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Vol. 2, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, HUANG Jianli

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 2

The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya: Tangled Strands of Modernity

Kah Seng Loh, Edgar Liao, Cheng Tju Lim, and Guo-Quan Seng

Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012, 347p., with bibliography and index.

This book examines the history of the University Socialist Club (USC) at the University of Malaya (later renamed as University of Singapore) from 1953 to 1971 within the broad context of British decolonization, the global Cold War, and the making of the modern nation-states of Singapore and Malaya(sia). It is a timely product because the only substantive works on this important subject are a 1973 unpublished BA graduating thesis (Koh 1973) and the recent firsthand accounts in The Fajar Generation as edited by three former USC members (Poh et al. 2010). Moreover, it arrives at an opportune moment when the authoritarian politics of Singapore appear to be changing, with “untold stories” and “alternative narratives” being offered through a multitude of platforms to challenge the dominant state narrative of the Singapore Story as framed primarily by the elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew.

It is to the credit of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS, Singapore) to have provided the four young scholars with initial financial support and moral impetus to explore new ground in Singapore history (p. 12). It would have been even better if ISEAS had seen the project to its fruition and publication through its own internal publishing unit. Similarly, the authors have registered their share of difficulty in getting access to local primary source materials, especially government records, and their fresh archival findings were mostly excavated from foreign archives instead of the National Archives of Singapore (pp. 38–39). How they overcame these obstacles is testimony to the tenacity and skill of the history writing of the authors as they have indeed succeeded in putting together a volume rich in details and analysis.

The main body of discussion begins with the reluctant British approval for forming a political club within the nascent university as well as the Fajar arrests and sedition trial which elevated the USC to its iconic political status. This is followed by several chapters delineating its activities to mobilize students across campuses in Singapore as well as those in Malaya and even among the international student fraternity. It was a mixed record of collaboration and contestation due to personality issues and ideological differences. The discussion also touches on the important divide as well as connectivity between the English-educated and Chinese-educated student activists. An introspective critique is then developed on how the intelligence and security agencies (especially the Special Branch which later morphed into the Internal Security Department), under the trope of international Cold War and local fear of communism and communalism, had constructed a problematic information order which became a primary tool for the emasculation of left wing politics. The next segment deals with the USC’s involvement in the battle to merge and form Malaysia, the various security crackdowns, and the fight for university autonomy. The last substantive chapter on “Entwined Memories and Myths” brings the story to the present day by surfacing the claims and counter-memories of various actors on both sides of the political fence in their old age.

While the book serves up a useful chronological narrative (as fortified by an appendix on “Timeline of Events”), there is a laudable conscious effort throughout to transcend the details and to sieve out analytically a set of main trends and themes. Inserted in between the factual accounts are numerous passages of deep reflection and, in addition, even critique of sources (e.g. pp. 38–39, 154–158, 203, 234). However, the most important analytical device deployed is to package the complex developments under the sub-title “tangled strands of modernity.” The struggle for a theoretical flavor through the theme of modernity is explicated in the introductory and concluding chapters and in fleeting references to Partha Chatterjee (pp. 25–27) and James Scott (p. 27). The connection between modernity and the forging of nation-state by the USC and its rivals comes across repeatedly and is clear enough. However, the usage and discussion of the term “multiple modernities” does not appear to be on the right track as it tends to slide towards being an equivalence of “multiple identities” instead of pointing out subtle non-Western features of Asia-situated modernity (pp. 28–30). Similarly, the reference to James Scott’s “high-modernist ideology” as espoused in Seeing Like a State does not seem appropriate as his term actually goes beyond simple modernism and incorporates a misplaced grand utopian vision which would inadvertently bring about death and disruption to millions (such as the Great Leap Forward in China [see Scott 1998]). It is also a missed opportunity that the parallel concepts of “post-modernism” and “post-colonialism” have not been adequately handled. This would have facilitated a critique of the preponderant nation-state framework and of whether Singapore, with its attainment of independence and governance under the People’s Action Party, has remained entrapped by the deep structure of colonial mentality and thus cannot be truly claimed to have ever transited into a “post-colonial” society.

On the balance, the book should prove to be a compelling read in terms of its rich factual details, fluent prose, thrusting analysis, as well as theoretical framing. It is a handsome contribution to extant scholarship on the history of the island city-state and places the English-educated student activism back into the limelight as the increasingly Anglicized society currently gropes towards a new style of politics.

Huang Jianli 黄坚立
Department of History, National University of Singapore


Koh, Tat Boon. 1973. University of Singapore Socialist Club, 1953–1962. Unpublished academic exercise, History Department, University of Singapore.

Poh, Soo Kai; Tan, Jing Quee; and Koh, Kay Yew, eds. 2010. The Fajar Generation: The University Socialist Club and the Politics of Postwar Malaya and Singapore. Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre.

Scott, James. 1998. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.


Vol. 2, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Jacqueline Aquino SIAPNO

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 2

Mapping the Acehnese Past

R. Michael Feener, Patrick Daly, and Anthony Reid, eds.

Leiden: KITLV Press, 2011, xvi+292p.

One of the underlying themes in this edited volume on Aceh is that “a fresh look at the . . . archives suggests that new histories can be created” (J. G. Taylor, p. 234), so each of the articles presents a new history, a new production of knowledge, a new way of representing and looking at Aceh using old archival, historical sources that have previously already been written about from other angles. These include ancient history archaeological findings and investigations of ceramics and Muslim tombstones; the Ottoman Empire’s archives on the friendship and collaboration between Acehnese sultans and the Ottoman Empire; close readings from a fresh perspective of traditional Malay-Acehnese hikayat and indigenous oral traditions on prang sabil; the art of royal letter writing by three Acehnese sultans from different periods; a very brief look at Portuguese archives; the close reading and analyses of Dutch letters, VOC correspondence, notes, and gift exchanges with the Acehnese sultans and the orang kaya, and KITLV photographs. This book highlights the cosmopolitanism and richness of Aceh’s connections to the outside world and is, according to the editors, a book about Aceh as seen from the “outsider’s perspectives.” But there is an inconsistency: if it is a book by outsiders about outsider’s perspectives on Aceh, then where does one place the two articles by the only two Acehnese in the book, Teuku Iskandar and Amirul Hadi? Are they Acehnese outsiders?

The most informative (with a fresh perspective), elegantly written, and profoundly critical papers in this book are those by Teuku Iskandar (“Aceh as a crucible of Muslim-Malay literature”), Ismail Hakki Goksoy (“Ottoman-Aceh relations as documented in Turkish sources”), Annabel Teh Gallop (“Gold, silver and lapis lazuli: Royal letters from Aceh in the seventeenth century”), Ismail Hakki Kadi, A. C. S. Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop (on “Writing history: The Acehnese embassy to Istanbul, 1849–1852”), and Jean Gelman Taylor (“Aceh histories in the KITLV images archive”). Here is one example of something hilarious:

The grand vizier’s minutes suggest the limitations of the Ottoman bureaucracy’s intelligence about the political and administrative structure of Southeast Asia. He wrote that “the place called Java is a sort of province of the great island of Sumatra,” implying that the Ottomans did really consider Java as a province of Sumatra, as the Acehnese mission claimed. (Kadi, Peacock and ­Gallop, p. 176)

Annabel Teh Gallop examines an example of how artistically sophisticated and intellectually subtle the Acehnese were in the art of rhetoric:

As with so many royal Malay epistles, this is a carefully crafted and extremely diplomatic letter, deploying both bombast and subtlety as judged appropriate to convey what is essentially a negative message. (Gallop, p. 116, describing the content of Sultan Iskandar Thani’s [r. 1636–1641] letter to Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange [1584–1647])

Jean Taylor provides a fascinating unpacking of the problem of power and inequality in the field of history and historiography, in particular in the use of photographs as tools of history:

Consideration of what actually was photographed obliges us to recognize that photography is not an objective record of peoples, times and places. Photographs are subjected to manipulation through selection, like any other set of documents. They are staged records and products of fleeting relationships between the photographed and the photographer . . . . Specialists in colonial photography draw attention to the social distance between the viewer and the viewed, and to the process of “othering.” (J.G. Taylor, p. 201)

These articles are riveting and fascinating to read, and a treasure trove of new insights and new knowledge into old sources that have already been interpreted by dozens of other interpreters. I strongly recommend these articles and this book, especially to Acehnese readers. Granted it is so much easier to “handle” old texts and archival photographs from a great distance (both temporally and geographically), compared to doing ethnographic fieldwork and living with Acehnese in rural areas—and this is where one can see the editing hand of Anthony Reid, whose name is on the cover as one of the editors, but who has no paper in the volume. This is the historian’s selective bias of “how to map the Acehnese past” in a particular way. And one can see why there were protests outside the conference (from which the papers in this book were collected), because this mapping relies primarily on royal letters that survived, hikayat texts commissioned by sultans, foreign power-elites’ correspondence with the Acehnese elite, and the material culture, gifts, photographs, tombstones of important people who “mattered” and were able to write themselves into history. What about the majority of Acehnese who were not in the “paper trail”? James Scott’s argument in his book The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (2009) that “the job of peasants . . . is to stay out of the archives” would be very instructive here in unpacking the inequalities in the production of knowledge about Aceh, and why Acehnese public intellectuals (who have minimal access to archives, surviving texts kept outside of Aceh, but rely mostly on oral traditions and local knowledges) continue to feel “inferior” when confronted by their foreign counterparts who focus on print literature, no matter how empathetic and well-meaning.

I must admit that I was initially reluctant to say anything enthusiastic about the book, since the conference from which it was produced (the first International Conference on Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies, ICAIOS) in Banda Aceh, funded by the Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi (BRR) and organized in conjunction with the Asia Research Institute (ARI) was rather controversial, with Acehnese civil society groups and students protesting in front of the hotel where the conference was held back in February 24–27, 2007. I was one of the invited speakers to this first International Conference on Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies (ICAIOS) and remember being instructed that we must stay in the hotel and be careful about going outside as there were Acehnese protesters outside who were not thrilled about the “types” of scholars and scholarship being presented in this conference. It is revealing that there is an absence of discussion of the contentious socio-political-economic-ecological context of present inequalities of knowledge production in Aceh in this neatly sanitized book.

Writing history, as some of the papers in this volume have argued eloquently (especially those by Teuku Iskandar, Annabel Teh Gallop, Ismail Hakki Kadi, A.C.S. Peacock, and Jean Gelman Taylor), is never an objective, neutral exercise: it is a process of selectively choosing which photographs, symbols, words, rhetoric, manipulated maps to use to represent one’s self, or an entire nation. It is the same with the selection of articles for this mapping Acehnese history book, which is telling in terms of its emphases and absences. So while I found this book highly informative and fun to read, enlightening on so many aspects of Aceh’s past which I haven’t come across (especially the use of sources from the Ottoman archives), my hope is that it will be translated into Acehnese and Bahasa Indonesia to bridge the gap with wider Acehnese and Indonesian audiences who may just easily dismiss it as yet another history book by foreigners who know little about Acehnese’ cur­rent conditions of continuing to feel “inferior” and “fossilized” (the words of a prominent Acehnese public intellectual in BRR and IAIN) in what they see are ongoing processes of domination.

Jacqueline Aquino Siapno
Independent Scholar


Scott, James C. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.


Vol. 2, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Kurniawati Hastuti Dewi

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 2

Religion, Politics and Gender in Indonesia: Disputing the Muslim Body

Sonja van Wichelen

New York: Routledge, 2010, xxvi+154p.

Democratization and Islamization are the two most important developments that are shaping and influencing the socio-political landscape of Post-Suharto Indonesia. As the biggest Muslim majority country in the world, Indonesia is considered by many to have undergone a successful transition from authoritarian to democratic governance despite some limitations. A new democratic process has also witnessed the growth of Islam in Indonesia. It is generally understood that contemporary Indonesian Islam in the post-Suharto era has shown a decline in political Islam (as indicated by the weakening of Islamic political parties). However, to borrow a term, “social Islamization” is showing signs of progression (Ota et al. 2010, 5). This is clearly indicated by an increase in the publication of Islamic books, the popularity of veiling, a lively discussion of Muslim women’s rights, the emergence of a new generation of Islamic preachers, the growing attention accorded to the Islamic banking system, and the commodification of Islam.

This book was written in the context of the progressively changing democratization and Islamization, in which Islam has gradually moved to the center stage of Indonesian society and shaped its public sphere. Sonja van Wichelen notes how these two important developments, along with globalization (pp. xiii–xv), have enabled vibrant debates on social-cultural issues, Islam, ­gender, and politics to flourish and subsequently involve various actors with different ideologies. This book originated from a PhD thesis submitted to the Amsterdam School for Social Science Research (ASSR), the Netherlands, and builds on the author’s criticism of the current state of scholarship on Islam and democracy, which she believes has mainly dealt with a debate on the compatibility of Islam with liberal democracy. Sonja tries to go beyond the classical debate. By using gender politics as a tool of analysis, she investigates how Muslims are making Islam com­patible with democracy and negotiating their religiosity in the public sphere and within the nation-state (p. xiii). Although media analysis is the main research method used, she has also gathered data through fieldwork and interviews with more than 60 Muslims and women’s organization activists collected over three periods (2003, 2004, 2005) adding up to a total of 12 months, mostly in Java (p. xxiii).

Media analysis is an important research method in this book. Sonja presents an empirical analysis of public debates on Islam and gender, focusing on four cases in post-Suharto Indonesia (all mass-mediated through print and electronic media). These were the female presidency, the manifestation of new veiling practices, the pro-polygamy campaign, and the contestation over public sexualities. Discourse analysis encompasses three analytical levels, namely, representation, discursive context, and social practices. These are used in this book to understand and analyze the four cases (p. xxiv). Throughout the six chapters, the book develops the argument that “public debates on Islam and gender in contemporary Indonesia only partially concern religion and more often refer to shifting moral conceptions of the masculine and feminine body in its intersections with new class dynamics, national identity and global consumerism” (p. xv).

While the book presents interesting facts on, and assessments of, the public debates on gender and Islam in contemporary Indonesia, it would have been better if the author had also addressed the following points. First, in delineating the context of the study in Chapter 1’s democratization “Muslim Politics and Democratization,” it would have been more useful if the author had clearly and thoroughly mentioned some fundamental socio-political features earlier on in the book. For example, the book did not adequately address the phenomenon of the growing practice of veiling among Muslim female high school and university student followers of the Tarbiyah (education) movement as an example of the explicit impact of Tarbiyah movement that emerged on university campuses since 1970s (p. 4). Here, in fact, this phenomenon is too interesting to be overlooked, as it provides an important clue to understand the changes in the relationships and identities of young middle class Muslim women vis-à-vis Islam and the nation-state in late New Order Indonesia. The growing adoption of veiling among Muslim female high school and university students mainly based in Java since 1980s serves as one of the important stages in the relationship between Javanese women and Islam as part of the identity formation of becoming Javanese Muslim women (Kurniawati 2012). The adoption of veiling does not simply indicate the elevation of individual’s status, but also reflects a collective action to engage in the identity politics of Muslim women. This is in response to Suharto’s strong grip on political Islam, and its strong control over Indonesian women, including Muslim women, through its dominant narrative of politically defeated women during the New Order (ibid., 126–127). This point is crucial to understanding the pros and cons of the growing adoption of the veil by high school and university students in 1980s. It fleshes out some of the detailed stories concerning Suharto’s resistance and a shifting policy toward Muslim organizations and movements in 1991 (see Alwi and Fifrida 2002). Although veiling is one of the cases investigated in the book, the author makes only cursory references to and analysis of veiling practices in the 1980s, and skips the earlier periods to focus on cases after the 1990s (p. 45).

Second, while the author discusses the socio-political and historical context, Chapter 1 could have been rewritten more effectively to prevent confusion. For example, following the history of socio-political changes in Indonesia from the New Order to the post-Suharto period, the section “Exposure of liberal Islam” (p. 7) should have come after the section of “The Islamic turn” (p. 9). This is because historically, the emergence of liberal Islam is a new phenomenon in the 2000s; thus, it is not appropriate to be positioned so early after the section “Fluidity of Islamist movement” (p. 4). It would have been more effective if the order of the socio-political changes were revised in the following order: “Fluidity of Islamist movements,” “Islamization and new publicness of Islam,” and “The Islamic turn,” followed by “Exposure of liberal Islam.” This would not only help the general reader gain an understanding of the Indonesian socio-political changes in proper historical sequence, but also reduce the redundancy of repeated mentions of some points (such as the Tarbiyah movement and the pembaruan [renewal], etc).

Third, in explaining the features of the New Order gender ideology in the section on “Gendered interventions” (p. 15), the author cites Julia Suryakusuma’s work in depicting the New Order gender ideology as State Ibuism (“state motherism”) (p. 16). However, it would be more meaningful if the author could provide a comprehensive explanation as early as possible in the book on how this ideology actually worked in practice, for example, for urban middle class women via Dharma Wanita, and for lower-class women via Family Welfare Programs (Pembinaan Kesejahteraan Keluarga, PKK) (see for instance Blackburn 1994; Robinson 2000). The author’s explanatory note, I feel, comes a bit too late on page 39 under the section “Desexing Megawati” in Chapter 2 (“The Debate on Female Leadership”).

Fourth, the discussion in Chapter 3 (“Formation of Public Piety”) of the spread of the practice of veiling in Post-Suharto Indonesia, I was surprised by the author’s statement on page 48 that “Traditionalist women wore the loose kerudung, which most often came in different colors. Modernist women, on the other hand, often rejected the head-covering, regarding it as a custom of traditionalist Islam” (p. 48). This is an unusual statement because it differs from the common understanding of the different practices of veiling between traditionalist Islam (Nahdlatul Ulama) and modernist Islam (Muhammadiyah). As far as I know, Muhammadiyah especially its women’s wing (‘Aisyiyah) is well known for its pioneering work to introduce veiling since 1920s as part of its effort to promote new a Islamic identity of wanita sholehah (pious women in Islam), though initially limited among Javanese Muslim women in Kauman Yogyakarta (see Lin 1952; Kurniawati 2007, 39–42). In contrast, women in Nahdlatul Ulama adopted the veil much later, albeit in a more tolerant manner, since they believed that an “open kudung” was the rule, and they did not talk about the jilbab (a tighter kudung) prior to the 1980s (see Feillard 1999). Interestingly, we can see on page 67 that the author’s early statement contradicts with the author’s later assessment obtained from an interview with an informant from Nasyiatul ‘Aisyiyah (women youth wing of Muhammadiyah). To some extent, this narrative reflects an interesting notion, yet there is ­ambiguity in how the author understands the basic differences in veiling practice between ­Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama.

Fifth, while there is a good analysis of public debates in the four cases on gender and Islam, I expected to read more in terms of interview results-with the more than 60 respondents mentioned earlier in this book (p. xxiii) to support the narrative developed from the discourse analysis. I found only a few of the author’s original interviews presented in this book. It would have been far better if the narrative developed through discourse analysis had been accompanied by firsthand interviews with the related figures. This would have been central in the case of Puspo Wardoyo and the pro-polygamy campaign, AA Gym, Inul Daratista, etc. A clearer presentation that highlighted the voice and agency of respondents involved in the debates would have helped generate deeper insights into related public figures. This could have facilitated the analysis while reducing the likelihood of misinterpreting the phenomenon, given that some media present certain ideologies or narratives that steer public opinion in response to some sensitive cases, such as female leadership or polyg­amy.

