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Indigenous responses to invasive species in a globalized system


Anna Boswell, Nicolas Garnier

Session presentation

Because Pacific Island ecosystems evolved in relative isolation, the arrival of the first human settlers inevitably produced disturbances. After initial impact, and through paying careful attention to the environment, Pacific peoples managed to maintain a delicate but fragile balance between resource utilisation and preservation of natural diversity. Colonial history and contemporary globalization, however, have brought significant new threats and challenges to Pacific places and peoples. The introduction of exotic species of fauna, many of whom turn out to be invasive, threatens the environment and the very existence of many places in the Pacific. The papers in this panel adopt interdisciplinary approaches to investigating how these issues are being addressed by Pacific peoples, politicians, natural scientists and international organizations.

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

The Hau of the Rat

Anna Boswell (University of Auckland)

This paper unravels associative eco-logics that pertain to the Pacific rat (or kiore) in Aotearoa/New Zealand. For Māori, kiore are distinguished travel companions who recall migratory history, Oceanic homelands and ancestral values. Yet for European settlers, kiore are indistinguishable from the two species of rat imported on sailing ships from the late eighteenth century. Lumped together with European rodents, kiore have long been viewed by settlers as mundane, dirty, disease-ridden, destructive of agricultural crops and ‘native’ nature, and disposed towards rubbish and refuse. Kiore numbers have declined due to competition with acclimatised European species and kiore were thought to have become extinct by the early twentieth century, before remnant populations were discovered. While the ongoing value of kiore to iwi is intermittently acknowledged, care for kiore is more largely framed as being counter to the flourishing of life systems. Indeed, rats have been cast as one of three villain species in the world-first Predator Free 2050 campaign unveiled with fanfare by the New Zealand government in 2016. Predator Free 2050 seeks to obliterate the memory of devastating changes to the lifeworld that have unfolded in Aotearoa/New Zealand since European arrival, controlling rats as a means of restoring equilibrium. Because kiore are associative creatures, however, they carry striking teachings about waste and well-being, visitors and vermin, and the ethics of unbalanced exchange.

The fish that destroys everything: the Chambri people of Papua New Guinea in their relation to the Nation concerning environmental changes.

Nicolas Garnier (Musée du Quai Branly)

The struggles of traditional societies confronted to environmental changes represent a new challenge for anthropologists. They are required to invite specialists from other disciplines (chemists, zoologists, botanists or climatologists) to assess their assumptions. They also have to convey a broad number of actors (political leaders, academic institutions, NGO’s and members of the civil society). Finally the threats to people’s health caused by environmental changes oblige anthropologist to review their observatory position.
In the 1990’s, scientific institutions released a foreign fish species in the Sepik River (Papua New Guinea), in the hope of improving people’s diet. These new species have destroyed the natural habitat of endemic species. They have provoked a cascade effects that so profoundly transformed the natural environment that Chambri diet, transportation, economy and world views have been profoundly affected. These effects were multiplied by the recent unpredictability of the climate in the region. The paper analyses Chambri’ s interpretations of these changes and discourse from local and national authorities. It draws on the difficulties for Chambri voices to be heard at a local political level, and by the national scientific institutions. It also attempts to understand politicians, scientists and civil society’s organizations’ position when dealing with a small scale society confronted by environmental disasters.