by Priya Rangan
On Thursday 16 October, Tom and I were interviewed by Vanessa Mills, the radio program host of Mornings on ABC Kimberley. During the 15 minute interview, we chatted with Vanessa about our research project on indigenous cultural perspectives regarding unwanted plants in their landscapes. She was particularly interested in the team’s recent research visit to a field site in southern India, and in Tom’s doctoral research project on indigenous weed management with Aboriginal ranger groups in the West Kimberley.
I gave Vanessa a brief description of our ARC-funded project, which is about comparing indigenous people’s knowledge and uses of environmental weeds around the Indian Ocean. Why compare around the Indian Ocean?
Well, because it is an interesting space for comparing indigenous perspectives about changes in their landscapes associated with introduced and existing vegetation. The Indian Ocean is one of the earliest arenas of human migrations and oceanic trade that goes back more than five millennia. Over this long time, many people moved around by land and sea between Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, New Guinea and northern Australia, often bringing plants and animals from one place to another for various purposes. Indigenous and rural communities around the Indian Ocean have thus had long exposure to the arrival of plants from other areas and have developed significant experience in recognising and managing the changing combination of vegetation in their landscapes.
Our project is based on the hypothesis or premise that indigenous people are likely to have distinctive perspectives and values regarding unwanted plants in their landscapes, and that these are likely to be different from mainstream ecological definitions and management of so-called alien invasive plants or environmental weeds. Our comparative study includes the Betsimisaraka communities in eastern Madagascar, rural Xhosa communities in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, the Soliga tribal community in southwest India, and the Miriwoong-Gadjerong communities in eastern Kimberley, Australia.
Vanessa wanted to know whether we had found interesting examples from these areas that showed differences between indigenous and mainstream views about weeds. We told her about our recent trip to the BRT hills in India where the Soliga community are faced with the massive spread of lantana in the landscape. They blame the forestry department for restricting their traditional ways of using fire to control lantana growth; however, they are also finding new uses for lantana, particularly as a material for making baskets and rattan-style furniture.
I also mentioned Christian’s investigations in Madagascar, where the Betsimisaraka are seeing a new expansion of an Australian grevillea plant in their landscape, but they regard its spread as an advantage because they can harvest it and convert it to charcoal for sale in regional markets. Some of the Miriwoong elders that Pat, Tom, and I have met up with in the East Kimberley are also interested in making products from trees like neem which have spread vigorously in their country.
We talked about the benefits of doing such a comparative study for the indigenous and rural communities in all these places, as well as for government departments concerned with agriculture, environment, forestry, and biodiversity. By sharing their knowledge and experiences of using and managing the spread of plants, the indigenous communities can find new employment and business opportunities while also maintaining their landscapes according to their cultural values.
You can check out our radio interview: http://artsonline.monash.edu.au/ges/weeds-project-radio/
We were featured on the ABC Kimberley Facebook page too:
https://www.facebook.com/ABCKimberley/photos/a.403842987155.180441.316527197155/10152748480372156/?type=1&relevant_count=1 [caption: Tom with David Newry, discussing mimosa bush (Acacia farnesiana) last year on a drive through Miriwoong lands near Kununurra]
https://www.facebook.com/ABCKimberley/photos/a.403842987155.180441.316527197155/10152748472177156/?type=1&relevant_count=1 [caption: Lantana is prolific the Biligirirangan Hills of India.]