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Nature, Politics and Conservation


Susan Visvanathan

ECOLOGICAL NATIONALISMS: NATURE, LIVELIHOODS AND IDENTITIES IN SOUTH ASIA
Edited by Gunnel Cederlof and K. Sivaramakrishnan
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 400, Rs. 750.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 5 May 2006

This is an interesting and valuable book, though the choice of the word nationalism seems a little loose. I suspect the word “national- isms” for a decade and more, has had such currency, that people are unwilling to let go of it, even though globalization has undercut the view on nationalism more severely than one had imagined.>[p/> Kathleen Morrison analyses the relationship between the tribals as foragers and the spice trade  for the Western Ghats. This becomes an enquiry into the relationship of entrepot cities as centers of consumption and export. Historical records show the increase in the consumption of pepper in the 16th century as doubling. Pepper production is presumed to have jumped 200 to 275 percent according to the Indian authors she consults. In a foot-note on Ralph Fitch (the English traveller to Cochin in 1589) she quotes him,   “Heere groweth the pepper; and it springeth up by a tree or a pole, and is like our ivy berry…..much of it doth grow in the fields among the bushes without any labour, and when it is ripe they go and gather it…” She shows us that foragers of wild pepper and cardamom,  who had an important part to play in the networking of agents and traders in ancient times, would begin to diminish in importance with the kind of cultivation that Fitch describes. We also know that with the kind of crash that Dilip Menon describes for the period after the First  and Second World Wars, the pepper trade would be substituted by other cash crops like cocoa and rubber and vanilla, but they would never have the magical stature that pepper brought  to the West Coast of south India.   Cederlof’s essay on the Toda Tiger is a significant piece on  colonialism and ownership of land. Quite often Indians are known to say that “Thank God the British did not feel comfortable enough in India to buy land!” and this essay looks at the Nilgiris where the Todas entered into complex and disturbing confrontations with the British. The Todas were conveniently described as migratory and poor. With (British) “civilization”, they would “receive knowledge, clothing, and better supplies, in the place of ignorance, nakedness and discomfort.” By communicating that they were an unsettled people, they were denied proprietary rights by the British. When they refused to succumb to British law, having laws of their own, they were treated as “...


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