understand, value and care for the 'natural' world, 'biodiversity' as a concept is relatively young, only emerging as a specified conservation target during the 1970s and 1980s. In this paper we explore the concept in comparative perspective with a range of other transactional realities of the 'endangerment sensibility' (Vidal and Dias 2015), each of which is concerned with the conservation of specific forms of categorical diversity which have similarly focussed the work of conservation agencies worldwide, and which have emerged and coalesced over the same period. In doing, so we draw on our work with the Svalbard Global Seedbank, Kew Gardens, Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Preservation Progamme, the Frozen Ark project and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a component of the large collaborative interdisciplinary research project "Assembling Alternative Futures for Heritage", to show how this and adjacent transactional realities are enacted though specific techniques, technologies and 'worlding' (c.f. Barad 2007) or 'heritagizing' practices, and consider the potential for a comparative ethnology of heritage and diversity conservation practices globally.

After Wheat: Revitalizing Sicilian Agriculture through Heritage Tourism

Author: Joshua Samuels (The Catholic University of America)  email

Short Abstract

Alternatives to wheat production are being actively promoted to revitalize Sicily’s rural economy. One recent project uses agricultural heritage to lure consumers to Sicilian farms. Paradoxically, the heritage of traditional latifondo estates is therefore being mobilized to break wheat monoculture.

Long Abstract

Sicily was once the breadbasket of the Roman Empire, producing grain on vast estates known as latifundia. However, by the 21st century Sicilian wheat production had declined dramatically due to deforestation and changing climactic conditions. Not even the Fascist "Battle for Wheat," launched in 1925, was able to increase Sicily's agricultural grain output. Alternatives to wheat production have been actively promoted in order to revitalize Sicily's rural economy, especially in the island's interior. One example of these efforts is the Via dei Borghi, an ambitious project proposed by Sicily's Agency for Agricultural Development (ESA) to promote "slow tourism" through the island's center by bicycle, horseback, or on foot. Rather than try and get Sicilian products out to global consumers, ESA believes farmers can lure consumers to Sicily using agricultural heritage — conceived primarily as local landscapes, traditions, and foods— as the hook. Somewhat paradoxically, agricultural heritage is therefore being mobilized to break the wheat monoculture that has dominated Sicilian farming for millennia.

aDNA as a Tool for the Recovery of Lost Genetic Diversity

Author: George Hambrecht (University of Maryland, College Park)  email

Short Abstract

With the advent of gene editing technologies aDNA has the possibility of being used to reintroduce lost genetic variability into modern animal populations. This paper will describe one such project focusing on domestic animals.

Long Abstract

Modern industrial domestic animal breeding has led to the loss of a yet to be defined, but potentially large amount of genetic diversity within modern domestic animals. Instead of discussing biodiversity in the strict sense of the term this paper will discuss genetic diversity within domestic animal species, how this has changed through time, and the possibility of recovering and restoring this lost heritage. This paper will discuss a new project that is attempting to use aDNA to identify and possibly restore lost genetic diversity within domestic animal species. Gene editing technologies have opened up the possibility that just as we might be able to revive extinct species, we are now entering a time when we can revive specific traits recovered from our genetic heritage in the form of aDNA. This project is looking specifically at recovering traits that could be useful for adapting domestic animals to our rapidly changing climate. Genetic diversity in pre-modern domestic animals is an important piece of our cultural heritage, one that might become a valuable tool for navigating the hazards of the Anthropocene.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.