Despite the above limitations, this book is quite successful in giving us snapshots of the ­current developments of gender, Islam, and politics and their relation to globalization and con­sumerism in post-Suharto Indonesia. This book provides an interesting discussion of the vibrant discourse in the four important cases, not only between secular and Islamist players but also among Muslims themselves. This in turn underscores the greater role of Islam and Muslims in shaping the public sphere and contributing to the making of the nation-state in post-Suharto Indonesia. This book is able to present interesting data on the making of modern Indonesian citizens. It does so by presenting new images of a rising Muslim middle class made up of modern Muslim women and men, while tracking the shifting notions of masculinity and femininity in the new images of manhood and womanhood developing in post-Suharto Indonesia. This book is recommended for students or those who are interested in Islam, politics, gender, and Southeast Asian studies, and provides a general preliminary understanding of the current developments of Islam, gender, politics, and democratization in post-Suharto Indonesia, the biggest Muslim-majority country in ­Southeast Asia and in the world.

Kurniawati Hastuti Dewi
Center for Political Studies, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Jakarta


Alwi Alatas; and Fifrida Desliyanti. 2002. Revolusi Jilbab: Kasus Pelarangan Jilbab di SMA Negeri se-Jabotabek 1982–1991 [The Jilbab revolution: The case of Jilbab’s restriction in public senior high school in Jabotabek 1982–1991]. Jakarta: Al-I’tishom Cahaya Umat.

Blackburn, Susan. 1994. Gender Interest and Indonesian Democracy. In Democracy in Indonesia 1950s and 1990s, edited by David Bourchier and John Legge. Clayton, Victoria: Centre of Southeast Asian Studies Monash University.

Feillard, Andree. 1999. The Veil and Polygamy: Current Debates on Women and Islam in Indonesia. Moussons 99: 5–28.

Kurniawati Hastuti Dewi. 2012. Javanese Women and Islam: Identity Formation since the Twentieth Century. Southeast Asian Studies 1(1): 109–140.

―. 2007. Women’s Leadership in Muhammadiyah: ‘Aisyiyah’s Struggle for Equal Power Relations. Master’s thesis, Australian National University.

Lin Fathima. 1952. Haruskah Wanita itu Berkain dan Berkebaja [Shall women wear long skirts and kebaya]. Suara ‘Aisjijah 8 (June).

Ota, Atsushi; Okamoto, Masaaki; and Ahmad Suaedy. 2010. Introduction. In Islam in Contention: Rethinking Islam and State in Indonesia, edited by Atsushi Ota, Masaaki Okamoto, and Ahmad Suaedy, pp. 1–14. Jakarta: The Wahid Institute, CSEAS and CAPAS.

Robinson, Kathryn. 2000. Indonesian Women: From Orde Baru to Reformasi. In Women in Asia: Tradition, Modernity and Globalisation, edited by Louise Edwards and Mina Roces, pp. 139–169. NSW, Australia: Allen and Unwin.


Vol. 2, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Ronald D. RENARD

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 2

The “Other” Karen in Myanmar: Ethnic Minorities and the Struggle without Arms

Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung

Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012, xxxii+197p.

For decades, the face of the Karen people to the outside world has been rebels fighting the Government of the Union of Myanmar. The year after independence following an Arakanese rebellion and an insurrection by the Communist Party in 1948, different elements of Karen-led army units broke away from the government and eventually coalesced with yet other armed groups under the leader­ship of the Karen National Defense Organization.

In a country run by a military government and all but closed to international researchers from 1962 until recently, the Karen rebellion was viewed by many as a valiant (although increasingly futile) stand for minority autonomy against oppression. The largely Protestant leadership of the rebellion evoked sympathy from outside the country especially in North America so much so that the Karens were sometimes mistakenly seen as predominantly Christian.

What most observers did not realize, however, was that Karens involved in the rebellion constituted only a small minority of the Karen population in the country and that by far most Karens were not Christian.

These misunderstandings are not surprising. There is a lack of access to the country’s minority areas with travel restrictions impeding contacts even by the country’s citizens so that nobody, local or expatriate can do field research. With the main avenue of understanding ethnic relations coming from refugees on the Thai border, who often are sympathetic to the Karen National Union (KNU), it is clear how misunderstandings about Karens developed and grew.

Now a big step has been taken towards filling this gap with Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung’s book, The “Other” Karens. Even before opening the book one gets positive feelings from favorable comments on the back cover by Robert Taylor and Ashley South, two scholars who do not always agree on the area’s ethnic peoples.

The author is eminently prepared to study this subject. She studied at some of the best institutions of secondary and higher learning in the country and also had access to indigenous Karen networks. She writes (p. xxi) that “As a Karen, I have had privileged access to the community and information that are not easily accessible to foreign researchers.” Through family connections she got to know leading scholars such as U Tun Aung Chain, an ethnic Karen who understands perhaps better than anyone the position of Karens in the country. Besides serving on the Myanmar Historical Commission, Stanford (as he is often called) is scrupulously honest and impartial, something recognized by the KNU in consenting to his serving as translator for its ceasefire negotiations with the government. Fluent in Karen, Burmese, and English, the author also was able to visit refugee camps in Thailand as well as cities across the United States and elsewhere to meet Karens.

She also importantly had the determination and patience to see this study through. She comments that her research aroused suspicions among Karens about her motives as well as doubts among KNU supporters that she was not faithful to the cause of the rebellion. She writes (p. xxiv) that she could not “count the times I was tempted to abandon this project as a result of the emotional stress and moral dilemmas involved in pursuit of it.”

Partly this is because the Karen population is diverse and politicized. It is also subject to so many variables that no precise definition is possible. Discussions over the issue have not settled what Karenness is since anthropologist Peter Hinton asked, “Do the Karen really exist” in 1983. The fact is, as Hinton wrote, that they (an indefinite term at best) have no common identity.

Even seemingly definitive factors, such as fluency in one of the Karen languages, cannot conclusively determine whether one is or should be considered Karen. There are now thousands of individuals claiming “Karenness” while not speaking a Karen tongue—a well educated Karen in Chiang Mai once told me, “The Karen of Prome are perfect Karens but they cannot speak one word of Karen.” When asking a high-ranking Burman government official in Naypyitaw whether this could be true, he replied, “Of course . . . my wife [is such a person].”

There are millions who do identify themselves as Karen (or with such terms as Pgakanyaw, Phlong, Kayin, and Kariang that almost inevitably denote being some kind of Karen). Most are Buddhist with an admixture of Karen religious beliefs. About 90 percent live in Myanmar (and mostly refer to the country as that).

The actual number of the “other” is estimated in the book (p. 65) as not less than two million. Given the politics of the country as well as issues of definition, there can be no more accurate estimate. As for the KNU, the author’s “generous” estimate of 10,000 members (p. 65) may actually be low if one considers the thousands of people in conflict zones who (often out of desperation) support the KNU. The author cites KNU authorities who mention the need for such help (p. 63), one of her sources even claiming that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was committing “genocide” by relocating Karens to third countries by depleting its “mass base.” Reports of the Karen Human Rights Group and the Free Burma Rangers (as well as others) and publications, such as Undaunted (2010), by a Karen woman, Zoya Phan, detail the many contacts between the KNU and ordinary Karen in or near conflict zones, all of which makes it likely that a more generous estimate of the size of the KNU is appropriate. Still it constitutes a small minority.

The discussion of Karens is placed within a larger framework as seen from the subtitle: ­“Ethnic Minorities and the Struggle without Arms.” The introduction (p. xx) states that “This book examines the ‘other’ or ‘quiet’ minorities who are members of ethnic groups associated with well-known armed resistance organizations yet do not take up arms.” She adds (p. xxi) that her study “examines the circumstances that set them apart . . . the nature of the relationships between the quiet minorities and their rebel counterparts and assesses how these intra-ethnic differences and divisions affect the armed resistance movement . . . conflict resolution, and political reform.”

The author’s interest in this topic was influenced by her being an “other” Karen. Another factor important to her was that the quiet members of minorities with armed resistance groups have been understudied. Citing James Scott, she comments (p. 3) that remaining quiet is more common than taking up arms (as shown by the few members of the KNU). Chapter 1 discusses the political significance of other minorities. The author tells that she is contributing to bringing other minorities into the study of ethnic politics.

Chapter 2 builds on the author’s previous work, The Karen Revolution, in which she argued that recognizing that Karen peoples have voices beyond that of armed resistance and that recog­nizing this would contribute to harmonious communal relationships, peace, and stability. She discusses how disparate peoples developed a pan-Karen identity and the impacts this has had on Karen-Burman relationships.

In Chapter 3 the author reviews the “various elements of the constituency” that the KNU “claims to represent.” The chapter’s sections include government-controlled zones, rebel-­controlled and contested zones, refugees, and Diaspora. In the section on government areas, the author focuses almost entirely on the Karen Baptist Convention which is an umbrella organization dominated by Sgaw Karens with 18 regional sections. The author tells (in parentheses p. 67) that she is focusing on Baptists rather than Anglicans, Catholics, or Buddhists.

While this focus is justifiable in a case study, in the grander work she has written, the author should have mentioned her target group earlier and openly. This is important because the KNU claims a large constituency. The November 1986 edition of the Karen National Union (K.N.U.) Bulletin (which called itself “a news organ of the Karen National Movement”), identified 12 groups: Sgaw, Pwo, Paku, Bwe, (and some related groups), Keko, Red Karen, Maw Nay Pwo, White Karen (in the “Sgaw family” but living apart), Black Karen, Striped Karen, and Pa-O, collectively covering a large area of the Delta, Pegu Yoma, border areas, the Salween River watershed, and Kayah State. She could then have discussed how the KNU’s political agenda disagreed with how most Red Karen and Pa-O envision themselves from where she could have explored KNU relationships with the different groups who do consider themselves Karen. This would have contributed to the larger arguments she is making.

Chapter 4 reviews the circumstances that led some Karen to join the KNU and others not to, even to the point of rejecting the KNU. Major factors included the place of residence, with Karen living in conflict zones as more prone to join the KNU than those living elsewhere. Competing identities was another factor with some Karen opting for being a Myanmar citizen, a Buddhist or joining some other group. Other lacked alternatives with either the KNU or the government forcibly conscripting them.

As a part of the author’s aim to place the Karen into a comparative framework, Chapter 5 deals with “other ethno-nationalities in Myanmar/Burma.” Following brief introductions to some armed ethnic movements, the author identifies three patterns of behavior, namely: 1) conducting activities that support the status quo (such as working for the government), 2) conducting activities undermining the status quo (such as joining ethnic-based parties), and 3) promoting ethnic identity and addressing humanitarian needs (such as through civil society groups or certain NGOs).

In the conclusion, the author compares the experience of “other” Karens with non-combatants elsewhere such as the Moros in the southern Philippines, the Palestinians, Kurds, and the Tamils in Sri Lanka. In identifying similar issues of competing loyalties as well as governmental divide-and-rule strategies, she clearly shows that the situation of minorities, such as the Karen is not unique, that non-participation is common and often constructive, and that there is room for productive comparisons.

As a pioneering effort, this work explores areas barely touched for decades in academic research. The author’s linguistic skills, personal contacts, and intellectual ability (aided by a slowly changing political situation that tolerates some research) have significantly contributed to her work, especially to understanding Karens.

However, as with many pioneering efforts, there are shortcomings such as the inadequate discussion of the “KNU’s constituents” and also a bibliography that curiously omits the several Burmese-language book on Karens including some sponsored by the government. Her discussion of Karen writing (p. 25) would also have profited from reading William Womack’s dissertation (2005) on the development of Sgaw and Pwo written scripts which also would have enhanced her discussion of the totality of Karen peoples.

However, she surely has made significant overall advances in scholarship. This book examines the entire Karen population in English for the first time since Harry Marshall’s ethnography of 1922. Ethnic relations in the country have been placed in a comparative framework that can serve as a basis for further work in the country as well as with groups elsewhere. Ardeth Maung ­Thawnghmung has, with her many gifts, the potential to produce more insightful studies in the future that will be warmly welcomed by all interested academics.

Ronald D. Renard
Research Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD), Chiang Mai University


Marshall, Harry. 1922. The Karen People of Burma: A Study in Anthropology and Ethnology. The Ohio State University Bulletin 26(13).

Phan, Zoya. 2010. Undaunted: My Struggle for Freedom and Survival in Burma. New York: Free Press.

Womack, William Burgess. 2005. Literate Networks and the Production of Sgaw and Pwo Karen ­Writing in Burma c. 1830–1930. Doctoral Dissertation, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.



Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 2

Southeast Asian Independent Cinema

Tilman Baumgärtel, ed.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012, 304p.

The prolific production of independent films in one of the fastest growing economic regions of the world impels filmmakers, critics, and scholars to seriously study Southeast Asian (hereon referred as “SEA”) cinema as a distinct area of filmmaking within global cinema. Southeast Asian Inde­pendent Cinema, edited by the German scholar of Southeast Asian cinemas Tilman Baumgärtel, is a contribution to the growing discussion of SEA cinematic developments.

Essays that constitute the book’s first part identify the conceptual framework and themes in recent Southeast Asian indie films. John Lent’s definitions of “independence” in terms of governmental regulation, financing, and fresh styles and methods of filmmaking may serve as an index through which cinemas in the region are to be examined. The editor’s own essay extends Benedict Anderson’s “imagined communities” to film and television in the region but hesitates to argue that indie movies are not as popular as other media (such as television melodramas and mainstream films), thereby making contentious the idea that through independent cinema, the peoples of Southeast Asia imagine and construct their communal identities. If so, this is only at a very limited level. Indeed, there may be a “strategic essentialism” here in the sense that the national or cultural essences posited by non-Southeast Asians in the region’s indie productions are largely ignored by Southeast Asians themselves. What are the objectives of SEA filmmakers in portraying different realities—poverty, local traditions, etc.—in different lights, when these themes are largely not patronized by their fellow citizens presumably hooked on technologically superior Hollywood and “escapist” local films?1) To these problems of relevance to a national audience, Baumgärtel offers the possibility of seeing such films in a “post-national” context. His application of anthropologist Arjun Appadurai’s dimensions of the global cultural economy raises important issues: the multinational productions of SEA indie films, the immigrant nature of SEA indie filmmakers, inter­national financing, government support, the utility of internet social networking programs, ­relations with local audience, ingenious distribution techniques, exposure to world/other cinemas that inspired SEA directors to make their own films, video piracy, and the socio-political subject matters in contemporary SEA indie cinema. In conceptualizing the region’s independent cinema, Baumgärtel pertinently points out the difference between the “imagined worlds” of SEA film­makers and those of their fellow citizens and governments. It is this difference that plays out the multifarious contradictions that continually debate notions of independence in SEA cinema.

Alfia Bin Sa’at and Ben Slater analyze the fraught film histories and geographies of Singapore in light of its separation from Malaysia and its exceptional development in the last half century. Sa’at’s “Hinterland, Heartland, Home: Affective Topography in Singapore Films” explains the shared film histories of Malaysia and Singapore and looks at contemporary Singaporean films in light of the studio era (1950s and 1960s) the specific history of which the small country surrenders to Malaysia. The urban-rural dialectic in the “revival period” (1990s) of Singaporean cinema traces its origins to the post-war (note: Malaysian) studio era when the kahwin lari narrative (marriage of lovers from different class backgrounds) dominated. Films of the 1960s and 1990s have a striking similarity in that they create the hinterland or the rural area—now the “heartland” in highly urbanized Singapore—as “ideal and morally upright” while opposing this to the “developed but corrupting” topography of the city. Now, the kampong or village life is only inscribed in the autobiographical accounts of those who have lived in it, and hence, according to Sa’at, “the social trauma of hinterland-to-city dislocation becomes a kind of inherited post-memory” (p. 50). Slater offers several successful indie films made by Singapore’s most conscientious young directors as a counterpoint to the deracinating attitude of the island-city towards its past and some of its citizens. Natalie Böhler’s “Fiction Interrupted” talks about how independence from mainstream has allowed Thailand’s indie directors to experiment on filmic narrative forms of storytelling that develop from local sensibilities. Particularly, the aesthetics of cinematic discontinuity—exemplified “in editing as continuity errors, in the disruption of diegesis through metafictitious elements, in the artificiality brought about by stylistic excess, as well as in the synchronization of image and sound” (p. 62)—in Mingmongkol Sonakul’s and Apitchatpong Weerasethakul’s works demonstrate a more creative performance and “truthful” representation of people’s realities. This is especially salient to a recent study (Lim 2011) arguing that the “fantastic” in Asian horror films provides a temporal critique through a representation of “immiscible realities” (“otherworldly” creatures making themselves felt—inflicting horror—in “modern-day” life) that reveal the inability to co-opt or insert supernatural agents into the “homogeneous empty time” of the present.

The most thought-provoking pieces in the collection are those tackling the variegated character of Indonesia’s post-reformasi independent cinematic production. Here, the possibilities ­arising from the radical convergence of independence in the fields of politics (post-dictatorship) and culture (the presumed freedom of expression seized by independent filmmaking) are too important to ignore. The “reform” period following the resignation of President Soeharto after three decades of the “New Order” (comparable to the Philippines’ New Society under Ferdinand Marcos and Malaysia’s Mahathir period) paved the way for, and was itself a product of, the intense democratization struggles of the Indonesian people. Tito Imanda looks at some “entertaining” mainstream movies that, while not “teach[ing] the new Muslim middle class anything new about Islam . . . give the constituent of this market . . . a chance to confirm their beliefs, values, and morals in the public sphere” (p. 103), and compares them to independent films that specifically cater to a politically religious audience. David Hanan’s discussion of the observational documentary in Indonesia probes the possibilities of agency for the nation’s ethnic minority within a genre that documents and therefore “objectifies” them, but also offers them an opportunity for participation in democratic life, as subjects in and of history.

Intan Paramaditha shows how censorship has become central to the government’s regulation of the depictions of sexuality in films. By “exclud[ing] what the nation is not” (p. 71), Indonesian censors regulate bodies and sexualities and their attendant filmic representations. The paternal state is at pains to contain the “excess of Reformasi’s euphoric freedom” (p. 79) and legitimizes strict control through the treatment of the citizens as “infantile” (p. 86) and “easily-influenced youth” (p. 79), thereby clashing against the youth’s significant role in reformasi. Paramaditha’s dense essay is attentive to fresh problems arising from women directors’ aggressive filmmaking and raises questions on the kind of people represented in films, how they are represented, the filmmaker’s distance from the subjects they represent, and the politics of representing others.

This section could have benefited from brief historical discussions of the advent and progress of independent filmmaking and the socio-political developments in the region, as had been done in a related work on non-Western cinemas (Armes 1987). Indeed, the general attention that SEA has been enjoying for some time now owes a lot to its stronger economic presence, more so now that other regions are experiencing economic downturns. Is the relative economic independence that SEA nations enjoy now conditioning independent filmmaking and independent “ways of seeing”? How does SEA indie cinema express the fraught connections between filmic expression and the intense and complicated nature of wider socio-cultural transformations happening in the region today?

