Macquarie University
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In the shadow of the palms: plant-human relations among Marind-Anim, West Papua

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posted on 2022-03-28, 02:57 authored by Sophie Marie Hélène Chao
This thesis explores how indigenous Marind-Anim in Merauke District (West Papua) conceptualize and engage with the socio-environmental impacts of oil palm expansion. Drawing from post-humanist theories, I analyze how oil palm reconfigures the lifeworld of Marind through its effects on the landscape, on time, on Marinds' relations to plants and animals, and on Marinds' dreams. I demonstrate that widespread speculation among my interlocutors over the attributes and effects of oil palm stems from the fact that the plant itself is seen (and feared) as a willful and destructive actant. Yet many Marind also pity oil palm for its subjection to human exploitation, and express great curiosity about the origins, needs, and dispositions of this introduced plant-being. Giving center stage to plants as 'lethal capital' and their ambivalent relations to humans thus challenges us to rethink capitalism and violence beyond the human. It also highlights the need to attend to 'post-humanism' as a plural rather than singular category of being - one that is alternately embraced and eschewed by communities themselves treated as sub-human and killable within entrenched and emergent colonial, capitalist, and techno-scientific assemblages. Chapters 1 and 2 explore the effects of monocrop plantations and other state and corporate nodes of control on the landscape and its cartographic representation. Chapters 3 and 4 investigate how Marind become anim (human) through their bodily relations to other organisms, and how oil palm violates inter-species dynamics by transforming wild and native lifeforms into domesticated and alien beings. Chapters 5 and 6 examine the Marind practice of 'going to know' sago and its stories, and the contrasts Marind identify between sago and oil palm within an affectively and politically charged moral-vegetal spectrum. Chapter 7 explores the temporal rupture wrought by oil palm in light of Marind concepts of mythical and historical time. Finally, Chapter 8 attends to dysphoric dreams of oil palm possession through which Marind reflect imaginatively and collectively on their changing worlds and ways of being.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter 1. Pressure points -- Chapter 2. Maps that won't sit still -- Chapter 3. Skin, wetness and making Anim -- Chapter 4. The plastic cassowary -- Chapter 5. Sago encounters -- Chapter 6. Sawit counterpoints -- Chapter 7. Time has come to a stop -- Chapter 8. Eaten by Sawit -- Conclusions -- References -- Appendix.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 307-349

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Anthropology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Anthropology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Jaap Timmer

Additional Supervisor 1

Eben Kirksey

Additional Supervisor 2

Eve Vincent


Copyright Sophie Marie Hélène Chao 2018. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (351 pages) colour illustrations

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