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The Banana Tree at the Gate

The Banana Tree at the Gate: A History of Marginal Peoples and Global Markets in Borneo

Michael R. Dove
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Banana Tree at the Gate
    Book Description:

    The "Hikayat Banjar," a native court chronicle from Borneo, characterizes the irresistibility of natural resource wealth to outsiders as "the banana tree at the gate." Michael R. Dove employs this phrase as a root metaphor to frame the history of resource relations between the indigenous peoples of Borneo and the world system. In analyzing production and trade in forest products, pepper, and especially natural rubber, Dove shows that the involvement of Borneo's native peoples in commodity production for global markets is ancient and highly successful and that processes of globalization began millennia ago. Dove's analysis replaces the image of the isolated tropical forest community that needs to be helped into the global system with the reality of communities that have been so successful and competitive that they have had to fight political elites to keep from being forced out.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15322-4
    Subjects: Anthropology, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. Part I. Introduction

    • CHAPTER 1 The Study of Smallholder Commodity Producers
      (pp. 3-40)

      In these seemingly banal few sentences, written down in a daily journal kept by a former research assistant of mine, lies the key to an important thread in the history of globalization. These sentences illustrate the all-important division within the household between two fundamentally different types of production: one, swidden cultivation in this case, oriented toward meeting the household’s subsistence needs; and the other, here rubber tapping, oriented toward meeting the household’s market needs. They illustratethecentral dynamic in the historic role of the tribal peoples of Borneo, and elsewhere, in the global economy.

      Angkol is a Kantu’, a...

  6. Part II. The Challenges of the Colonial Trade in the Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries

    • [Part II. Introduction]
      (pp. 41-44)

      This second section of the book takes up the story of the Bornean trade in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. The involvement of the island and its peoples in global trade dates back a millennium before that, but this is when European colonial intrusion into the trade system became much more intense. The colonial powers were not simply taking the place of regional traders like the Chinese nor competing with one another for trade monopolies, although they did both as well; they began to involve themselves in the local, on-ground details of commodity production and politics. In so doing, they...

    • CHAPTER 2 A Native Court’s Warning about Involvement in Commodity Production
      (pp. 45-72)

      Whereas the records on the participation of indigenous Southeast Asian kingdoms in commodity production for colonial markets are very good, the records of how such kingdoms perceived this participation are scanty by comparison. This analysis is an attempt to interpret one such record.

      There is a remarkable passage in theHikayat Banjarin which its founder and ruler, King Ampu Jatmaka, issues an injunction against the cultivation ofsahangor “black pepper”:

      And let not our country plant pepper as an export-crop, for the sake of making money, like Palembang and Jambi [two kingdoms in Sumatra]. Whenever a country cultivates...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Antecedent to Cultivating Exotic Rubber: Gathering Native Forest Rubbers
      (pp. 73-96)

      Chapter 2 examined the intensive, closely monitored, and politically contested cultivation of pepper in Borneo early in the seventeenth century. This chapter looks at the less-intensive and less-controlled, if still politically contentious, tradition of gathering forest products on the island, which persisted well into the twentieth century.¹ The juxtaposition of the two analyses shows that the history of commodity production and trade on Borneo is complex and does not follow an obvious evolutionary sequence. This historic trade in forest products is of interest for what it tells us about the politics of natural resource management and how these politics play...

  7. Part III. Coping with the Contradictions of Capitalism in the Early Twentieth Century

    • [Part III. Introduction]
      (pp. 97-100)

      My analysis of Bornean commodity production moves in this section of the book into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, focusing on two critically important moments: first, the transfer of rubber seeds from the Amazon to Southeast Asia in 1876, and second, the impact of the worldwide Depression in the 1930s. These two periods encompass the initial challenge to develop a distinct rubber industry in Southeast Asia and then, in a remarkably short space of time, to deal with problems of overproduction and falling prices. These challenges raised pivotal questions at the time concerning technology: How much of the...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Construction of Rubber Knowledge in Southeast Asia
      (pp. 101-121)

      The transplanting ofHeveafrom South America to Southeast Asia was a lengthy and contentious process full of surprises. Of most importance, what was transplanted was a plant and not a turnkey system of knowledge and production. Much of the production system in Southeast Asia was created anew, with little reference to South America, and the process by which this came about tells us much about smallholders, estates, and the real and imagined differences between them.

      Ellen and Harris (2000: 7) note that the “epistemic origins” of much knowledge, whether folk or scientific, are hidden, and this anonymity has contributed...

    • CHAPTER 5 Depression-Era Responses to Smallholder Rubber Development by Tribesmen and Governments
      (pp. 122-144)

      In this chapter I move from the initial development of the rubber knowledge and technology in Southeast Asia to its first major market crises. Geertz ([1963] 1971: 123) has written of this period: “As the bulk of the Javanese peasants moved toward agricultural involution, a small minority of the Outer Island peasants moved toward agricultural specialization, frank individualism, social conflict, and cultural rationalization. The second course was the more perilous, and to some minds it may seem both less defensible morally and less attractive aesthetically. But at least it did not foredoom the future.” This chapter is an analysis of...