Part Two offers primary sources, presenting important documents on the aesthetics and politics of several SEA independent filmmakers. The section contains different manifestoes by a group of 12 Indonesian filmmakers and one Filipino director, delving mainly into questions of styles of filmmaking, logistics, freedom of expression, and originality. Khairil Bahar and Tan Pin Pin share how they were able to make and show their very popular productions to their respective audiences. People in indie productions can relate to Bahar’s “begging, borrowing, and stealing” (p. 129) to make Ciplak, a reflexive film on how a Malaysian imports pirated discs from his native country to support himself in London. It is commendable how Tan inverted the process of distribution by going to the audiences themselves to exhibit Singapore Gaga, a movie on Singapore’s rapidly disappearing sonic-aural memory. Gathering his article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and some indie directors’ responses to it, the essay by the editor in this section imparts the vigorous debate on the merits of digital films for Philippine cinema. Previously seen as God’s gift to filmmaking, the digital camera also poses serious limitations on image clarity, filmmaker’s training, and the audience’s taste and their own cinematic standards. To these challenges, Filipino indie directors fittingly raised the need for an adequate infrastructure and the unremitting education of the directors themselves.

Interviews that comprise the anthology’s third part present more spontaneous thoughts on filmmaking concepts and practices by SEA indie directors. Here, the reader learns about director Brillante Mendoza and screenwriter Bing Lao’s deft “material aesthetics,” which uses “found story,” “found place,” and “found noise” (p. 167) to make an inexpensive story. Nia Dianata heaves a sigh on how reformasi is “over-rated” (p. 205) because Indonesian cinema is still censored and the distribution process is monopolized. Eric Khoo’s work of showing the disappearing aspects of Singapore society and the innovative molding of characters in light of the lack of professional actors is laudable. Filipino director Lav Diaz’s take on digital as “liberation technology” (p. 177) may be an uncritical celebration of technological form which Malaysian director Amir Muhammad rightfully addresses by positing the “ontological relationship between the technology and the product” (p. 232) where the kind of stories and people using the camera are more important.

Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang agrees with Baumgärtel that his work is part of an evolving new cinema that is “not bound by national traditions anymore” but is “directed towards some transnational or cosmopolitan group of people that share certain traits, interests and attitudes” (p. 197). This echoes Weerasethakul’s claim that he does “not represent any nation or any country” (p. 189). The auteurist turn this development implies has been aptly identified by Baumgärtel as relating to the “economic ascent” and “emergence of a new bourgeoisie” in Thailand (pp. 197–198). It is interesting to study whether and how indie cinema has become the entry point into the mainstream by many indie directors. Malaysian director Yasmin Ahmad’s hatred of “arbitrary divisions of people” embodied in a filmmaking style focusing not on the nation but humanity, “character” and “daily interactions” (p. 249) is a broad, albeit abstract (because character is unmarked and undifferentiated), principle on filmmaking.

Perhaps Baumgärtel’s most problematic limitation is that he still evaluates SEA cinema from the perspectives of a Western-dominated global filmmaking industry. The anthology begins with two Southeast Asians, the Thai Weerasethakul and the Filipino Mendoza, earning accolades at the Cannes Film Festival. It is as though SEA filmmakers remain in the dark until the light of Western recognition shines upon them. In his interview with Weerasethakul, Baumgärtel interprets the director’s image diaries as works of a “totally globalized filmmaker” whereas Weerasethakul himself says that he makes those diaries “in order not to forget” his experiences (p. 188). What for one is a consumerist drive to collect images by a subject presumably transcending differences is for the other an active work of remembering, of inscribing the “local,” the “native.” Related to this is one critic’s caution, in the project of finding new ways of seeing SEA cinema, against seeing the region’s films as a “reaction” to, or “imitation” of, not only Hollywood but also “the film industries and cultures of Hong Kong, Japan and India” (McKay 2006).

While interviews with Ratanaruang and Ahmad may confirm this aspiration for globalism and transnationalism, it is necessary to analyze how SEA filmmakers struggle against the problems of limited budgets and technologies and the more-important challenge of addressing their com­patriots in the process of reaching out to a “universal” audience. Baumgärtel himself touched upon this aspect in claiming that “access to digital video . . . made possible this democratic cinema revolution in a part of the world that is otherwise not known for its democratic disposition” (p. 2). What is interesting is how these filmmakers have surprisingly made and are continuing to make films in spite of the repressive politics of their governments and non-state groups hostile to their endeavor.2) In a sense, independent cinema is “critical cinema,” and “capable of surprising viewers and catalyzing critique” (MacDonald 1998, 1).

An image on the cover of the collection may be taken as a reflexive vision of SEA independent cinema itself. A young man working in a decrepit second-run movie house that has become residence of a poor family and service venue for prostitution abandons the place in search of change, looking for a glimpse of freedom.3)

JPaul S. Manzanilla
Department of History, Ateneo de Manila University


Armes, Roy. 1987. Third World Film Making and the West. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press.

David, Joel. 2008. Awake in the Dark: Philippine Film during the Marcos Era. In Philippine Studies: Have We Gone beyond St. Louis?, edited by Priscelina Patajo-Legasto, pp. 227–243. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.

Lim, Bliss Cua. 2011. Translating Time: Cinema, the Fantastic, and Temporal Critique. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

MacDonald, Scott. 1998. A Critical Cinema 3: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press.

McKay, Benjamin. 2006. Toward New Ways of Seeing Southeast Asian Cinema. Retrieved August 10, 2012 from

1) Yet journalistic and literary productions of the bygone days had very limited audience, as well, perhaps fewer than what indie films of today, reach, considering the literacy rate then.

2) During the Marcos era in the Philippines, the dictatorship granted institutional support to independent filmmakers to make Philippine cinema “a showcase of cultural democracy” (David 2008, 232), by this means deflecting people’s anger over severe economic crisis and a repressive socio-political situation away from organized protest and toward escapist and, in some cases, even prurient pastime. The presumed opposition between mainstream and independent cinema doesn’t hold, in this case.

3) Then again, the actor who portrayed that role, Coco Martin, has effectively moved from indie cinema into the mainstream. He is now one of the top-billed actors in the Philippine film and television industry.


Vol. 2, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Hilary HOWES

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 2

From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea

Paige West

Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2012, xvii+316p., with illustrations, endnotes, and index.

If you’re reading this with a cup of fair-trade, organically grown, single-origin coffee in your hand, feeling virtuous because your ethical purchasing power is helping to create a better world for disadvantaged coffee growers in the global South, consider this. Paige West argues that fair-trade, organic, and single-origin certification schemes in Papua New Guinea “bring with them fully formed prescriptive regimes of governmentality which were developed elsewhere and based on a value system separate from those of most Melanesians.” Moreover, the images used by marketers to “add value to coffee from Papua New Guinea in the global marketplace” not only fail to “reflect the lived experiences of people in Papua New Guinea”; they also “replicate neoliberal logics in ways that are ultimately detrimental to the social worlds and lives of the people growing coffee” (p. 23).

From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive “examines the world of coffee from Papua New Guinea, including its political ecology, social history, and social meaning, in order to contribute to anthropological discussions about circulation and neoliberalization” (p. 2). Chapter 1, “The World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea,” introduces the ways in which coffee production connects Papua New Guineans with the rest of the world and discusses concepts of labor and value, anthropological analyses of commodities and their circulation, and neoliberalization as both a philosophical worldview and a set of policy-related discourses and practices. Chapter 2, “Neoliberal Coffee,” outlines the global political and economic changes responsible for the specialty coffee industry and the marketing, advertising and circulation networks that surround it. With a keen eye for the ridiculous, West introduces the truly awful “Mr. Nebraska” and his aggressively simplistic seminar on marketing coffee to different generations. She then presents the specialty coffee-roasting company Dean’s Beans, which considers itself “an emissary of peace and positive social change” to the downtrodden, exploited coffee growers of Papua New Guinea’s Highlands, all of whom ­supposedly don paint, tusks and feathers on a daily basis (pp. 39–41). Against this disturbing back­drop, West analyzes the deregulation of the global coffee industry, the rise of specialty coffees, and the ways in which voluntary regulatory systems and certification standards manipulate both pro­ducers and consumers. She shows that images and fantasies created and perpetuated by the coffee industry depict coffee growers in Papua New Guinea as isolated primitives who must be helped to progress along a linear scale from indigeneity to modernity, protected from the machinations of scheming “middlemen,” and prevented from jeopardizing “the ecological stability of their pristine forested lands” (p. 65). Real Papua New Guineans who do not fit these stereotypes “are considered not only less authentic but also less deserving of the rights to their traditional lands and livelihood strategies” (p. 59). The same images and fantasies conceal the social relations of coffee’s production while convincing consumers that they can enact their personal politics by paying higher prices for products with ethical labels. The images which market meaningfulness to consumers, West argues, replace history and society with fantasy and “set the stage for disposses­sion” (p. 66).

Chapters 3 through 7 examine the coffee industry in Papua New Guinea both historically and ethnographically. “Historic Coffee” summarizes the history of the coffee industry in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea and shows the historical development of the physical, social, and ideological routes by which coffee travels today. “Village Coffee” describes the lives of Papua New Guinean coffee growers and the meaning of coffee within local concepts of place, space, and subjectivity, focusing on the Gimi-speaking inhabitants of Maimafu village in the Eastern Highlands Province. Moving outwards, “Relational Coffee” deals with the routes, machines, and people that connect Maimafu with the rest of the world, together with the social relations they entail. West is concerned to show that “the social and material labor of so-called middlemen,” contrary to the negative claims of contemporary coffee marketing, is in fact “crucial for the movement of coffee” and central to the lives and selves of the individuals in question (p. 132). “National Coffee” describes the lives of people in the processing and exporting center of Goroka and the international port of Lae. Finally, “International Coffee” tracks Maimafu coffee beyond Papua New Guinea to the lives and understandings of coffee importers, coffee shop patrons, and college students in Germany, the UK, Australia, and the United States.

West balances vivid description with thoughtful analysis throughout, avoiding the temptation to oversimplify the complex and often contradictory ways in which coffee helps shape people’s lives. She depicts multidimensional characters with ambiguous experiences: Seventh-Day Advent­ist mission pilots who fly rural coffee to the market despite the critical reactions of their home congregations, seeing their transport of a stimulant prohibited by their religion as a way of linking rural people to cash and development and subsidizing free flights to emergency medical care; Sara and Ellen from Maimafu, who are concerned by the effects of rising labor burdens on women’s health and socially reproductive practices, but also value the time they spend harvesting coffee as a rare opportunity to socialize with relatives living at a distance; Brisbane-based coffee importer Trevor Bruce, who deploys primitive images to compete in the marketplace but is nevertheless uneasy about using coffee to “paint a picture of Papua New Guinea that is not true” (p. 211); and undergraduate students who contradict Mr. Nebraska’s glowing depiction of politically active ­“millennials” by knowing “almost nothing about specialty coffee” or the adverse effects of neo-liberalization and caring less (pp. 38, 233).

I was disturbed by West’s apparently unproblematic acceptance of the real existence of race. Her understanding of this concept, though not precisely defined, appears to float somewhere between national origin and descent: she explains that the world of Papua New Guinea coffee is “multicultural and multiracial in that its participants are from Papua New Guinea, Australia, the United Kingdom, India, the Philippines, South Korea, and the United States,” but also refers to a factory owner in the Eastern Highlands Province, the son of an Irish Australian and a woman from Hagen, as being of “mixed race” (pp. 10, 166, 175). I do not doubt that ideas of racial identity combine with understandings of cultural difference and markers of social and economic privilege to shape “how power and privilege are understood and how people react to them” in Papua New Guinea and beyond (p. 177). However, West’s implicit assumption that the world’s inhabitants can be meaningfully classified according to genetically determined somatic characteristics has been profoundly and repeatedly challenged by both historians and scientists. Importantly, concepts of biological inferiority and the racial hierarchies they produced are also closely implicated in the “troubling set of fantasy images of Papua New Guinea” that West rightly deplores (p. 29). The book would have benefited from a clear explanation of the problematic nature of the concept of race and the complex and contradictory ways in which it has been and continues to be used.

This caveat aside, I found From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive both engaging and thought-provoking. It will interest students of Papua New Guinea’s history, economy and culture, scholars of development, globalization and commodification, and all those who, like myself, had hoped that the extra dollars they spent on certified coffee might somehow trickle down to help its less privileged producers. Idealists: you have been warned.

Hilary Howes
Independent researcher, Berlin, Germany


Vol. 2, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, LOH Kah Seng

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 2

From the Ground Up: Perspectives on Post-Tsunami and Post-Conflict Aceh

Patrick Daly, R. Michael Feener, and Anthony Reid, eds.

Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2012, xxxi+262p.

On the book cover, the words “Lebih baik disini kampung kita sendiri” are scrawled on a wall of a disaster-hit house in Aceh. “It is better to stay here in our village.” As its title suggests, From the Ground Up explores the country’s recovery from natural disaster and military conflict from the perspectives of various participants, including scholars, practitioners, and ordinary Acehnese. Across the chapters, there is a sensitivity to Acehnese views, interests, and agency. This is ­buttressed by the inclusion of several Acehnese authors and a sustained inquiry, based on extensive fieldwork or personal engagement, into a society’s recovery at the intersection of international, national, and local action.

The book begins with a geological study of the Sunda megathrust and considers the likely timing and site of the next great earthquake and/or tsunami to strike Sumatra. The bulk of the volume is divided into two sections. The first, by far the more substantial, examines the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami which devastated Aceh, among other places in Southeast and South Asia. It critically addresses issues like the role of NGOs in relief work, the autonomous ways in which survivors responded to loss and trauma, the experiences and rights of women, reconstruction finance, and the need to rebuild Aceh’s cultural heritage.

The second part surveys the resolution of Aceh’s separatist struggle. The landmark event here, as a counterpoint to the disaster, is the Helsinki Peace Accords brokered the following year between the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka movement and the Indonesian government which ended the long-running, low-intensity conflict. The tone in this section differs from the first with an emphasis on success and moving out of crisis. Although the authors generally acknowledge that more demanding challenges of truth and reconciliation and peace building lay beyond the end of the conflict, there is a lack of criticality present in the first section. The papers provide useful insights into the roles played by “external” parties in ending the conflict, such as the Indonesian leaders and the Aceh Monitoring Mission, but they sit rather awkwardly alongside the first group of papers.

I shall examine several chapters in greater detail. The contributions on international NGOs crucially reveal a disjuncture in relief and rehabilitation work between the international and local levels. John Telford, drawing upon the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition reports, points to the failure of large, powerful international NGOs to be respectful towards local perspectives and traditions. He shows how the post-disaster operation focused excessively on relief work to the detriment of tackling long-term problems such as disaster risk, poverty, and under-development. Ian Christoplos and Treena Wu reiterate this point in highlighting the need for international NGOs to devolve the task of LRRD (linking relief, rehabilitation, and development) to local communities. Both papers underline the tension in post-disaster work between responding to the effects of a calamitous event and addressing long-term processes which have contributed to these effects. The work of various scholars (Blaikie et al. 1994; Pelling 2003; Nowak and Caulfield 2008) suggests that the two issues cannot be divorced: a disaster’s impact falls hardest on those people who have been rendered particularly vulnerable by political, economic, demographic, and environmental developments. This point alludes to the book’s failure to properly contextualize the history, politics and society of pre-tsunami Aceh.

The shortcomings of post-tsunami rebuilding are also evident in the chapter on cultural heritage. Patrick Daly and Yenny Rahmayati highlight the failure to take into account the “intangi­ble” cultural aspects of reconstruction. The power of international NGOs and the emphasis on “expertise” have hindered Acehnese’s efforts to rebuild their society. Imposed from above, the rehousing program has alienated women and created jealousy among villagers. The paper underscores a recurring theme in the book that any form of reconstruction must be meaningful to the survivors.

Saiful Mahdi’s chapter on migration provides valuable insight into the socio-cultural resources of ordinary Acehnese and how they have been undermined by the “double disaster” of the tsunami and subsequent relief operation. Here again, the distinction between acute and chronic forms of disaster and deprivation blurs, as Saiful discusses how Acehnese have customarily moved between areas in search of livelihood opportunities, aided by social contacts based at the destination site. He notes that the rehousing program has created forced mobility and immobility by moving survivors to inferior barrack housing or splitting up members of communities, in effect weakening their social capital. Saiful’s insights are a welcome addition to a growing body of literature on “cultures of disaster” and the coping mechanisms of communities that may differ from the ration­alist, expertise-driven approaches of international humanitarian groups (Bankoff 2003; Aldrich 2011).

As a sum of two parts, the book does not adequately conceptualize the link between disaster response and conflict resolution. Whether the connection is more than temporal is worth exploring. The editors suggest (p. viii) that the scale of the tsunami contributed to the Helsinki agreement, and that humanitarian assistance needs to embrace the survivors of both the disaster and conflict. However, there is some evidence that the two issues are not necessarily aligned. Michael Morfit’s chapter warns against exaggerating the “tsunami factor,” as the Indonesian government’s efforts at conflict resolution had begun before the disaster. There is also evidence (see the contribution by Rizal Sukma; Zeccola 2011) that by prioritizing disaster relief, humanitarian assistance has alienated Acehnese affected by the conflict.

The book raises important questions about recovery from disaster and conflict. There is increasing recognition of the failings of transnational or privately-organized reconstruction efforts (see also Gotham and Greenberg 2008, on 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina) and of the need to be attentive to context. That the problems persist despite the experiences of recent disasters says ­something about the fraught network which connects international NGOs, states, and survivors. To restructure the network is beyond the means of the book, but From the Ground Up does suggest what scholars and practitioners may accomplish when they base the recovery program on the perspectives and resources of the survivors.

Loh Kah Seng 罗家成
Institute for East Asian Studies, Sogang University


Aldrich, Daniel P. 2011. The Power of People: Social Capital’s Role in Recovery from the 1995 Kobe Earthquake. Natural Hazards 56: 595–611.

Bankoff, Greg. 2003. Cultures of Disaster: Society and Natural Hazard in the Philippines. London and New York: Routledge Curzon.

Blaikie, Piers; Cannon, Terry; Davis, Ian; and Wisner, Ben. 1994. At Risk: Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability, and Disasters. London: Routledge.

Gotham, Kevin Fox; and Greenberg, Miriam. 2008. From 9/11 to 8/29: Post-Disaster Recovery and Rebuilding in New York and New Orleans. Social Forces 87(2): 1039–1062.

Nowak, Barbara S.; and Caulfield, Tanya. 2008. Women and Livelihoods in Post-Tsunami India and Aceh. Asia Research Institute Working Paper Series No. 104. Accessed May 28, 2013,

Pelling, Mark. 2003. The Vulnerability of Cities: Natural Disasters and Social Resilience. London: Earthscan Publications.

Tsunami Evaluation Coalition. Various Reports and Evaluation. 2006–7. Accessed May 28, 2013,

United Nations, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. 2006. Moving Forward Post-Tsunami: Voices of the Vulnerable. New York.

Zeccola, Paul. 2011. Dividing Disasters in Aceh, Indonesia: Separatist Conflict and Tsunami, Human Rights and Humanitarianism. Disasters 35(2): 308–328.


Vol. 2, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Allan LUMBA

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 2

Orientalists, Propagandists, and Ilustrados: Filipino Scholarship and the End of Spanish Colonialism

Megan C. Thomas

Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2012, 277p.

In Orientalists, Propagandists, and Ilustrados: Filipino Scholarship and the End of Spanish Coloni­alism, Megan C. Thomas illustrates the myriad political meanings and possibilities of modern scholarly knowledge. During the 1880s and early 1890s, a critical mass of linguistic, folklore, ethnological, and historical studies on the Spanish Philippines materialized. Researched and ­written mostly by a small yet diverse group of young cosmopolitan scholars, who thought of the Philippines as their homeland, this corpus of work engaged with, and troubled the contours of differ­ent scholarly practices such as Orientalism, racial studies, and what would come to be known as anthropology. As Thomas points out, unlike other examples of Orientalist and anthropological studies, works on the Philippines appear exceptional because of the specific biographies of the authors. Contemporarily referred to as ilustrados and propagandists, these so-called “native” intellectuals utilized novel research methods and rearticulated official Spanish archives in order to not only revise histories of their homeland, but also to imagine new and alternative political futures.

These imagined political futures did not necessarily lead to the nation. As Thomas cogently argues, although these works laid the groundwork for what could potentially be the nation, these works remained ambivalent, divergent, and open in regards to the question of sovereignty in the Philippines. Indeed, despite being politically and ideologically diverse, these “native” authors tapped into a world that “recognized no political boundaries or authority, but only the authority of reason and evidence” (p. 4). Moreover, scholarly works, by virtue of appearing as politically neutral, could sneak past the watchful eyes of Spanish censors. Thomas, therefore, highlights the fascination held by Filipinos for the radically open world of modern knowledge and science in which the nation would be, as Vicente Rafael argues, but one of many effects of a type of modern “historical excess” (2005, xvi). Thomas nevertheless innovatively sheds new light on scholarly works and practices that have heretofore remained overlooked for its ambiguous political contents. Indeed, other than Resil Mojares’ comprehensive text, Brains of the Nation (2008), the scholarly works of ilustrados and propagandists have been largely relegated to footnotes in Philippine studies. Unlike Mojares, however, Thomas lingers longer on the unanticipated political possibilities and unforeseen consequences of “native” scholarly works.

The authors covered in Orientalists, Propagandists, and Ilustrados should be familiar to those acquainted with Philippine historiography. Names such as T. H. Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de los Reyes y Florentino, Mariano Ponce, Pedro Serrano Laktaw, Pedro Paterno, and José Rizal have been praised, in various and uneven ways, as heroes within nationalist and anti-colonial narratives. As a result, up to contemporary times, their writings and biographies have been repeatedly referenced and put to use in Philippine education, popular culture, and politics. It is easy to see this contemporary resonance when considering that these “native” authors, on the whole collectively identified as modern, cosmopolitan, Christian, and indigenous to the Philippines. For certain, although Thomas consistently reminds the reader of the diverse and varied relation each author had with the Philippines, the awareness of their particular biographical differences from Spanish and European scholars would greatly color how “native” scholars approached both traditional and newer sciences and disciplines.

The notion of authority provides one of the richest topics in Thomas’s book. By gaining authority over colonial knowledge, “native” scholars could not only trouble or challenge Spanish claims to knowledge, but also envision possible worlds in which “natives” held not only intellectual but also political authority. Chapter one brilliantly illustrates this argument by first situating the scholarship of ilustrados and propagandists within a global intellectual field of nineteenth century Orientalism, paying particular attention to the differences and similarities of works dedicated to British India. Orientalist studies of the Philippines diverged from British India in two critical ways. First, one of the most prevalent motifs in Orientalist studies of India was the narrative of civilizational decline or stagnation before British colonialism. Because there was no recognizable pre-colonial civilizational analogue, Orientalist studies of the Philippines stressed the decline of colonial civilization under the Spanish. Second, unlike in India, there was no tradition of Spanish Orientalist studies of the Philippines. This scholarly gap allowed for “native” intellectuals to assert that they were the true authorities of Philippine knowledge, thereby not only troubling Spanish claims to intellectual authority but Spanish authority in general.

A likewise fascinating theme involves the protean character of categories such as race, nation, and Filipino. Although Thomas remains vigilant in underscoring how these studies of social differ­ence maintained political hierarchies and exclusions, she simultaneously reminds the reader that these categories were also based on the presumption of the commensurability of collective groups of people. For example, “native” studies of ethnology and folklore uncovered patterns of racial commonalities across the vast diversity of ethnolinguistic communities making up the Philippines. The scholarly grammar of race articulated the image of a cohered people in which each member could feel equal to other members. Thus, rather than being considered abhorrent or inimitable, individual “native” acts and lives would now belong to a larger history of a cohered, collective, and potentially eternal Filipino race.

In addition to uncovering patterns of broad commonalities, “native” scholarly works, at least in the eyes of many in the Philippine public, frighteningly diminished and occluded the presence and influence of the Spanish. Thomas, in the final two chapters sheds light on how “native” scholars, through the use of orthography and official colonial and missionary archives, created critical revisions of language and history. For instance in the fourth chapter, the seemingly innocuous replacement of the letter “k” for “c” in “native” Filipino languages championed by de los Reyes and Rizal, produced a flurry of anxiety in the Manila public sphere. In another instance, chapter five recounts how “native” scholars created revisionist historical narratives of the ethical decline of Spanish governance. Resonating with Orientalist tropes, “native” revisionists stressed that Spanish sovereignty could only continue “by the grace of the people” (p. 199). From examples such as these, Thomas makes the remarkable argument that orthographic reforms and revisionist history appeared threatening not only for obscuring Spanish influences but also because it imagined possibilities of a Philippine future without Spain.

Containing an introduction, conclusion, and five well-paced chapters, Orientalists, Propagandists, and Ilustrados moves in a brisk and logical manner. Thomas refreshingly lets the primary documents speak for themselves, rather than forcing texts to fit awkwardly into broader theoretical frames. As a result, her line of reasoning is easy to follow and remains open to surprise, potentially resonating with diverse audiences. Although modest in claims, Thomas’s book in actuality travels the same intellectual paths cleared by Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities ([1983] 2006) and Partha Chatterjee’s The Nation and Its Fragments (1993). Thomas’s work should therefore be considered in conversation with recent groundbreaking scholarship that pushes studies of nationalism, postcolonialism, and “native” intellectual history into more nuanced regions such as Vicente Rafael’s Promise of the Foreign (2005), Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe (2000), and Pheng Cheah’s Spectral Nationality (2003). Moreover, with its deft illumination of the inherent ambivalence within discourses of race and civilization, Thomas’s book should have great appeal to students of American and Spanish imperial and racial formation and American Ethnic Studies. With all this in mind, one hopes that Thomas, in future works, follows a line of inquiry provocatively suggested in her concluding chapter—namely, rather than thinking of Philippine scholarship as simply appropriating and remediating imperial discourses, what if it is placed instead within the histories of emerging European nationalisms of its time, particularly Germany? In what ways can this intellectual constellation reveal potential imagined Philippine futures that have ­heretofore remained obscured or yet to be realized?

Allan Lumba
Charles Warren Center, Harvard University


Anderson, Benedict R. O’G. [1983] 2006. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. New York and London: Verso.

Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2000. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Chatterjee, Partha. 1993. The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Cheah, Pheng. 2003. Spectral Nationality: Passages of Freedom from Kant to Postcolonial Literatures of Liberation. New York: Columbia University Press.

Mojares, Resil B. 2008. Brains of the Nation: Pedro Paterno, T. H. Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de los Reyes and the Production of Modern Knowledge. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Rafael, Vicente L. 2005. Promise of the Foreign: Nationalism and the Technics of Translation in the Spanish Philippines. Durham and London: Duke University Press.


Vol. 2, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Veerayooth Kanchoochat

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 2

The Institutional Imperative: The Politics of Equitable Development in Southeast Asia

Erik Martinez Kuhonta

Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011, xxiii+342p.

The Institutional Imperative provides an argument for equitable development, that is, economic growth with income equality. The research is conducted through a comparative-historical approach with Thailand and Malaysia as the major case studies, and the Philippines and Vietnam supplementary instances. Kuhonta rules out alternative explanations that rest on structural factors like democracy, class, and ethnicity, and makes an institutionalist argument: “Institutionalized, pragmatic parties and cohesive, interventionist states create organizational power that is necessary to drive through social reforms, provide the capacity and continuity that sustain and protect a reform agenda, and maintain the ideological moderation that is crucial for balancing pro-poor measures with growth and stability” (p. 4). Two cohesive, institutionalized parties, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP), have geared their countries toward relatively equitable development. Thailand and the Philippines yield mediocre results “largely because there have been no political parties with the requisite organizational capacity and ideology to advance social reforms” (p. 244).

The longitudinal comparison between Malaysia and Thailand from the colonial era to the 2000s makes the study rich in history and detail. However, the research design is slightly problematic. When it comes to in-depth policy analyses, Kuhonta chooses a policy set of land resettlement, education reforms, and health care for Malaysia (pp. 100–114); but he selects rural debt, dams, and health care for Thailand (pp. 174–188). Such a mismatch saps the strength of the causal links and the alleged “structured comparison” (p. 5).

Apart from research design, the book suffers from two analytical drawbacks and one misconception. Even though institutions and ideologies are considered to be the two determining factors in explaining developmental variation, the author does not take either of them seriously in analytical terms.

Institutions as Temporally Prior to Individuals

To begin with, while arguing in favor of the institutional imperative, the author downplays the role of institutions in shaping the incentives and interactions of political actors. Although insisting that “[i]nstitutional variables therefore operate within a configurational and historical field and must always be kept in that context” (p. 46), the “close contextual analysis” runs aground at the empirical level. Thailand’s failure of party institutionalization is attributed to politicians’ misbehavior and incapacity: “Parties rose and fell in factions’ battle for spoils rather than because of any struggles over principle . . . . Personalism pervaded the party system, with virtually every party . . . driven by a leader’s charisma and political skills rather than by organizational and ideological imperatives . . . . Unlike in Malaysia, parties lacked continuity, institutional complexity, extensive memberships, and roots in society” (p. 167).

Missing are the different institutional arrangements that determine how the political games are played in both countries. At the meta-level, while electoral politics is the only game in town in Malaysia, it has never been so in Thailand. In post-independence Malaysia, the aristocrats have to ally with UMNO and maintain their interests through political party structures. In sharp contrast, Thai politics after the 1932 Revolution has been shaped by the ongoing struggle between the traditional elites and elected politicians. The former, whose power and prerogatives have not been eradicated by colonial power, has impeded party institutionalization through any possible means e.g. coups d’état, gratuitous violence, judicial review, and ideological campaigning to delegitimize majority rule.

Consider the impact of such meta-games on constitutions, regarded as the supreme formal rules that form political behaviors. In the early 1970s, when UMNO deemed the then constitution to be hindering the effectiveness of political parties and government, the party “passed constitutional changes to tighten party discipline,” “solidified the party secretariat to improve organizational effectiveness,” and “sought to increase party vigor and dynamism by encouraging frequent meetings at all levels” (pp. 85–86). Thai political parties have not been granted such a privilege as constitutional design has been kept under the tight control of the traditional elites. The multi-member plurality electoral system, the appointed senates, and the party-switching law of MPs are among significant regulations deliberately designed to nurture fragmented parliamentary politics. The 2006 royalist coup that led to the enactment of the 2007 Constitution to restore such regulations should be clearly evident. After all, if institutions are seen—as most institutionalists believe—as temporally prior to individuals, it might be the case that political parties in Thailand are not institutionally weak, but rather institutionalized to be weak.

Ideology Matters More in Its Quality than in Its Moderation

In the same way as with institutions, although Kuhonta realizes the importance of ideology, he values only its moderation, not its quality: “Along with their institutionalized structures, UMNO and the VCP also share another critical property: moderation” (p. 241).

Nonetheless, the moderation of any ideology is a moot point, for it depends as much upon the eye of the beholder as upon the contextual settings. More importantly, with different ideologies held by political actors (yet partly shaped by prevailing institutions), how UMNO responded to the May 1969 riots varies greatly from what the Thai elites did to political turmoil in the late 2000s. UNMO saw the pre-1969 system as “no longer viable” and could no longer “sweep things under the carpet.” As a consequence, it “decided that the state needed a more decisive and long-term policy agenda” (pp. 84–85). In stark contrast, the Thai elected politicians (the Abhisit and ­Yingluck governments) reacted to the political conflict by becoming more compromising and moving instead toward more “populist” policy packages, such as direct money transfer and infrastructural megaprojects. Above all else, both Thailand’s elected and unelected elites preferred to maintain the “sweep things under the carpet” manner in the face of political difficulties.

In addition to political turmoil, the two countries also took different routes in reaction to such troubles as the leftist movements and rural poverty. Not taking into account the difference in ideological quality and consequent political choices, the book does not analytically incorporate the role of ideology into its analysis.

Colonial Legacies: Another Alternative Explanation?

While the book challenges democracy, class, and ethnicity, it is colonial legacies that should be treated as the most important alternative explanation. Kuhonta details how the British succeeded in eradicating the power of Malaysian traditional elites and in dividing the political and economic classes (Chapter 3). Such legacies have had profound implications for post-independence political-economic structures in Malaysia, not least the settlement of electoral politics as previously discussed. However, the author not only does not compare the differing impacts of colonialism on Malaysia and Thailand, he also misreads how colonialism shaped the Thai state apparatus (Chapter 5).

The book repeats a popular misconception about King Chulalongkorn’s “cohesive state” by asserting that “[a] series of modernizing reforms led by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, r. 1868–1910) gave the state a new lease on life. Centralized, rationalized, and cohesive, the Siamese state not only survived external and internal threats; more important, it had become a veritable bulwark of political power and legitimate authority during a period of intense crisis” (p. 125). Nonetheless, the author fails to explore the uneven configurations of the modern Thai bureaucracy.

Besides the “patrimonial features” indicated by the author (p. 129), the Thai bureaucracy had other underlying weaknesses right from the beginning, among which were the bloated and overlapping features designed by King Chulalongkorn. The Gordian knot for the King was not just how to escape being colonized but also how to undermine the power of, without overly alienating, the great nobles and provincial elites. Such conditions led to the creation of new organizational functions to superimpose, without abolishing, the existing provincial administration. Moreover, the administration before his reign was segmented across regions, not functionally differentiated. The King maintained some overlapping authority not only to avoid further conflict with the regional elites but also to ensure that a “check-and-balance” system would be in place to diminish the nobles’ power to challenge the throne. The bloated structure caused a budget deficit and widespread official corruption whereas the overlapping structure encouraged unproductive competition and duplication among ministries.

Accordingly, it is misleading to assume that Thai twentieth-century political actors had been accommodated by the cohesive state apparatus. Puncturing this myth will help us assess the evolution and capability of the Thai bureaucracy in a more balanced manner. Yet this does not mean that the bloated and overlapping structures have persisted until now simply as a result of “path dependence.” That question requires further research. It means that arguments that attrib­ute today’s inefficient state to the country’s democratization process, politicians’ behaviors, social norms, or the lack of threats, are at best half-truths.

Politics of Equitable Development?

All in all, I think the book addresses the politics of implementing social policies rather than the politics of equitable development per se. This is because the author does not provide a solid link between his studied policies and equitable outcomes. Take education policies (pp. 106–109), for example. Even though education may lead to individual betterment, whether it generates national prosperity and reduces income disparity is highly controversial in the economics literature. If the key to Malaysia’s equitable development, as the author states, is the support for its citizens to “exit the traditional agricultural sector and gain more productive employment in the modern economy” (p. 48), then policies toward the manufacturing sector are equally, if not more, important than education policies for that specific purpose.

Despite the above debatable flaws, the book makes a significant contribution to both the institutionalist and Southeast Asian bodies of literature. In regard to the former, Institutional Imperative looks at the role of political institutions in determining equitable development, a crucial topic neglected amid the rise of new institutionalism. More profound is its impact upon the latter body of work. The book’s comparative approach presents an advance in regional knowledge accumulation—the call for which was sounded by Kuhonta’s own co-edited volume, Southeast Asia in Political Science: Theory, Region, and Qualitative Analysis (2008)—and paves the way for a new era of Southeast Asian scholarship.

Veerayooth Kanchoochat วีระยุทธ กาญจน์ชูฉัตร
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), Japan


Kuhonta, Erik Martinez; Slater, Dan; and Vu, Tuong, eds. 2008. Southeast Asia in Political Science: Theory, Region, and Qualitative Analysis. Stanford: Stanford University Press.


Vol. 2, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, David G. Marr

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 2



The Birth of Vietnamese Political Journalism: Saigon 1916–1930
Philippe M. F. Peycam
New York: Columbia University Press, 2012, xiii+306p.

The early 1920s in Saigon saw a florescence of newspaper publishing in the lively tradition of Parisian canards of the 1890s. French and Vietnamese language papers sprang up, took forthright positions, debated their peers eagerly, and tested the tolerance of colonial rulers. The French language press was largely free of censorship in Cochinchina, but circulation per day amounted to only several thousand copies total. Vietnamese papers were censored and sometimes shut down, yet daily circulation rose to 22,000 by 1924. This was a time when educated Vietnamese believed that it was feasible to secure more political space from the authorities by means of rational argument and mobilization of public opinion.

Philippe Peycam brings this story alive for today’s readers, introducing us to a range of Vietnamese, French and métis actors, explaining press operations, and outlining the key issues of contention. A “newspaper village” (làng báo chí) emerged, composed of editors, donor/investors, writers, printers, vendors, and teenagers using the various offices as meeting place and library. A surprising number of French and Vietnamese participants belonged to the Masonic Order. I would have liked to know more about press finances, but recognize that sources are hard to find. A few wealthy landowners were willing to subsidize some papers until the government showed its displeasure at content. Editors pleaded with readers to pay their overdue subscriptions, while acknowledging that the post office sometimes chose to “lose” newspaper copies en route.

March–July 1926 saw a dramatic shift to the left in Saigon. The new socialist governor general, Alexandre Varenne, proved a distinct disappointment. The leader of the moderate Constitutionalist Party, Bùi Quang Chiêu, refused to call for the release from jail of Nguyễn An Ninh, the most charismatic writer and speaker of the time. Crowds cheered when Ninh’s comrades insisted that the colonial regime be confronted fearlessly. Following the unprecedented national funeral for Phan Châu Trinh and resulting expulsion of students from school, membership in clandestine patriotic groups proliferated. While these momentous months have been canvassed by earlier scholars, Peycam is the first to examine vigorously the emergence of what he styles “opposition journalism.” He also offers sensitive portraits of half-a-dozen key journalists beyond Ninh and Chiêu.

It’s a pity that Peycam focuses solely on periodicals, when the 1920s also saw a parallel explosion of books and booklets, often published by the same groups. The monograph format gave authors more room to develop their arguments, even when only 16 or 32 pages in length. Peycam also says nothing about the way in which all these publications expanded the vocabulary and enriched the syntax of the Vietnamese language. However, I was delighted to see all the Vietnamese words in The Birth of Vietnamese Political Journalism carrying full diacritics.

Peycam posits the arrival of a new public sphere in 1920s Cochinchina, akin to what Jurgen Habermas famously depicted for eighteenth century Europe. Suddenly Vietnam possesses a “public political culture,” and even “mass media politics” (p. 34). I question these characterizations on three fronts. First, the audience for Saigon newspapers remained small, even if one assumes that three or four persons perused each copy, and groups sometimes listened to articles being read aloud. Secondly, collaboration between Vietnamese and French or métis activist-journalists fell off during the late 1920s, partly due to Surete divide-and-rule tactics, partly the secrecy demanded by some organizations. Finally, Saigon’s effervescent print media failed to trigger similar activity in Annam and Tonkin, at least in the short-term. Rather, scores of young men facing harsher colonial restrictions in Hanoi, Nam Định, and Huế headed south to exciting Saigon. Without comparable press developments in northern and central Vietnam, a national public sphere was impossible.

Newspapers in 1920s Saigon aimed to attract readers from the nascent Vietnamese bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeois stratum composed of clerks, interpreters, primary school teachers, technicians, managers, shopkeepers, and small traders. Peycam endows Saigon with a “powerful native bourgeoisie,” composed of big landowners, office-holders, and entrepreneurs. Some of these men deftly combined all three callings, and added money-lending for good measure. Peycam describes well the press-related activities of a few members of this native bourgeoisie, yet fails to demonstrate that they were politically powerful. At best they tried to convince France to foster Vietnamese modernization. A cursory comparison of Bùi Quang Chiêu’s Constitutionalist Party with the Congress Party of India would point up the extreme fragility of Vietnam’s bourgeoisie. Rather, it was young members of the petit bourgeoisie (what Peycam calls the middle class) who provided most of the cultural, political, and military leaders of following decades.

From 1928–29, the colonial authorities tightened censorship in Saigon to such a degree that journaux d’opinion disappeared. Many participants went underground, found themselves in jail, or were forced to flee overseas. Journaux d’information persisted, however, and became more professional, with increased international news coverage, advertising, serialized fiction, and photographs. During the Popular Front period (1936–39) journaux d’opinion reemerged with a vengeance and Hanoi became as important a publishing venue as Saigon. Then the Surete descended once again.

Peycam seems uncertain as to whether Saigon’s newspaper village in the 1920s represents a short, unique episode in Vietnam’s long history, or the nascence of a modern public sphere throughout the country. At one point he says mournfully, “In the years that followed mass mobilization was to become more important than political agency grounded in autonomous critical judgment exercised by individuals reached in their private depths by the journalists’ arguments” (p. 215). Later, however, he insists that the legacy of Saigon’s newspaper village lives on.

I favor the second interpretation. After the late 1930s Popular Front resurgence and colonial crackdown, mentioned above, Vietnam enjoyed another flowering of the press between April 1945 and November 1946. Despite subsequent wartime tribulations, Saigon journalists continued to spar with returned colonial censors and police for another seven years. From 1955 to 1963, Ngô Đình Diệm ran a tight ship, but the Saigon press from 1964 to early 1975 was remarkably alive and sometimes confrontational. Since the late 1980s, Vietnamese journalists have been testing the envelope imposed by the Communist Party, with mixed results. In short, the twentieth century history of Vietnam possesses an intriguing newspaper thread that still weaves its way through events today.

But it is not necessary to accept this interpretation to be able to appreciate The Birth of Vietnamese Political Journalism. Philippe Peycam takes us back to a place and time different from our own, sets the scene skillfully, introduces us to key participants, and then pursues a variety of paths taken and not taken. He challenges reader complacency and questions established verities. One doesn’t have to agree with the Habermas model to affirm that something exciting was happening in Saigon in the 1920s.

David G. Marr
School of Culture, History and Language, Australian National University


Vol. 2, No. 2, Bounthanh Keoboualapha, Thaworn Onpraphai, Attachai Jintrawet, Suchint Simaraks, and Anan Polthanee

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 2

Imperata Grassland Mapping in Northern Uplands of Lao PDR: Area, Distribution, Characteristics, and Implications for Slash-and-Burn Cultivation

Bounthanh Keoboualapha,* Thaworn Onpraphai,** Attachai Jintrawet,** Suchint Simaraks,* and Anan Polthanee*

*ບຸນ​ທັນ ​ແກ້ວ​ບົວລະພາ; สุจินต์ สิมารักษ์; อนันต์ พลธานี System Approaches in Agriculture Program, Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University, 123 Moo 16 Mittapap Rd., Nai-Muang, Muang District, Khon Kaen 40002, Thailand

Corresponding author’s e-mail: k.bounthanh[at]

**ถาวร อ่อนประไพ; อรรถชัย จินตะเวช Crop Science and Natural Resources Department and Multiple Cropping Center, Faculty of Agriculture, Chiang Mai University, 239 Huay Kaew Road, Muang District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

Slash-and-burn cultivation (SBC) is an important food and cash crop production system in mountainous regions of many countries in Southeast Asia. While links between unsustainable SBC and the formation of Imperata grassland (IGL) have been well documented, there has been limited research on the issues with the intention of providing appropriate information to communities in Laos aiming at better use of natural resources. This paper reveals the IGL area, distribution, and characteristics in the uplands of northern Laos, and discusses the importance of IGL for upland development based on the synthesis of remotely sensed Landsat-5 TM and GIS data. We have demonstrated the potential use of geoinformation technology as a set of informatics tools that can be applied in other area studies in Laos. Nineteen land uses/land covers of 196,317 hectares in Nambak District in northern Laos were mapped with an overall accuracy of 92.1% and a kappa statistic of 91.3%. IGL achieved >90% mapping accuracy. The current IGL was estimated at about 2.5% (4,878 hectares) of the district area and characterized as a “micro-grassland,” with most patch sizes being less than half a hectare. About 37% of the district area in the southeastern part was identified as the most Imperata-infested zone. The study suggests that improper SBC intensification into more permanent crop production systems is a major cause of Imperata infestation in the upland areas and that the spread of IGL can be a threat to the productivity and sustainability of traditional SBC systems and already intensified land use systems. In order to utilize land resources more effectively, government intervention is indispensable; and development efforts should initially focus on the most affected areas.

Keywords: Imperata grassland, slash-and-burn cultivation, land use intensification, remote sensing, supervised image classification, GIS

I Introduction

Imperata cylindrica is one of the most dominant, competitive, and difficult weeds to control in the humid and sub-humid tropics of Asia, West Africa, and Latin America. There may be as much as 35 million hectares of Imperata grassland (IGL) in Asia, about 24.7 million hectares of which is in Southeast Asia (Garrity et al. 1997). Common names for Imperata are nya kha (Laos and Thailand), thetke (Myanmar), co tranh (Vietnam), alang alang (Indonesia), lalang (Malaysia), cogon (Philippines), illuk (Sri Lanka), and speargrass.

Links between slash-and-burn cultivation (SBC), also called “shifting cultivation,” and the formation of IGLs were well understood in Indonesia in the 1930s (Van Noordwijk et al. 1997). IGLs have developed mostly on former forestlands after repeated logging and subsequent treatment by fire, e.g., in shifting cultivation (Eussen and Wirjahardja 1973; Seavoy 1975; Suryatna and McIntosh 1980).

Shifting cultivation is probably the oldest farming system, and its practice is remarkably similar throughout the humid tropics (Nye and Greenland 1960). Traditionally, farmers slashed and burned a hectare or so of primary or secondary forest, grew food crops in polyculture for one or more years, and abandoned the land to secondary forest regrowth for 20 to 40 years, then repeated the cycle (Sanchez et al. 2005). This traditional shifting cultivation—with short cropping periods and long secondary forest fallow periods —is now rare, practiced primarily by indigenous communities disconnected from the market economy. It is socially and environmentally sustainable (Thrupp et al. 1997), although at low levels of agricultural productivity and at human population densities of less than 30 people per square kilometer (Boserup 1965).

When population pressure exceeds a critical density—that varies with agro-­ecological zones and inherent soil fertility—traditional shifting cultivation is replaced by a variety of other agricultural practices that still involve clearing by slash-and-burn ­methods. Pedro Sanchez et al. (2005) suggest that the loosely used terminology be specified as follows: “shifting cultivation” refers to the traditional long-fallow rotational system, while “slash-and-burn” refers to other farming systems characterized by slash-and-burn clearing, short-term fallows, or no fallows at all. Both systems include the shortened fallow-food crop systems and the establishment of tree-based systems such as complex agroforestry, simple agroforestry, or monoculture tree crop plantations. Many of these systems are still rotational to some degree, with occasional slash-and-burn clearing when the productivity of the system declines.

The vegetative fallow phase restores carbon and nutrient stocks in the biomass, improves soil physical properties, and suppresses weeds (Nye and Greenland 1960; ­Sanchez 1976; Andriesse and Schelhaas 1987; Roder et al. 1997; Watanabe et al. 2004). With the reduction of fallow periods to less than 10 years, and more commonly less than 5 years, the fallow vegetation is incapable of restoring sufficient nutrients in the biomass and suppressing weeds by shading for the subsequent cropping phase. Unlike shifting cultivation, slash-and-burn systems have less vegetative cover and often have exposed, compacted soils that increase water runoff and soil erosion rates (Lal et al. 1986). This change in vegetation and soil structure caused by shortened fallows results in systems with declining productivity, depending more and more on less and less fallow biomass. The frequent use of fire is replacing native species with exotic, aggressive ones and favoring grasses over woody species, creating treeless landscapes that have minimal productive and ecological value (Styger et al. 2007). In some cases, the systems reach a point at which the trees are replaced by other, highly degraded systems such as IGLs in Southeast Asia and West Africa (Garrity 1997).

Ecologically, Imperata infestation is an interrupted developmental phase in the ecosystem development process. An interrupted ecosystem, or a blocked phase, inhibits the processes leading to the next developmental phase. The blocked phase can be based on the absence of viable stumps, depletion of seed banks, and reduced inflow of seed from the surrounding landscape and/or soil conditions that do not allow for rapid growth of tree seedlings to a stage where they can replace the grass (Murniati 2002). IGL has many disadvantages compared to the forest in terms of biodiversity, total biomass for the maintenance of soil fertility, and carbon capture, and as a producer of useful materials for human populations. Therefore, efforts toward more productive land uses will contribute to economic growth, environmental protection, and rural poverty alleviation.

In Lao PDR, IGL has been estimated at about 0.8–1 million hectares (Charoenwatana 1989; Garrity et al. 1997). This Imperata land covers about 3% to 4% of the country’s territory, which is equivalent to the current cultivated land area of the country. Although there has been extensive research and development focused toward making better use of IGLs in the region, limited information is available in Laos. In fact, the IGLs exist—and are expected to increase—as a result of shortened fallow periods driven by increased population density and shifting cultivation stabilization policies in many upland areas. To rehabilitate land infested by Imperata, it is very important to first understand the latter’s area, distribution, and characteristics. This study was undertaken (1) to map and estimate the area of IGL in Nambak District of Luang Prabang province in northern Laos, and (2) to describe the existing IGL in relation to its spatial distribution and relationships with other land uses, and its importance for upland development using Remote Sensing (RS) and Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies. The findings of the study will not only help improve the understanding of IGL dynamics in the study area, but also provide valuable information to policy makers and resource managers to design and develop more integrated research and development aimed at better use of natural resources in the uplands of Laos.

II Methods

II-1 Study Area
The study area is situated in Nambak District, Luang Prabang province, in northern Laos (Fig. 1), about 120 km northwest of the provincial capital. Geographically, it is located between latitudes 20°58’N and 21°15’N and longitudes 102°09’E and 102°37’E. The district covers an area of about 200,000 hectares, with a total population of about 65,400 inhabitants in 83 villages.


Fig. 1 Study Area: Nambak District of Luang Prabang Province, Northern Laos

Nambak District represents a typical mountainous district of northern Laos. The district has a tropical climate with mild winters during October–March. Average monthly temperatures range from 20°C to 31°C, and annual rainfall ranges from 1,700 mm to 1,900 mm. Flat alluvial land area with an altitude of less than 600 m accounts for less than a quarter, while low hills and mountains with an altitude of 600–1,000 m account for more than half of the territory. Areas with an elevation of more than 1,000 m form approximately one quarter of the district area (RDCC1 2002). SBC agriculture continues to be the main land use system by area, although the areas of upland rice have been reduced substantially in recent years (Personal communication with district officers). Local farmers are adapting themselves to cope with reduced fallow periods as a result of shifting cultivation stabilization policies promoted by the local authorities and increased population pressure.

II-2 Remotely Sensed Data
Landsat-5 TM imagery was chosen for this study. The image covering Nambak District (Fig. 1) was acquired in February 2010. The scene center location (lat/long) is 20.626/102.381 degrees, path/row – 129/46, output bands – 7, and pixel spacing – 25×25 m. The Landsat data was supplied in geo-rectified form and projected to the UTM zone 48N with the coordinate system referenced on the WGS 84 datum.

February was expected to be the most suitable period of the year for Imperata land cover detection by the sensor, because wet season crops in the uplands were completely harvested and burning operations for the next cropping had not yet started, although slashing may have been almost finished in many areas.

II-3 Land Use/Land Cover Classes
For this research, land cover/land use categories or classes were defined after consultation with local communities and observation in the fields during ground truth data collection. Differences in vegetation covers and land use practices were the main criteria used to distinguish between land use classes. A total of 19 land covers/land uses were identified for the study area (Appendix Table 1).

II-4 Ground Truth Data Collection
The supervised image classification method requires ground truth data to help identify information classes (land use categories), which are then used by the software to determine the spectral classes that represent them. In the fields, the land use/land cover classes indicated in Appendix Table 1 were cautiously observed for their characteristics, such as species, age, density, and land use types. A total of 275 points of the existing land covers of about 0.5 hectares were collected using a Global Positioning System (GPS) during November–December 2010, about nine months after the Landsat-5 TM data was obtained.

II-5 Image Pre-processing
ERDAS IMAGINE 8.4 software was used as a tool to correct degraded and/or distorted image data to create a more faithful representation of the original Landsat imagery. The single-band images of Landsat-5 TM were initially combined into a composite map and enhanced with false color of bands 5:4:3. The images were also enhanced using a haze-reduction function to remove the cloud cover. Finally, the image was subset for the study area and used for the image classification process described below.

II-6 Image Classification
In this study, the supervised classification method, using the Maximum Likelihood Classifier (MLC), was used for image classification. The MLC is the most widely employed classification algorithm for digital image classification (Bolstad and Lillesand 1991; Forghani et al. 2007).

The ground truth data of 275 points of 19 land use types were imported onto the Landsat image for creating the training areas, from which numerical signatures for each of the defined land use/land cover classes were assigned using Signature Editor Tools in ERDAS IMAGINE 8.4 software. In addition, a high-resolution satellite image from Google Earth was used to help distinguish the features of different land uses with respect to their tones, shapes, sizes, patterns, textures, and associations. After closely relating the Landsat imagery with Google satellite images, in addition to the 19 land uses from the ground truth data 2 more land uses were identified: clouds and shadow areas. After the signatures for each land use were identified, image classification using MLC was performed. A total of 22 land use classes, including 1 class of unclassified area, were generated. Finally, the resulting classification data were assessed for their mapping accuracy.

II-7 Image Post-classification
Following the mapping accuracy assessment, the classified image was generalized using the fuzzy convolution function with a 5×5 moving window in order to eliminate unnecessary details and extract a single or a small group of misclassified cells for a more general spatial analysis. The generalized image of 22 land uses was then reclassified into a thematic map consisting of 11 land use classes (Appendix Table 2), which is actually a 2010 land use map of Nambak District (Fig. 2). This resulting thematic map was used for the spatial analysis discussed below.

II-8 Spatial Analysis
In order to better understand the spatial distribution of IGLs and their relationship with other land uses in the study area, a 10×10 km grid map in shapefile format was created using the Data Management Tool in ArcGIS 9.2. The generated grid map consists of 30 grids, with each grid cell representing 100 km2. The grid map was overlaid on the thematic map, from which land uses for each grid were extracted using the clipping function (Fig. 3); and then the areas and land use intensity were calculated. Based on this analysis, the Imperata-infested zones were classified into low, moderate, and high intensity. A purposive random sampling procedure was used to select the 15 odd-numbered grids for correlation analysis to statistically test the null hypothesis that there was no relationship between the IGL area and some of the main land uses. The sampling resulted in 15 odd-numbered grids: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, and 29 (Fig. 3).

III Results and Discussion

III-1 Land Use/Land Cover Mapping
A total of 19 land use/land cover classes were identified for the study area during the field visits for ground truth data collection, and three land cover classes (cloud, shadow, and unclassified areas) were identified during the image classification process. Appendix Table 3 was used to determine the quality/accuracy of the classified data derived from the MLC algorithm on Landsat-5 TM dated February 2010. The columns represent reference data (i.e., ground truth) and suggest how many pixels are classified correctly by the proposed algorithm. The overall accuracy was estimated at 92.1%, which is well above the ≥85% regarded as acceptable in the literature. The kappa statistic was calculated to be 91.3%, which corresponds to strong agreement, based on ≥80%, 40–80%, and <40% for strong, moderate, and poor agreement respectively (Congalton and Green 1999).

IGL, which was the main objective of this study, was mapped with high accuracy: out of a total of 49 IGL pixels, 47 pixels (96%) were correctly classified into IGL and 2 pixels (4%) were misclassified as orchards and young rubber plantations. Rubber plantations achieved the lowest mapping accuracy: out of a total of 230 rubber plantation pixels, 177 pixels (77%) were classified correctly; and 1, 3, 17, 9, and 23 pixels were misclassified as teak plantations, IGL, orchards, mixed tree plantations, and young rubber plantations respectively (Appendix Table 3).

The classified land uses with lower mapping accuracy (<90%) were mixed deciduous forest, mixed tree plantations, young mixed deciduous forest, rubber plantations, and young rubber plantations. Misclassification of these existing land use classes was expected from the effects of mixed vegetation with unclear boundaries, topography, and soil conditions of particular land uses. Increased reference data (ground truth) would help improve mapping accuracy.

Nambak District has a relatively large area of forest reserves. Natural forest, which includes bamboo-dominated forest, mixed deciduous forest, and evergreen forest, is the most important land use, accounting for 59% (115,798 hectares) of the district area. Other forestlands, including orchards, bush and shrub forest, and tree plantations, account for 33% (64,348 hectares). Annual cropping area, including upland crops (clearing lands) and paddy, accounts for 2.8% (5,356 hectares). IGL occupies 2.5% (4,878 hectares). Urban land covers the smallest area: about 1% or 2,008 hectares (Table 1 and Fig. 2). The land uses were highly variable in patch sizes, with CVs ranging from 171% to 5,367% (Table 1 and Fig. 2). This situation is common in mountainous areas of northern Laos, due to the variability in topography and soils.

Table 1 Mapping Results: 2010 Land Use/Land Cover of Nambak District



Fig. 2 Land Use Map of Nambak District in 2010, Luang Prabang Province

III-2 Imperata Grasslands in Nambak District: Area, Distribution, and Characteristics
The current IGL in Nambak District can be characterized as a “micro-grassland,” with most patch sizes being less than half a hectare, distributed throughout the study area. Large fields of 30 hectares are not common. As evidenced during our field visits, the Imperata fields were seen within individual fields and/or across fields in tree plantations, orchards, fallow lands, and upland cropping fields. Due to small field size, the IGLs in the study area could be managed mainly by local farmers and communities. Based on infestation level, IGL in Nambak District was classified into three zones.

Zone I is located in the northeast and northwest of the district (Fig. 3), occupying an area of 52,318 hectares or 27% of the district area. In this zone, IGL accounts for 0.6% (308 hectares) of the total area of the zone or 6.3% of the total IGL area in the district. This zone has larger areas of natural and bush forests—73.1% and 11.7%, as compared to 65.3% and 6.9% in Zone II, 42.5% and 4.9% in Zone III, and 59% and 7.5% in the district (Table 2). There is less land use intensification, with 7.5%, 1.0%, 0.7%, and 0.4% of the total area being used for tree plantations, paddies, orchards, and upland crops respectively. Zone I was classified as the least Imperata infested zone or an area with a low level of land use intensification but rich in natural forest reserves (Table 3).


Fig. 3Imperata Grassland Zoning Map of Nambak District

Table 2Imperata Grassland Zoninga


Table 3 Descriptions of Imperata Infested Zones


Zone II is located in the central lower north and the southwest and occupies an area of 71,774 hectares or about 37% of the district area. In this zone, IGL accounts for 1.9% (1,385 hectares) of the total area of the zone or 28.4% of the total IGL area in the district. This zone has larger areas of tree plantations, paddies, orchards, and upland crops—18.1%, 1.8%, 1.7%, and 1.1% respectively—as compared to Zone I. This part was classified as a moderate Imperata infested zone, with moderate intensive land use and moderate natural forest reserves.

Zone III is located in the southeast of the district, along National Road No. 13 from Luang Prabang to Oudomxai province, and occupies an area of 72,227 hectares or 37% of the district area. IGL in this zone takes up 4.4% (3,185 hectares) of the total area of the zone or 65.3% of the total IGL area in the district. This zone has the largest areas of tree plantations, orchards, paddies, and upland crops—36.3%, 2.6%, 2.0%, and 1.6% respectively—as compared to Zone I and Zone II. This part was classified as the most Imperata infested area in Nambak District, with the highest land use intensification, largest areas of degraded forest, and less natural forest reserves.

III-3 Implications for Slash-and-Burn Cultivation
Information about areas planted with crops under SBC was not available from local authorities, although the SBC method is widely practiced in the study area. While information on crop species and areas planted to each crop was available, it was unclear whether the crops were grown under the SBC system. As a result, it was difficult to estimate the crop areas specific to SBC based on the available crop data. Remote sensing was used as a means of quickly identifying and delineating various land use/land cover types, a task that would be difficult and time consuming using traditional ground surveys. For this study, Landsat-5 TM of February 2010 was used. Ground truth data collection on land uses was conducted during November–December of the same year. Mapping results reveal that in 2010 about 2,116 hectares of forestlands were cleared (Fig. 2). Based on this data, the area of upland crop under the SBC type of land use was estimated (Table 1 and Appendix Table 2). The results show that the upland crop area was considerably less than the crop area under tree plantations, orchards, and paddies, indicating that shifting cultivation stabilization efforts on the part of local authorities were successful in reducing SBC in the study area.

Correlation analysis reveals that changes in the upland crop area have no relationship with the area of tree plantations, orchards, or paddies but are strongly correlated with the area of IGL, natural forest, and shrub forest. The results also show that IGL is positively correlated with orchards, upland crops, shrub forest, and tree plantations and has some association with paddies (Table 4). This indicates that an increase in IGL areas is closely correlated with—or linked to—an increase in the areas of agricultural land use intensification. As a result, we suggest that improper SBC intensification into more permanent crop production systems is a major cause of Imperata infestation in the upland areas.

Table 4 Relationship between Imperata Grassland and Some Selected Land Uses (n=15)


IV Conclusion

Satellite image classification results show that 19 land uses/land covers of 196,319 hec­tares of Nambak District of Luang Prabang Province in northern Laos were mapped with an overall accuracy of 92.1% and a kappa statistic of 91.3%. Imperata grassland (IGL) achieved more than 90% mapping accuracy.

The current IGL was estimated at about 4,878 hectares or 2.5% of the Nambak District area and characterized as a “micro-grassland,” with most patch sizes being less than half a hectare, distributed within individual fields and/or across fields of all types of land uses throughout the district area.

Based on Imperata infestation level, the study area was classified into three zones. About 37% of the district area in the southeastern part was identified as the most ­Imperata infested zone, characterized as the area with the most intensive land use, larger areas of degraded forests, and less natural forest reserves as compared to the other two zones in different parts of Nambak District. The study results suggest that improper SBC intensification into more permanent crop production systems is a major cause of Imperata infestation in the upland areas. While there has been a reduction in SBC area as a result of shifting cultivation stabilization policies, the spread of IGL can be a threat to the productivity and sustainability of traditional SBC systems and already intensified land use systems. In order to further utilize land resources more effectively to promote economic growth while maintaining the environment, government intervention is indispensable; development efforts should initially focus on the most affected areas. We have demonstrated the potential use of geoinformation technology (remote sensing and GIS) with ground truth data as the basis of area informatics data sets that can be applied in other area studies in Laos.

Accepted: April 11, 2012


We express our sincere thanks to the Agriculture and Forestry Office of Luang Prabang province, the District Agriculture and Forestry Office of Nambak, and local community leaders and farmers in Nambak District for their support in our fieldwork. This study received financial support from the Thailand Research Fund under CLMV-T DSS Graduate Degree Program Research Initiative: 1st Phase (Contract No. RDG52O0003-LV01).


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Appendix Table 1 Descriptions of the Main Land Uses/Land Covers in Nambak District, Luang Prabang Province, Northern Lao PDR


Appendix Table 2 Descriptions of Land Use Reclassification


Appendix Table 3 Error Matrix of Landsat-5 TM Image Classification of Nambak District Using MLC (Overall Accuracy=92.1%; Kappa Statistic=91.3%)



Vol. 2, No. 2, Mizuno Kosuke, Siti Sugiah Mugniesyah, Ageng Setiawan Herianto, and Tsujii Hiroshi

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 2

Talun-Huma, Swidden Agriculture, and Rural Economy in West Java, Indonesia

Mizuno Kosuke,* Siti Sugiah Mugniesyah,** Ageng Setiawan Herianto,*** and Tsujii Hiroshi

*水野広祐, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University

Corresponding author’s email: mizuno[at]

**Department of Communication and Community Development Sciences, Faculty of Human Ecology, Bogor Agricultural University, Jl. Kamper, Kampus IPB Darmaga Bogor, Indonesia

***Department of Agricultural Socio-Economics, Faculty of Agriculture, Gadjah Mada University, Jl. Flora, Bulaksumur, Yogyakarta 55281, Indonesia

辻井 博, Professor Emeritus, Kyoto University

Talun-huma is an intensified land use system for swidden agriculture in Indonesia. Talun is a productive fallow system that is meaningful from ecological, social, and economic perspectives. Although it is considered a typical practice in West Java, this study proves that the term talun was used in many places in Indonesia besides West Java during colonial times.
This study also shows that talun-huma and agroforestry practice in the surveyed village is closely linked to the socioeconomic structure of the rural society based on the data collected in 2000–1. Huma is more likely to be practiced by the lower strata owning little agricultural and forestry land. The economic development reflected in the growth of banana leaf production and income from the non-­agricultural sector income has not excluded or diminished talun-huma and agro­forestry practices. Sharecropping practices and agricultural labor relations among the villagers have established huma practice. The social forestry program implemented in this region also supports the continuity of huma practice. Increase in banana leaf production does not diminish the practice of huma and talun agro­forestry, although banana leaf production tends to shorten the duration of the cycle. Moreover, the development of non-agricultural sectors and wet rice cultivation has had a positive impact on the existence of huma practices and the continuation of slash-and-burn practices.
Talun-huma and permanent forests with or without talun are good practices that keep the system sustainable from an economic and social point of view. Diversified farming, balanced rotation of land use, and diversity of plants, as well as the planting of leguminous land conservation trees such as kaliandra and gamal, play an important role in sustaining the system.
The introduction of banana leaf plants to the village in the 1990s has contributed significantly to the continuity of the system because the plants are a considerable source of income for villagers, both as farmers and as agricultural laborers. They can rely on the income from the hilly dry land. A problem that might, however, become serious in the near future is that banana leaf planting shortens the duration of the cycle and may render the land infertile.

Keywords: talun-huma, swidden agriculture, agroforestry, rural economy, Indonesia, West Java, sustainability, talun


The importance of the talun system as an example of agroforestry was introduced to international academia by Otto Soemarwoto in the 1980s. He used the term talun-kebun, which he explained as a kind of shifting cultivation practiced in a man-made forest. It combined many species of perennials and annuals in multi-layered and single-layered arrangements, forming an often-dense canopy of vegetation that protects against soil erosion and leaching. Structurally, the talun-kebun is divided into two parts: the talun, or selected productive fallow “forest,” consisting of the overhead cover of essentially long-term perennials, and the kebun, comprising various areas of cleared ground within the talun planted with annual crops such as vegetables, fruits, and cereal crops, rather than dry rice, spices and so on, destined mainly for market sale. Upon harvest, the kebun is allowed to grow perennials and returned to the talun within five to eight years.

The talun is planted with a mixture of many species of trees but may be dominated by one species, typically bamboo, in which case it is named after this species, so talun awi is bamboo talun. The talun has four important functions: (i) subsistence production, (ii) commercial production, (iii) gene banking, and (iv) soil conservation and sustained productivity (Otto Soemarwoto et al. 1985, 49–50).

This talun-kebun is clearly different from conventional notions of swidden agriculture. For example, according to Sasaki, in the swidden agriculture of Southeast Asia, a plot is cultivated for less than three years, five at most, then left fallow. This agriculture can supply food for a population density of around 25–30 persons/km2. The duration of the period in which the land is left fallow is 8–15 years before people slash-and-burn the plot again (Sasaki 1970, 86–122).

Often, however, shifting cultivation practices tend to shorten the fallow period, resulting in a degraded system with time or as the population density increases. People are then likely to leave the degraded land. Alternatively, land rehabilitation takes place when farmers invest in improved land management and care for the environment—provided they have reasonably secure land or tree tenure and if it is profitable compared with other investment options. Alternative land use intensification pathways that do not first involve severe land degradation do exist in the form of complex agroforestries that have been developed by indigenous communities (Sanchez et al. 2005, 6–7). Some such cases have been studied, including cacao planting in swidden agriculture land (Duguma et al. 2001) and swidden fallow agroforestry among the Bora Indians of Amazon, which is adaptable to varying environmental and economic situations (Padoch and de Jong 1987), but such studies still remain small in number.

The talun system illustrates a case of alternative land use intensification for shifting cultivation. Otto Soemarwoto distinguished between two types of talun—permanent talun and talun-kebun. In the permanent talun, trees are typically densely spaced and the canopies are closed. Hence, little light penetrates the canopies and only a few shade-tolerant species, such as the taro-like Xanthosoma, are planted. These crop species and weeds form the undergrowth of the talun. In other talun, the trees are sparsely planted so that more light can reach the floor. In such cases, many annuals are grown (e.g., corn, cassava, and sweet potato). Many weeds are also found in the talun. Such talun are usually called kebun campuran, which means “mixed garden,” denoting a mixture of annuals and perennials. In the permanent talun, the practice of slash-and-burn is discontinued.

In the talun-kebun, a clearing is deliberately made in the talun at the beginning of the rainy season, either by clear cutting (e.g., bamboo), or by selective cutting (e.g., Jeungjing, Albizzia chinensis) and heavy pruning of the remaining perennial trees. The trunks and large branches are taken out of the clearing and sold as construction materials and fuelwood, and twigs and leaves are spread out to dry in the sun, then piled up and burned. The ash is collected and mixed with cattle dung brought in from the ­villages.

A mixture of annual crops is grown in the clearing, which is then called kebun, literally “garden.” The major crops grown are beans at Ciwidey and Soreang in Southwest Bandung, and tobacco and onion at Paseh in Southeast Bandung in West Java. The planting of the different crops is not done all at once but in succession. Harvesting is also carried out over an extended period. By the time the last crops are harvested, which occurs about 18 months after the clearing, the trees would have resprouted. People then clear another area and repeat the process. Consequently, the kebun moves around inside the talun with a cycle of about six to eight years. Essentially it is a form of shifting cultivation (Otto Soemarwoto and Idjah Soemarwoto 1984, 274–276).

We understand that the land of shifting cultivation, here called kebun, is mainly planted with annuals after slash-and-burn, and then planted with perennials after the harvest of annuals, at which stage it is sometimes called kebun campuran, after which it enters the stage of talun, a productive fallow stage. Another land use after slash-and-burn and subsequent planting of annuals and perennials is to discontinue the slash-and-burn process and use the land as a permanent talun, or kebun campuran with no more slash-and-burn.

Talun and talun kebun have been studied substantially, especially from the ecological perspective, and intensively in the case of bamboo talun in West Java. Species diversity has been a typical characteristic. Johan Iskandar et al.’s study showed that 112 species were planted by the local people at a village in Soreang sub-district in Bandung district (Johan Iskandar et al. 1981, quoted by Herri Y. Hadikusumah 2005, 269–283). Herri Y. Hadikusumah (2005, 256–259) demonstrated the variety of plants in the layers that form the talun. Linda Christanty et al. (1996a) focused on biomass accumulation, and Linda Christanty et al. (1996b) and Mailly et al. (1996) discussed the biochemical role of the bamboo. Parikesit et al. (2004) discussed kebon tatangkalan, a form of permanent talun, as a habitat for various organisms living there, including birds and insects, and the decreasing area of such habitat because of growing demand for agricultural, industrial, and settlement lands.

The present study attempts to show a different talun system in detail—the talun-huma, which is associated with dry rice planting as annuals after slash-and-burn, rather than vegetables as the main planting, and mixed perennials rather than bamboo at the productive fallow stage. The study aims to enrich understanding of the talun agroforestry system as an alternative land use intensification. It will shed light on the economic contribution that is essential for the household economy and for the sustainability of the system from a quantitative perspective (such as amount of income), as well as qualitative viewpoint (such as stratification of rural society and the land tenure system). This study also intends to describe the directions taken by land use intensification, that is, with or without slash-and-burn, and with or without talun, and to analyze these directions. In this way, the impact of economic development on the talun-huma and agroforestry system will be studied from the perspectives of growth of the agricultural and the non-agricultural sectors. The talun-huma and agroforestry here means talun-huma, related practices with or without talun (huma), and permanent forest with or without talun. These descriptions and analyses will be based on data and information collected by fieldwork at a village in Cianjur district (Kabupaten Cianjur), West Java. This study also examines the validity of the concept of talun outside West Java as a preliminary study.

Section I discusses previous studies of the talun system and, using a variety of sources, areas in which the system prevails. We proceed to describe the location where field study was conducted in the second section and elaborate upon the talun-huma and agroforestry system in the third. The direction of land use intensification, as well as the roles of the talun-huma and agroforestry system, especially in terms of economic contributions, is examined in Section IV, and Section V concludes this study.

The field survey was conducted over 10 years between 1998 and 2007. In total, 60 households were surveyed, using household survey questionnaires. The data used in this paper is based mainly on the study in 2000 and 2001.1)

I Talun and Agroforestry Systems in Indonesia

I-1 Talun in Indonesia
According to Otto Soemarwoto (1983, 222), land use such as the home garden (pekarangan) —but with no houses on the land—is found in West Java and other areas with some variations. This land use is called talun in West Java. He also stated that the talun-kebun is typical of West Java, especially in the Priangan region (Otto Soemarwoto et al. 1985, 48). Such a view is shared by many researchers (Herri Y. Hadikusumah 2005, 269; Johan Iskandar 2009, 150), including Terra’s study of 1953.

Terra mentioned the talun in the context of a mixed garden study, explaining the kebun besides the home garden (pekarangan):

The kebun is situated near or around the villages, sometimes at some distance. The kebun is sometimes planted with fruit trees, or coconut palms, sugar palms, banana, tea, coffee, or bamboo only. They are distinguished from plantings, mostly in clumps, of fruits trees etc. on former ladang (fields in use for shifting cultivation). Instead of kebun (Malay), in Java the term used is often talun (Sunda) and outside of Java dusun (Ambon, Ceram), mamar (Timor), porlak (Batak), peureuh (Achin), krakal (Purworedjo, Java). (Terra 1953, 163–164)

Data on customary law during the colonial time in Indonesia show, however, that the term talun was not limited to West Java. Research carried out on customary law in North Sumatra (Adatrechtbundel VI 1911, 124) indicate that taloen meant a cleared plot where people grew sugar palm for sapping, sirih, and other crops in the Gajo, Alas, and Batak areas. The land was wasteland, but trails left by labor for cultivation and the like show that people’s rights had arisen. In Minahasa, talun means forest, and mengatalun means to become forest, or to revert to forest where people do not cultivate regularly (Adatrechtbundel IX 1914, 132). The Malay people living in Sumatra use the term beloekar taloen to signify young forestland where trails of former exploitation are still apparent, and beloekar toea-taloen tabang for old forests that used to be exploited and where trails of former exploitation are still more or less apparent (Adatrechtbundel X 1915, 221). In East Java, talon, talun, or talunan means abandoned garden, abandoned cultivated land, or unirrigated cultivated land in the mountainous area. These are planted with plants other than rice and are not located at the center of the village (Adatrechtbundels XIV 1917, 230). In West Java, taloen is newly cleaned tegal (cultivated dry field) ­(Adatrechtbundel VIII 1914, 198), while in Borneo, Tidoengsch, and Tinggalan, the term means forest or light forest (Adatrechtbundels XIII 1917, 55). In Central Java, cleared land where dry rice is planted because water cannot be brought in and which is abandoned after one or two plantings is called taloen or pengalang-alangan. Pengalang-alangan means land where alang-alang (Imperata cylindrica) is allowed to spread on purpose, with the weeds belonging to the exploiter, and taloen means land formerly planted with dry rice and now covered by alang-alang and other weeds. Anyone may remove the weeds and plant dry rice again (Adatrechtbundels XIV 1917, 40).2)

As we can see, the term talun is used in many areas in Indonesia such as West, Central and East Java, North Sumatra, Minahasa, Malay people’s areas in Sumatra, and Borneo. In general, talun is non-irrigated land located in a hilly or mountainous area. It signifies forest that was once cultivated then abandoned. In many cases, it is thought of as fallowed area. In Central Java, the taloen belongs to the person who first cleared the land and who would cultivate the land again.

The term talun even became the name of villages, mountains, and sub-districts. A dictionary of geography published in 1869 mentioned the name of Taloen in six villages (dorps) in Central and East Java.3) Taloen was also the name of a mountain (berg) in the residency (residentie) Rembang, division (afdeeling) Toeban (Veth 1869, 862). A directory of local administrative bodies published in 1931 mentioned the name of Taloen in two sub-districts (onder­district) in Central and East Java, as well as 10 villages (desa) in Java island. Of these, five were found in East Java, two in Central Java, two in West Java, and one in the gewest (province) of Soerakarta (Schoel 1931, 373).4) A dictionary of geography published in 1917 cited 10 locations named Taloen in Java island, and 1 location in Borneo as Taloenliaoe (Dumont 1917, 565–566).5)

Thus we can say that the term talun, taloen, or talon has been used since at least colonial times in many parts of Indonesia with relation to forest, or forest once cultivated then fallowed or abandoned. The term taloen was also used as the name of villages, sub-districts, or mountains in many places in Java island, especially in Central and East Java, and partly in Borneo. Why is talun thought to be characteristic of West Java? One possible answer is that other areas now have different terms for a similar system of agro­forestry.

