Sunday, July 22, 2012

Territorial legacies and criminalised indigenous technologies

Maano Ramutsindela presents

A response to the presentation by Maano Ramutsindela and Clapperton Mavhunga. Understandings of “nature” are probably the most ideological and perhaps romantic in the making and utilising of nature parks in Africa. The “naturalness” that wildlife parks in Africa seem to suggest was dismantled with the presentations delivered at the lecture, “People and Parks”. Maano Ramutsindela introduced the political motivations behind demarcating parks in Africa and Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga shared his research on the knowledge resources of the people living adjacent to the Makuleke Park (the northern part of the Kruger National Park).
Maano’s historical reading of conservation parks in Southern Africa suggested that establishing wildlife parks was part of the colonial making of Africa. In the “scramble” for power over nature, wildlife was seen as private property to be acclaimed and controlled from extensive hunting practices. Conservation in Africa also mirrored the colonial political climate: the 1933 London Convention, which permanently determined the boundaries of nature parks and the ideological imprint of conservation in Africa, was reminiscent of the 1884 Berlin Conference. The project of extending colonial power through wildlife parks displaced local people and criminalised traditional hunting practices. The fences, gates, rangers and guns that identified and protected the boundaries of wildlife parks, policed a separation between humans and nature. This separation captured the territorial mapping of parks in Africa, and produced a legacy that continues to determine the borders of nature parks today. My own research on an urban park in Cape Town studies this legacy and finds it not in the form of physical fences, but in borders of the mind: boundaries inscribed by the historical fabrication of a metropolitan nature and contemporary conservation practices.
With Africa’s struggle for independence, conservationists (especially the ICUN) responded to the new political climate that “endangered” the future of nature parks. During this period, outside funding for conservation increased and the Arusha Conference in 1961 was about selling the “conservationist idea” to the new African leaders to create postcolonial parks (“a special re-territorialisation project of the South”). The political and conservation convergence in shaping the future of nature parks in Southern Africa is a trajectory most explicitly illustrated by the foundation of Transfrontier Conservation Areas (or “Peace Parks”) in the 1990’s by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands and South African Billionaire Anton Rupert. Amongst other meetings with aspiring African leaders, Rupert and the Prince met with Nelson Mandela who declared Peace Parks as shaping the image of Africa as one of “peace and solidarity”. This mapping of nature parks on the African continent – irrespective of local worlds or national boundaries – continues with the current drive to establish a new Peace Park between Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana. Peace Parks intends to promote “tourism flows” between nations and to re-establish ecological integrity by allowing animals to have multiple nationalities. This African wilderness image irons over local understandings of nature and the landscape, politics, poverty, ecological disasters and social conflicts to create an unhindered idyllic natural space for tourists and wildlife funding. The critical question remains what this colonial wildlife legacy means to the locals in their everyday lives. What are the historical utilisations of proclaimed parks, and what does uncovering these knowledge resources mean for postcolonial conservation.
On this point, Clapperton’s presentation shared with us reports from the Makuleke region that detailed the “ways of knowing” around the forest and bush, to consider “technology” outside of the Western scientific canon. To me, he suggested that the local technologies by which the animal is trekked, and the registry of fruits and plants eaten for sickness and health, are indigenous sciences, not recognised in their own right. The forest was a “reservoir for all illnesses, including hunger” (Mavhunga). Boys were skilled in making poison, the dog was neither friend nor enemy, but a trained technology and partner in the hunting process, trekking and finding animals were skills that preceded and proceeded bulleting the target. These knowledge resources and technologies were criminalised by the poaching/illegal harvesting discourse mobilised by conservationists; rendering traditional hunters into poachers.
Yet, the danger in “recovering” these local sights of knowledge lies in failing to recognise its “elastic” and adaptable nature, and perpetuating the “native in nature” stereotype. The biography of things – like the gun – narrates a movement from the global into the local, where it was actively sought after and appropriated, as Makuleke was appropriated by it. To sustain the gun’s utility, ironsmiths made bullets from bat droppings and networks of travelling gunpowder emerged. The weapon also morphed into the cultural context of its locality: technology was part of religion, faith and the process of becoming a man.
What brought the two presentations together were questions of power and knowledge in the space of conservation. Maano presented the political figures behind the territorial mapping of nature parks in Southern Africa, while Clapperton presented the local knowledge resources criminalised or denied by these power demarcations. The result was a mapping from above that mimicked older colonial habits and a mapping from below that traced local technologies. The discrepancy remains within the gap between the power involved in the former mapmaking process and the criminalisation involved in the latter.

Janie Swanepoel

No comments:

Post a Comment