In the Shadow of the Palms: More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua.

AuthorRahman, Serina

In the Shadow of the Palms: More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua, by Sophie Chao. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2022, Pp. 336.

In the Shadow of the Palms is a moving tribute to the Marind people of the Upper Bian River, West Papua. Sophie Chao pens an anthropological take on the dark side of development economics--an agribusiness narrative that wreaks destruction, death and dastardly dreaming in its expansion. Her post-humanist analysis of rural development explores the more-than-human becomings in this region, where virgin forests and mangroves fall prey to the insatiable hunger for oil palm.

Chao's book is ground-breaking in many ways. She takes an innovative approach to plant-human relations by giving the invasive species agency, tapping on plant turn, an interdisciplinary methodology that sees oil palm as "communicative, sentient and world-making actors" (p. 8).

But it is not just this interminable crop that takes on a life of its own. Sago, too, is an active organism in the Upper Bian, and in the lives of the Marind. A distant cousin of the oil palm, it is the lifeblood of the people. The author expertly weaves its stories with that of an indigenous community that faces extermination as much as the plants that symbolize their history, culture and spirituality. To the Marind, this wilderness is more than what they seem and their engagement with the vegetation is a mutual nurturing for longstanding coexistence.

Chao insists that what she writes is co-created with the community that has become her family. She is merely their voice, and the stories she relates come from the Marind themselves--they have decided what she should tell, and how it should be written. This is the work of a true ethnographer, deftly decolonizing anthropology by ensuring that she writes the tales her people want her to share.

She was no parachute researcher in this endeavour. Chao spent more than just a few months in the field, following in the footsteps of her Marind elders, sisters and brothers. She explored what remains of their forests, listening to its more-than-human residents, and she went with them when they were summoned to the big city to listen to the spiel of the agribusinesses. She truly became one with the community when she, too, experienced the pain of oil palm consuming her in her sleep, through her dreams, as it did everyone else in the community. Sophie Chao set out "to tell the story well" (p. 24)--and this, she definitely did.


To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT