Fire’s Tensions: Indigenous Fire Ecologies and Burning Regulations in Eastern Indonesia’s Seasonally Dry Tropics

Date and Time: 
Friday, 6 May, 2011 - 17:20 to 17:40
FOWLER, Cissy -- Wofford College

Anthropogenic fires in the seasonally dry tropics enflame tensions between cultural survival, ecosystems integrity, and government legislation. On the island of Sumba, farmers depend on fires to produce food and achieve other socio-cultural goals. Yet, despite tremendous geographical variation, one Zero Burn law prohibits all landscape fires across Indonesia thereby criminalizing farmers, discounting fire’s nutritional functions, and misconstruing fire ecology. While men and women of all ages possess expert knowledge and skills in their burning practices, their motives are not always benevolent or benign and their fires are not always predictable or controllable. Most anthropogenic fires are productive horticultural tools, however fires have heterogeneous (beneficial, detrimental, neutral) effects on plant communities. The duplicitousness of anthropogenic fires complicates easy judgments of indigenous peoples as skilled or unskilled, fires as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and the neo-colonial government as ‘just’ or ‘injust’. Clearly, though, legislative reform is needed. The Indonesian government’s aim to create a fire-free national landscape and a zero-burn social order is problematic. What fire policies would maximize health and justice?