I-2 Agroforestry in Indonesia
Adatrechtbundels show different words that mean forest similar to fallowed land. In the Batak area in North Sumatra, rimba oma, rimba aroeng, and rimba haoe mean secondary forest that has been exploited then fallowed. Rimba oma is forest that has been fallowed for one–six years, and rimba aroeng for six–nine years. Oma is a kind of grass, aroeng or tolong is a kind of reed, and haoe is grown trees (Adatrechtbundels XXVII 1928, 176–177).

Many recent ecological studies on agroforestry similar to talun have been conducted. The dusun system in Central Maluku has been discussed by Monk et al. (1997, 718–737) and by Kaya et al. (2002, 232–233). Sardjono introduced the lembo system in East Kalimantan (Sardjono 1988, quoted in Herri Y. Hadikusumah 2005, 262–268) while Johan Iskandar has studied the kaliwo or kalego system in West Sumba similar to kebun campuran, and the kaleka system in Bangka Belitung, which is multi-layered forest on a former slash-and-burn location. The planting of lada/sahang (Piper nigrum) and rubber (Hevea brasili­ensis) is booming because of their good price in the markets. The pelak system in Kerinci, Jambi consists of the planting of annuals such as vegetables for two years after slash-and-burn, followed by the planting and harvest of dry rice. Perennials such as coffee are planted alongside the annuals, and after the harvesting of perennials, people will chose either to slash-and-burn and then to plant dry rice again, or to keep the perennials (Johan Iskandar 2009, 153–161). Rubber agroforestry called “jungle rubber” in South Sumatra was introduced by Gouyon et al. (1993).6) Damar forest produced after slash-and-burn is also man-made forest in Lampung, Sumatra (Torquebiau 1984).7)

We see that in Indonesia, besides the talun, there are many agroforestry systems that involve slash-and-burn, followed by fallowing and the planting of perennials during the fallow. Cyclical systems that slash, cut, and burn the old perennials are found; on the other hand, continual plantings of the perennials with no more slash-and-burning are more common, and sometimes good prices support the spreading of some kinds of perennial planting. These agroforestries always retain the characteristics of diversified farming with a multi-layered canopy as a man-made forest during the productive fallow, or continual planting of perennials with no more slash-and-burn.

However, the question why the term talun, taloen, or talon, once used in many places both in Java and the outer Java islands as the term for man-made forest, fell out of use in the area outside of West Java, remains unanswered. Possible answers might be: i) land use of talun decreased or even disappeared outside West Java because of population and production growth, or was transformed into other forms such as kebun campuran; ii) people forgot the meaning of the term and do not use it any more;8) iii) local variations in government policy such as the prohibition of slash-and-burn since the colonial time was what differentiated West Java from other areas; and iv) researchers have not found talun land use outside West Java. This paper does not address this question; nonetheless a detailed description and analysis of the sustainability of another form of talun is quite important for the investigation of these issues.

II Kemang Village: A General Picture and Highland Farming

II-1 Kemang Village: A General Picture and Agriculture
Kemang village, the research site, belongs to Bojongpicung sub-district of the district of Cianjur. It is located in the hilly and mountainous Priangan highlands, about 7 km from the center of the sub-district, with a mountainous pass between the village and the center.

The village is surrounded by mountains that constitute a natural barrier, as such migration into the village is low. The population density of 174 persons/km2 in the village (including the land controlled by the National Forestry Corporation, Perum Perhutani) or 297 persons/km2 (excluding the area controlled by the National Forestry Corporation) in 2001 is relatively small compared to the average population density of 1,009 persons/km2 in West Java in 2000 (BPS 2001). The population in 2001 was 4,384, with a village area of 2,518.63 ha. Of this, forests controlled by the National Forestry Corporation cover 1,040.6 ha, comprising 135 ha of protected forest (hutan lindung)9) and 905 ha of production forest (hutan produksi).10) The land controlled by the National Forestry Corporation has been designated as forest area (kawasan hutan) by the central government. The farmland located outside the kawasan hutan is privately owned by the locals, with 878.6 ha of it used as pasir, dry land where upland farming and perennial tree planting are combined. Rice fields are found in the low area of the village and occupy a relatively small area, accounting for just 83 ha (Desa Kemang 2001). Pasir land is not counted as forest by the government; however, the landscape at the stage of talun, full of perennial trees, is quite similar to the forest.

In this pasir land, dry rice, annual crops such as vegetables and tubers, and perennial trees are planted as a form of shifting cultivation, and talun forms a multi-layered canopy of vegetation, particularly perennial trees, as the final stage of the land use cycle. These land use and cultivation methods are described in detail in the following section.

In the area controlled by the National Forestry Corporation, social forestry programs have been implemented since the 1990s, enabling the local people to take part in the maintenance and cultivation of the area. Under the program, they first carry out slash-and-burn, then cultivate the land with dry rice and annual crops. At the same time, they also plant trees designated by the company, usually teak (Tectona grandis), and maintain these alongside their own plantings of other perennial trees such as fruit trees like nangka (Artocarpus integra). All the harvests from the land are meant for the people, except that of the trees belonging to the company. In 1998, the National Forestry Corporation integrated the “Forest Village Society Program” (Program Masyarakat Desa Hutan, PMDH) and the “Social Forestry Program” (Perhutanan Sosial) into the “Integrated Forest Village Society Program” (Program Masyarakat Desa Hutan Terpadu, PMDHT). Kemang Village was chosen as a model village for PMDHT (Inoue et al. 2001, 73).

Because talun located on privately-owned pasir land is quite similar to forest in its landscape, we can find forestry both on the land controlled by the National Forestry Corporation and on the land owned by the people. However, according to the village head, the term hutan (forest) is only applied to the forest controlled by the National Forestry Corporation, so hutan is similar to kawasan hutan. Other forest on the land owned by the people is called pasir, or talun, and not hutan.

According to the villagers, the National Forestry Corporation boundary was established during the colonial era. National Forestry Corporation land was not open to ownership by individuals; but people privately owned pasir in non-National Forestry Corporation land. Much of National Forestry land was managed by the people as part of a social forestry program scheme. However, since leaf banana planting has prevailed, especially since around 2004, people have been planting these crops even though land is not allocated to them in the scheme of the social forestry program.

In any event, pasir, the privately-owned dry farmland planted with annual crops and perennial trees, the National Forestry Corporation’s land on the slopes of the mountains and hills, and the wet rice fields located in the lowland in the village are the major areas of cultivation for the people in the village surveyed. Many of the plants in the uplands and the National Forestry Corporation area are subsistence-oriented, but some plants are highly commercialized. The most important plant in the National Forestry Corporation’s area is teak; in the private upland areas, it is banana plants (Musa sp.), which have been increasingly popular since the second half of the 1990s, sugar palm (Aren, Arenga pinnata), chili plants (Cabe, Capsicum annuum), and dry rice (Pare huma, Oryza sativa). Recently the planting of albizzia has increased, especially since around 2006.

Among 60 respondent households, 44 households have their own rice field, whose average area is 0.14 ha. In addition, 46 households have dry land (pasir), measuring on average 0.91 ha. Many of the farmers who own dry land also have their own wet rice fields. Table 1 shows the number of households according to dry land and wet rice fields owned. Some households possess more than 3 ha of dry land; these households tend to also own wet rice fields. In contrast, 10 households own neither dry land nor wet rice fields.

Table 1 Number of Households by Area of Dry Land (Pasir) and Wet Rice Fields Owned in 2000


Of the households surveyed, 29 participated in the social forestry program, farming 0.25–1.25 ha of National Forestry Corporation land. The average area of the land farmed under the program was 0.43 ha. Households participating in the social forestry program are mainly those that own small areas of farmland or none at all. Of the 10 households without their own land, 9 joined the social forestry program. However, there are some households that own relatively large areas of dry land yet still join the social forestry program. The number of households in the parentheses in Table 1 is based on the area of farmed land both for wet rice fields and dry land, including social forestry program land. This table shows that only one household does not farm any land. Besides the social forestry program, there are arrangements of sharecropping, land lease, and mortgage contracts. So the farmed land average is somewhat larger than that of owned land, especially for dry land. Average dry land farmed, which includes social forestry program land, is 1.21 ha, and 0.20 ha for wet rice fields.

Apart from the cultivation of wet rice fields and dry land, there are non-agricultural activities including furniture manufacturing, rice milling, timber trading, grocery stores, and trading banana leaves. Also important is the supply of migrant workers, especially international migrants who work in Saudi Arabia.

The village consists of 22 hamlets forming 3 sub-villages (dusun)—dusun I, dusun II, and dusun III, which have 7, 5, and 10 hamlets respectively. The village lies at an altitude of 400–800 m above sea level, and the topography ranges from gently sloping to steep hilly terrain. Access to the nearest town is not easy. The road providing access to the town was built in the 1990s. Before that, people had to walk there.

II-2 Talun-Huma in Kemang Village
The slopes of the mountains and hills are used for upland agriculture and forestry. The land use system is quite complicated, but there are typical cases of land use.

The following is the explanation of each stage of the talun-huma. The first stage, rarahan, takes nearly three months, from July to September. The work consists of nyacar (tree slashing), ngahuru (the first burning of slashed trees), ngaduruk (the second burning of remains from the first burning process), ngadampas (clearing land from the remains of burning), ngababantal (making terraces), and nyara (collecting the remains from the ngadampas). In July, farmers usually start nyacar by cutting trees, bamboo, shrubs, and other horticultural trees selectively. They cut the very young and old aren trees that have already been tapped for a long time, say 20 years, bamboo, awi ageung (Gigantochloa verticillata) and awi tali (Gigantochloa apus), leguminous trees such as kaliandra (Calliandra calothyrsus), shrubs such as sadagori (Sida retusa), and old banana plants (Musa paradisiaca). Then they leave the slash to dry. For 0.25 ha of dry land, the nyacar takes 4–5 days, and the drying usually takes about 15–20 days, sometimes even one month depending on sunlight, temperature, and the kind of slash.

The next activity is ngahuru, where farmers gather the small dried branches, leaves, and litter in piles and burn them. This activity is usually conducted in the period from the second week until the end of August. Ngahuru usually takes one–two days and burning continues until the piles become ash. Then occurs ngaduruk, whereby farmers pile up the remaining slash that had not burned well during ngahuru and reburn it until the piles are reduced to ash. Ngaduruk is usually conducted one or two days after ngahuru and can last anything between two days and two weeks, as farmers have to collect the remaining slash spread over the plots.

Next comes ngababantal—making babantal (terraces) in the sloping plot. Farmers lay trunks, large branches, and bamboo as babantal to prevent erosion. The distance between each babantal is usually 3 m. Ngababantal usually takes more time, about 12 days. Farmers feel this is the most difficult work in the talun-huma as it involves making terraces. This process is called ngais pasir, meaning to carry the pasir (dry farming land) as if it were a baby wrapped in the traditional women’s sarong (sinjang pangais)—a phrase that expresses love and care for the pasir.

The next activity is called ngadampas, in which farmers clean the remaining vegetation from the plot by chopping the roots using a short machete (parang). After ngadampas, the work of nyara follows. This consists of collecting the remains from the ngadampas and the ash, and putting them into the babantal, which in turn become seedbeds. The nyara practice is closely related to boosting soil fertility. Most of the farmers in Kemang village do not use manure to fertilize the seedbeds as not many raise goats or sheep and the plots are located far from their yards at home.

Some trees remain in the field during the rarahan period, usually the wood trees, bamboo, fruit trees such as mango (Manggah, Mangifera indica), rambutan (Nephelium ­lappaceum), petai (Peuteuy, Parkia speciosa), jengkol (Pithecolobium lobatum), jackfruit ­(Artocarpus heterophyllus), aren, and leguminous trees such as kaliandra, gamal (Gliricidia sepium), and dadap negeri (Erythrina sp.) These leguminous trees have the role of conserving the land by fixing nitrogen.

During the rarahan stage, the farmers start planting two kinds of young banana plants: cau buah (fruit bananas) and cau manggala or cau daun (leaf bananas), before the first rain when dibbling for huma paddy starts. As the day of the first rains approach, the seeds of horticulture commodities such as pumpkin (Waru, Hibiscus similis), cucumber (Bonteng, Cucumis melo), and watermelon (Sumangka, Citrulus vulgaris) are planted. Cucumbers and watermelon are usually planted close to the area where the slashes are burnt. Except for pumpkins, two or three seeds are put in each hole, dug close to the trunk of a tree or a tuturus (bamboo stick for beans or other climbing plants). Pumpkins are planted at the edge of the sloping part of the plot (sisi gawir). Maize (Jagung, Zea mays) and huma paddy are planted on the same day. Huma rice seeds are planted in the open area after dibbling using a simple traditional tool called aseuk, while cabe rawit (small chili, Capsicum frutescens) seeds are usually sowed in the area close to the babantal.

As the huma rice starts growing (usually in October), the period called huma starts. The name of this period/stage comes from huma, originally meaning dry rice growing. Pare huma is rice harvested from dry rice growing in Sundanese. This huma has become the name of a land use stage for the villagers, although, in addition to dry rice, many kinds of horticultural crops and woody plants are planted during the period. The term rarahan originated from the activities of slash-and-burn, but it has also come to signify a stage of land use. It can be seen that despite the varied origins of the names of the stages, people utilize these terms because of the interlinked connotations.

The huma stage lasts for six months. The duration of the huma and rarahan stages are quite uniform. Farmers developed the huma stage as a strategy to meet their consumption demand, especially for food crops in the form of cereals and vegetables. Annuals of horticultural crops, particularly vegetables such as long beans (Kacang panjang, Vigna sinensis), basils (Selasi, Ocimum basilicum), eggplants (Terong, Solanum sp.), big cucumbers locally called herbis or ketimun suri, chilies (Capsicum sp.), and maize are harvested during the huma stage before the huma paddy is harvested in February and March. At this stage, farmers usually start to plant young woody plants such as jeungjing or albizzia (Albizia falcataria) and pepper (Marica, Piper nigrum), depending on the size of land. Fig. 1 shows the kinds of plants used for each stage of land use and the area planted for each plant per stage of land use (total surveyed upland used by the 60 surveyed households is 30.65 ha).


Fig. 1 Area Planted with Useful Plants by Stage of Upland Farming (2001)

Sources: Field survey conducted by authors.

Note: For our plot-based survey, respondents were asked the kinds of plants found at the plots, and the percentage of land occupied by each plant. With this information, we calculated the area planted with trees/plants. Palawija means secondary crops such as maize, soybean, or the like.

After the huma rice is harvested, the next stage is called jami, with a duration cycle of about 1.5–2 years. At this stage, the horticultural crops are continuously harvested, especially duruka (Terubuk, Saccharum edule), the tubers such as cassava (Sampeu, Manihot utilissima) and sweet potatoes (Huwi Boled, Ipomoea batatas), and others such as ginger (Jahe, Zingiber officinale) and papaya (Gedang, Carica papaya). At the end of the first year, around March or April, the farmers start to harvest the fruit bananas as well as leaf bananas. In other words, the huma stage reflects the farmers’ strategy for obtaining cereal crops and vegetable foods, while the jami stage reflects their strategy to satisfy vegetable and fruit consumption needs and the necessity to generate cash income, from banana fruit and leaf as well as from fruit trees, among which mangoes, jengkol, and ­peuteuy are noteworthy. At the rarahan, huma, and jami stages, the majors are annual plants, although many perennial trees are also to be found because at the rarahan stage, many tall trees are left untouched during slash-and-burning, and during the huma stage, people start to plant woody plants.

The next stage is reuma ngora, which lasts for one–three years. In this stage the land is usually dominated by young albizzias and other wood trees as well as leaf bananas and fruit trees. Annual crops are not common in this stage. The intensity of maintenance and cultivation work is lower compared with jami. Farmers continue to harvest the banana leaves and other fruits at this stage, and at the end of the period, the albizzia trees are harvested, except when farmers decide to continue to the next stage, reuma kolot. Hence, this stage is used to meet the needs for albizzia woods, usually for repairing houses and as fuelwood, as well as for obtaining cash income. Fig. 1 shows the importance of woody trees during the reuma ngora and reuma kolot stages. Bamboos are also harvested, especially for repairing houses and making hedges for the paddy field, and so on.

The duration of the reuma kolot is usually three–seven years or more. The land is less cultivated than at the stage of reuma ngora. Wood trees are dominant in this stage. Some farmers cut albizzia to earn cash by selling it; others do not cut albizzia as they prefer to harvest teak or other wood trees. Aren, teakwood, mahogany (Swietenia sp.), bamboos, and other trees are also scattered throughout the plot. Seasonal fruits such as mango, pisitan (Lansium domesticum), rambutan, jengkol, and peuteuy are harvested every year. As a consequence of the growth of woody trees, the leaf bananas gradually become smaller. Farmers usually harvest albizzia trees at the end of this stage.

People sometimes prefer to use land as kebun campuran after it has been used as jami. With this type of land use, the multi-layer of perennial trees consists of woody trees such as albizzia, and bamboo. Fruits trees such as rambutan, nangka, pineapples (Nanas, Ananas comosus) are planted, and annual plants and root plants are mixed. Aren is an important tree in the research area; people tap the sap (nira) from the aren palm and produce palm sugar from the sap. This is a productive use of the land, and it lasts for quite a long time, sometimes 10 years or more. Banana plants are often planted for both their fruit and their leaves during this period.

Talun can be started after the kebun campuran period or after the reuma kolot period. It can be categorized into three types: i) fruit trees, aren, and other natural secondary vegetation, ii) fruit trees and other natural secondary vegetation, iii) aren and other natural secondary vegetation (Inoue et al. 2001, 72). Kaliandra is an integral tree in all three categories. People do not cultivate the land but make use of it to obtain products for both subsistence and commercial use. In any case, the intensity of usage is far lower than during the period of kebun campuran or reuma kolot.

The talun-huma described above is quite different from the talun-kebun that has been analyzed by many authors. Firstly, in the talun-huma, the planting of huma paddy is quite important, whereas in the talun-kebun, almost no planting of huma paddy is found. In many cases of talun-kebun, bamboo is very important for sustaining the system, whereas in the talun-huma, bamboo has a somewhat minor role. Mixtures of perennial trees are common. The diversity of the plants and the planting of leguminous trees such as kaliandra and gamal play an important role in sustaining the system.

Planting the huma paddy with dibbling and the existence of the following stages of jami and reuma are somewhat similar to the perladangan (shifting cultivation) system practices in the Baduy area, Banten, adjacent to West Java. There, the practice of slash-and-burn followed by huma rice is quite similar to the practice found at our research site. Kebun campuran practice is also found at Baduy, but there is no talun forest. Usually the duration of reuma is four years, and in some cases, old secondary forest is found (Johan Iskandar 1992, 31–38, 74–111). However, there appears to be no particular term for this old secondary forest. In contrast, the talun-huma at our research site has a more developed system of reuma ngora, reuma kolot, and talun that usually takes more time during these stages.

