Endangered Forest, Endangered People Environmentalist Representations of Indigenous Knowledge

Brosius, P. (1997). Endangered Forest, Endangered People Environmentalist Representations of Indigenous Knowledge. Human Ecology, 25(1), 47-69.

This piece focuses on the campaign by Penan hunter-gatherers to end logging in the Sarawak rainforest. The efforts by this indigenous group is known as an example of how indigenous people can assert control over their environment and stop the loss of global biodiversity. Brosius examines the ways in which Western environmentalists constructed Penan land rights with reference to Penan knowledge of the environment. The Penan people are divided into two groups, the eastern communities and the western communities. The people in the west are characterized by long term stability and strong internal cohesion while the people in the East have a much more flexible composition. The people of the East are the ones who have been most resistant to the logging and this is attributed to the fact that this area has been visited by numerous environmental activists. Once images of the logging occurring got out to the public, activists from various parts of the world started to take action as well. Throughout the piece Borsius attempts to show how indigenous “knowledge” is represented and transformed. In efforts to make an indigenous group “narratable” and create value environmentalist discourse about indigenous knowledge has the potential to transform that knowledge. In the case of the Penan people, their knowledge of forest landscape is being transformed to view it as something that is sacred and valued and must be saved. Their knowledge is constructed in terms of categories that are Western in origin. This article focuses on environmental degradation and indigenous knowledge and the way western management practices can influence and change that knowledge and the way they think about their environment. This is an example of how western demand leads to environmental damage.