  8. Part IV. The Indigenous Resolution of the Subsistence/Market Tension

    • [Part IV. Introduction]
      (pp. 145-148)

      In this section of the book, I move forward in time to the latter half of the twentieth century, again focusing on smallholder rubber cultivation. By this time, the events attending the transfer ofHeveafrom South America to Southeast Asia had become history, the major initial adaptations of Para rubber to the new social and biological environment had been made, and mature, well-functioning smallholder systems of production were in evidence. The aim of this section is to examine more closely the details of these systems, in particular their dualistic nature. The aim is to ask how the dual household...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Dual Economy of Cultivating Rubber and Rice
      (pp. 149-168)

      A number of studies have noted the historic association of smallholder rubber cultivation with swidden cultivation of food crops (Chin 1982; Colfer, Gill, and Agus 1988; Cramb 1988, 1993; Dove 1983; Padoch 1980; Pelzer 1978b; and Thomas 1965). Valuable data on rubber cultivation by swidden agriculturalists also is presented in broader analyses of tribal agriculture and economics (Chin 1985; Drake 1982; Freeman [1955] 1970; Geddes 1954; and Hudson 1967). Beyond noting the association between smallholder and swidden cultivation, however, with the exception of some studies of swidden-based agro-forestry (for example, de Jong 1997), there has been little in-depth analysis of...

    • CHAPTER 7 Living Rubber, Dead Land, and Persisting Systems: Indigenous Representations of Sustainability
      (pp. 169-192)

      Kantu’ traditionally said that when they plant rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) in their swiddens or swidden fallows, the land thenceforth becomestanah mati(dead land), in implicit contrast to the remaining “living land” contained in the swidden agricultural cycle, a linguistic usage that is widespread in Borneo (for example, see Cramb 2007).¹ Rubber appears to be the first and so far the only cultigen to have this impact. No swidden crop, nor any aspect of the swidden cycle, is ever said to kill the land, not even when opening primary forest. The meaning of “dead land” is based on three indigenous...

  9. Part V. The Conundrum of Resource Wealth versus Political Power

    • [Part V. Introduction]
      (pp. 193-196)

      In this section of the book, I bring my analysis of commodity production and trade in Borneo into the near present and present, focusing in chapter 8 on contemporary views from smallholders in South Kalimantan and in chapter 9 on contemporary views from parastatal estate managers from throughout Indonesia, and drawing on data from the past several decades. Chapter 8 revolves around the analysis of a folk parable concerning the perils of resource riches in the hands of a politically weak person, which sums up the theme of asymmetrical wealth and power that runs through the entire book. Chapter 9...

    • CHAPTER 8 Material Wealth and Political Powerlessness: A Parable from South Kalimantan
      (pp. 197-217)

      This chapter begins with a parable that I heard when working with Banjarese villagers in the foothills above Martapura in southeastern Kalimantan. One of the sources of nonagricultural income for these villagers is small-scale, part-time, alluvial mining of gold and especially diamonds. The parable that I heard regarding the paradoxical outcomes of good fortune helped to crystallize for me many of the ideas that I have presented in this volume. As Andrew P. Vayda (2009: 18) writes, “Far from taking the form of strict statements of invariant sequences, the generalizations deployed by us may refer to sequences seen as recurrent...

    • CHAPTER 9 Plantations and Representations in Indonesia
      (pp. 218-244)

      In the early 1980s, what was to become an infamous tea party was held along the banks of the Kapuas River in West Kalimantan. The hostesses were the Javanese and Sumatran wives of the managers of a rubber nucleus estate being developed there, and the guests were the wives of local Dayak tribesmen. When the guests arrived, they gathered up the food that had been prepared and then left, taking the food with them and leaving their shocked hostesses behind. The managers of the plantation attributed this behavior to the purportedly strange and difficult culture of the tribesmen. I suggest...

  10. Part VI. Conclusion

    • CHAPTER 10 Smallholders and Globalization
      (pp. 247-258)

      This book began with a vignette of a day in the life of a tribal family in the interior of Borneo, a scene that seems quintessentially “local.” But a large part of the aim of this study has been to question this understanding of the local and thus the nonlocal as well—the global. One of the principal conclusions to this analysis of smallholder agriculturalists is that we cannot understand local smallholders unless we understand their relationship to extra-local political and economic systems. A corollary conclusion is that we cannot really understand the wider, global systems either, if we do...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 259-286)
  12. References
    (pp. 287-316)
  13. General Index
    (pp. 317-329)
  14. Index of Plant Names
    (pp. 330-332)