With regard to social forestry programs, villagers report that people have been allowed to slash-and-burn since far before the introduction of the Forest Village Society Program (PMDH) at the National Forest Corporation land. The process of land use under the social forestry program is somewhat similar to the talun-huma, at least until the stage of jami, although people are required to plant teak from an early stage and maintain the land until the teak trees grow. Teak is sometimes substituted with mahogany and so on.11)

II-3 Variation of Land Use Stage Cycles
The above-described sequential pattern of stages is a typical case. In reality, many variations of stage cycles are found because there are many options for the farmers.

One option is the reuma ngora/reuma kolot and kebun campuran alternative. Talun is a long period with low productivity, thus some people are not keen on using this cycle. Huma is an important period for producing dry rice; however, some people are not interested in using the land as huma, preferring to plant many banana plants or have more wet rice. Yet others prefer not to use the land as reuma ngora/reuma kolot or kebun campuran. They use the land as talun for a long time, with no intention to slash-and-burn. Some people repeat huma planting every three years without entering the stage of reuma ngora, a strategy especially common among people who have recently obtained their land, or who have just started the social forestry program.

Once farmers have decided on the huma stage, they should go through rarahan, and after the huma, plant secondary crops and perennials at the jami stage, especially during rainy season. So this sequence constitutes one set that cannot be split. Reuma ngora (“young” reuma) and reuma kolot (“old” reuma) form another set.

From these observations, and also from discussions concerning permanent forest and cyclical use with slash-and-burn, we have determined five types of land use sequence.

The first is the rotating sequence from rarahan/huma/jami to the productive fallow of reuma ngora/reuma kolot, and finally to talun, or sometimes once to kebun campuran, and finally talun. In this pattern we find huma and talun in the sequence.

The second is the cyclical sequence from rarahan/huma/jami to productive fallow such as reuma ngora/reuma kolot or kebun campuran, but no talun.

The third is the cyclical sequence among rarahan/huma/jami, but without leading to productive fallow such as reuma ngora/reuma kolot or kebun campuran. This type of land use includes plots that were recently acquired/sharecropped/allocated under the social forestry program, and slashed-and-burned, but where it is not clear yet whether the plot will proceed to the stage of reuma ngora, or be slashed-and-burned again after a fallowing interval because the cultivators are not the owners of the plots and cannot/do not answer for the land use following the jami stage, especially in the case of share­cropping.

The fourth type is permanent forest with a talun stage. The fifth is permanent forest without talun, such as reuma ngora/reuma kolot and kebun campuran, or kebun campuran, or a particular forest such as albizzia forest. In these cases, talun, reuma ngora/reuma kolot, or kebun campuran are no longer productive fallow but permanent forest. These five types are shown at Table 2.

Table 2 Plots and Their Characteristics by Cyclical Sequence (2001)


Of the 174 plots of dry land controlled by 60 households that were surveyed, the largest number of plots had adopted the second sequence—cyclical land use with productive fallow without talun. This was used in 87 cases, or 50 percent of all cases. The second largest number of plots used the cyclical sequence with talun: 38 cases, or 21.9 percent. The number of the plots including a talun stage is 48, or 27.6 percent of all plots. In contrast, the number of plots including a huma stage is 157, or 90.2 percent of all plots. Those plots go through the process of slash-and-burn. Among the 157 plots that have a huma stage, 125 plots or 79.6 percent of the plots have productive fallowing such as reuma ngora/reuma kolot, kebun campuran, or talun. Plots of permanent forest occur in 17 cases, or 9.8 percent, and among them 10 plots, or 5.7 percent of all plots had permanent forest with talun. Talun-huma referes to the first category of the Table 2 in the narrow sence, on the other hand talun-huma and agroforestry can cover the whole practices discussed above.

III Talun-Huma in the Rural Context of Social Economy

III-1 Talun-Huma and Socioeconomic Factors
The talun-huma in Kemang village displays a range of characteristics according to the cyclical sequence pattern. The characteristics are partly geographic, partly social, and partly economic as shown at Table 2.

The huma cultivated plots are located in remote areas. In contrast, the nearer the plot, the more talun is practiced. Concerning the average duration of the cycle, greater use of the talun system correlates to longer cycles.

Table 3 shows that the percentage of plots owned by the respondents was far higher in cyclical sequences with talun and huma, and permanent forest with talun. Among the 174 plots that were managed by 60 respondents households, 105 were owned by the household surveyed, and 42 were plots allocated to farmers under the social forestry scheme, 21 were sharecropped, 5 were lease-held, and 1 case was mortgaged by the respondent households. Among 21 sharecropping practices, 12 were among family members,12) and 9 were among non-family members. So the smaller the percentage of the plots owned by the respondents, the smaller the percentage of households who use the stage of talun or other productive fallows, and the shorter the average duration of the sequence cycle. People who have joined the social forestry program or sharecropped the plot tend to practice more huma and activities relating to huma (rarahan, huma and jami).

Table 3 Plot Ownership Characteristics by Cyclical Sequence (2001)


Concerning the average plot price per hectare, plots that have a talun stage fetch relatively higher prices; plots of permanent forest are also relatively highly valued. Households that own a larger area of pasir dry farmland with perennial trees planting and wet rice fields are prone to having the talun stage, but the less of these lands a household possesses, the less the amount of productive fallow in the sequence.

III-2 Talun-Huma and Economic Activity
III-2-1 Agricultural Sector

Economic activities and employment opportunities in the agricultural sector are closely related to dry land farming. The dry land farming stages give rise to variation in these activities.

Fig. 2 shows the yearly income earned by agriculture-related waged laborers in relation to upland farming stages. The amount of income is for whole households. At the time of the jami and reuma ngora stages, farm-waged laborers are in peak demand for both dry land farming and wet rice farming.



Fig. 2 Agriculture-related Wage Labor by Upland Farming Stage (2001)

Source: Field survey conducted by authors.

Income from various activities in the agricultural sector varies according to strata. Table 4 shows the yearly income composition of surveyed households according to strata. Income from wet rice farming, agricultural waged labor, palm sugar, and leaf banana production has a close relationship with the household strata. Upper strata households have a higher proportion of total household income generated by wet rice farming and leaf banana production. For lower strata households, agricultural waged labor, palm sugar pro­duc­tion, and dry rice production generate a higher percentage of total household income.

Table 4 Household Yearly Income by Economic Activity According to Strata (2001)

(Units: Rp. 1,000)


There are agricultural waged labor and sharecropping relations between the owners of pasir dry farming/wet rice farming land and agricultural waged laborers/share croppers concerning palm sugar production, leaf bananas harvesting, and huma cultivation. Products of agricultural waged labor or sharecropping are divided between the landowner and agricultural laborers/sharecroppers. The portion of products/harvests differs according to the distance from the settlements: if the location is far, the portion for the laborers or sharecroppers is two-thirds; if the plot is not far, the portion is a half (maro) (Siti Sugiah Machfud Mugniesyah et al. 1999).

Tables 2 and 3 show that the talun system is practiced by the upper strata, whereas huma is in many cases practiced by sharecroppers, or people who have joined the social forestry program. This tendency can be partly discerned in Table 4. Dry land farming is quite important for the lower strata, strata C (79.0 percent of income derived) and D (29.2 percent of income from dry land farming, and 61.7 percent from agricultural labor), especially considering that the agricultural labor undertaken by stratum D respondents is closely related with the dry land farming of strata A and B households. Although dry rice production is not so important for the income of respondents as a whole (2 percent), it cannot be neglected for stratum D respondents, for whom dry rice contributes 11 percent to their income.

Dry land farming is important for the upper strata farmers too because they manage a wider area of dry land and derive substantial income from it (21.5 percent for stratum A, and 25.4 percent for stratum B). These incomes support the sustainability of the agroforestry system constituting of talun-huma, and permanent forest with or without talun. Palm sugar and leaf banana production contribute substantially to this income. Palm sugar production has a long history, whereas leaf banana production only started in the middle of the 1990s. The flexibility of the talun-huma and agroforestry in accommodating so many kinds of plants, and the fertile soil resulting from a multi-layered, often-dense canopy of vegetation that protects against soil erosion and leaching, has enabled the planting of leaf bananas on a large scale, which is quite profitable for the respondents. It is questionable whether the widespread growth of leaf banana planting will support the talun-huma and agroforestry because of its profitability, or on the contrary, will hurt the system because of over-planting and declining fertility (Tsujii and Ageng forthcoming). Nevertheless, it is quite apparent that the talun-huma and agro­forestry contributes significantly to the rural economy. Dry land cultivation, which contributes 31.1 percent of the surveyed household income, is only a part of talun-huma and agroforestry’s economic contribution. Most of the agricultural waged labor, and the banana leaf trade that are essential parts of the talun-huma and agroforestry, also contribute to the rural economy.

III-2-2 Talun-Huma and the Non-Agricultural Sector

The non-agricultural sector plays an important role in the economy. The total income amongst the surveyed households coming from the non-agricultural sector is 52.6 percent. Table 4 clearly shows that the higher the household strata, the larger the percentage of non-agricultural sector income relative to total household income.

Table 5 shows the composition of the yearly income derived from the non-­agricultural sector by the surveyed households. Income derived from working in the civil service, warung (grocery) shop management, and machinery management such as chain saw rental, are clearly related to strata level, and the higher strata derive a greater percentage of income from these activities in total household income.

Table 5 Composition of Household Non-agricultural Yearly Income (2001)

(Units: Rp. 1,000)


These non-agricultural sectors may contribute to sustaining the talun-huma and agroforestry because people derive substantial income from the non-agricultural sector, so they need not rely heavily on the dry land management sector, which results in longer terms of productive fallow. People may invest in the dry farming sector with the income derived from the non-agricultural sector. Alternatively, the non-agricultural sector may hurt the talun-huma and agroforestry because people do not need substantial income from the upland, and there may be too little labor to retain the cyclical sequence of land use, or maintain permanent forest in a productive way. This issue will be addressed in the following section.

IV Analysis of the Sustainability of the Talun-Huma

Many factors may have an influence on the sustainability of the talun-huma and agroforestry. From our description and analysis above, the distance of the plot from the house, duration of holding since acquisition, duration of the cycles, ownership status of the plot, area of household holding of dry land and wet rice field, and price of the plot are considered to be important for the sustainability of the talun-huma and agroforestry. It is debatable whether income from banana planting and non-agriculture will support or hurt the talun-huma and agroforestry. In order to determine whether these factors are positively related to the sustainability of the talun-huma and agroforestry, correlation between these factors and sustainability, and sequential cycles were examined and analyzed by some methodologies of multivariate statistics, using the area of total pasir/wet rice fields land owned by surveyed households, distance of the plots, income from banana production, income from non-agricultural sectors, income from wet rice farming, ownership status, and the number of household members13) in relation to the data of each plot as variants.

Whether the talun stage exists or not is qualitative data. This data can be analyzed with a probit model. We have assumed the following linear equation parameters:


In order to examine the influence of these factors on whether the talun stage exists or not, we have assumed the following linear equation parameters:

DT: Dummy variable of existence of talun for each plot (1: Talun in, 0: Talun out)

WUH: Area of farming plots owned by one household, which includes the wet rice farming and dry land farming (in ha)

DIT: Distance from the farmhouse surveyed to the upland farm plot (in km)

DMN: Duration of land management after acquisition by respondent (in years)

NFM: Number of family members in the household surveyed

IWR: Income from wet rice cultivation by household surveyed during 2001 (in Rupiah)

IBL: Income from banana production by household surveyed during 2001 (in Rupiah)

ING: Income from non-agricultural sector activities by household surveyed during 2001 (in Rupiah)

OWN: Ownership of plots using dummy variables (1: owned by household member, 0: not owned by household member, such as sharecropped)

From this Table 6 we can estimate that the nearer to the house, the smaller the number of family members, and whether the land is owned, the greater the likelihood of talun being practiced. Income from non-agricultural sectors, banana production, and wet rice are not statistically proved to be related to the question of whether or not talun is practiced.

Table 6 Estimation of Talun Existence Measured by Upland Farming-related Variables


Now we examine the question of whether or not huma is practiced, or slash-and-burn is practiced, using a probit model. We have assumed the following linear equation parameters:


DH: Dummy variable of existence of huma practice (1: Huma in, 0: Huma out)

The other variables are the same as with equation (4-1).

From Table 7, we can see that the further away the plot, and the longer the duration after the acquisition of the plot, the more huma or slash-and-burn are practiced. If the plot is not owned, and the smaller the area of farming plot owned by the respondents, the more huma is practiced. However, more income from wet rice farming and from the non-agricultural sectors does not result in a decrease in huma practice. In fact, according to this estimation, they somewhat support the practice of huma, with more practice of huma or slash-and-burn.

Table 7 Estimation of Huma Existence Measured by Upland Farming Related Variables


Finally we estimate the duration of the cycle to check the sustainability of talun-huma and agroforestry using ordinary least squares method. We have assumed the following linear equation parameters:

Duration of Cycle=F3 (WUH, DIT, DMN, NFM, IWR, IBL, ING, OWN) (4-3)

Duration of cycle: duration of a sequence of land use cycle for each plot (in months)

The other variables are the same as with equation (4-1).

Table 8 shows that the further away the plot, and the shorter the time since the acquisition, the shorter the duration of the cycle. We observe that with relation to banana planting: the larger the banana harvest, the shorter the duration of the cycle. We can infer somewhat that the larger the area of farming plots owned by the households, the longer the cycle, but this trend is not well supported statistically. For non-agricultural sector income, we cannot find a clear relation with the duration of the cycle.

Table 8 Estimation of Duration of Cycle Measured by Upland Farming Related Variables


From these three estimations, we can say that distance, and ownership have been statistically proven to be closely related with the practice of talun and huma. On the other hand, non-agriculture factors have not proved to be correlated with the existence of talun nor with the duration of sequence cycle. Moreover, the non-agricultural sector has proven to be positively correlated with the existence of huma practice. These data mean that further development of non-agricultural sectors would not damage the talun-huma and agroforestry, at least in the near future. Leaf banana planting is not related to the existence of talun and huma; however, it has been proven to be related to the duration of the cycle. The greater the leaf banana planting, the shorter the duration of the cycle, which may in turn lead to declining fertility of the dry land.

V Conclusion

Land use intensification for swidden agriculture has taken place in Indonesia. The most vivid case study is the talun-kebun in West Java, especially in relation to talun bamboo. Talun is meaningful from ecological, social, and economic perspectives, and is thought of as being a typical practice in West Java.

This study has shown that the term talun was used in many places such as North Sumatra, Minahasa, and Malay people’s areas in Sumatra, Borneo, Central and East Java, besides West Java at least during colonial times. Talun even became the name of villages, sub-districts, and mountains in many places in Java island. Besides talun, there are many practices of land use intensification in relation to man-made forest modified from ­conventional slash-and-burn. These have been studied, especially from an ecological perspective.

This study has shown that talun-huma and agroforestry practice in the surveyed village con­tributed greatly to the economy of households surveyed, through dry land farming, palm sugar production, and agricultural waged labor using the data collected at the field in 2000–1. The trading of banana leaves also constitutes as a contribution of the talun-huma and agroforestry to rural economy. We have demonstrated that the talun-huma and agroforestry is closely linked to the socioeconomic structure of the rural society. Huma is more likely to be practiced by the lower strata who own little farming land. The economic development reflected in the growth of leaf banana production and non-agricultural sector income has not excluded or diminished talun-huma and agroforestry. Sharecropping practices and agri­cultural labor relations among the villagers established huma practice amongst higher strata villagers who invest more in leaf banana production. The social forestry program implemented in this region also supports the continuity of huma practice. Moreover, the development of non-agricultural sectors and wet rice cultivation has had a positive impact on the existence of huma practices and the continuation of slash-and-burn practices. The National Forestry Corporation has enabled people to slash-and-burn for a long time at least until 2001, and that within the social forestry program, meaning that the National Forestry Company to some extent adopted the talun-huma and agroforestry for the planting of teak or mahogany.

Talun is practiced on nearby plots with a longer duration from the time of acquisition by families with a small number of family members. The land is owned by the respondent household.

Talun-huma and permanent forest with or without talun are good practices that keep the system sustainable from an economic and social point of view. Diversified farming, balanced rotation of land use, and diversity of plants, as well as the planting of land ­conservation trees in the form of leguminous trees such as kaliandra and gamal, play an important role in sustaining the system.

Maintaining the rarahan-huma-jami practice, as well as the reuma ngora or kebun campuran practices, requires effort on the part of the people and a certain amount of labor. From this point of view, the introduction of leaf banana plants to the village in the 1990s has made an important contribution to the continuity of the system because the plants supply much income to villagers both as farmers and as agricultural laborers. They can then rely on the income from the hilly dry land. However, a problem that might prove to be serious in the near future is that leaf banana planting shortens the duration of the cycle and may render the land infertile.

Accepted: July 27, 2012


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1) The study team consisted of staff from Bogor Agricultural University, Kyoto University, the University of Tokyo, and Gadjah Mada University. This paper has been presented at the 2nd Seminar on “Toward Harmonization between Development and Environmental Conservation in Biological Production” (JSPS-DGHE Core University Program in Applied Biosciences, the University of Tokyo, February 2003), and at the International Workshop on “Sustainable Agricultural Development in Southeast Asia” (Research Center for Regional Resources and the Indonesian Institute of Science, Jakarta, September 14–15, 2003). The seminar and workshop issued proceedings as the 2nd Seminar on “Toward Harmonization between Development and Environmental Conservation in Biological Production” (JSPS-DGHE Core University Program in Applied Biosciences, the University of Tokyo, February 2003). The paper has also been presented at the Kyoto Sustainability Institute (KSI) International Workshop on “Swidden Agriculture in Southeast Asia, Sustainability and Contribution towards Agroforestry and Forestry,” held at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University on March 15, 2010. The authors express sincere thanks to these projects and to the participants of the seminar and workshop who made comments on this paper. The authors are also grateful to the paper’s referees who gave us valuable comments.

2) Dictionaries of local languages contain differing definitions of talun. In Sundanese during colonial times, talun meant newly developed dry land (tegal), and doeloeh taloen referred to new settlements consisting of farmland, houses, and gardens, arising from an extension of the village (Coolsma 1913, 611), while in present-day Sundanese spoken mainly in West Java, it refers to agricultural dry land with fruits trees that live for a long time (Lembaga Basa & Sastra Sunda 1975, 503). On the other hand, a Javanese dictionary written in colonial times defined talun as land already harvested and not made orderly yet (Jansz 1906, 1027). A Javanese dictionary written after Independence defined talun as land of shifting cultivation or dry rice land (Prawiroatmodjo 1957, 628). According to a colonial-era dictionary of Madurese, talon is a piece of land planted with something other than rice, a garden, hilly land, a fallowed garden, a fallowed agricultural field, not irrigated (Penninga and Hendriks 1936, 311). A dictionary of Sasak (the language in Lombok) mentioned taloen as cultivated land (Goris 1938, 296), while taloen appears in a dictionary of the Boesang language (spoken by a Dayak group in Borneo) as brushwood, or young forest that has undergone swidden agriculture (Barth 1910, 204).

3) These villages were located at afdeeling Toeban, Salatiga, and Pati, and also regency (regentschap) Temanggong, residentie Kediri, and regentschap Trengalek. Besides these, the name of Taloenombo was found at residentie Banjoemas (Veth 1869, 862).

4) Five villages at East Java were located in residentie Toeban, Ponorogo, Nganjoek, Bodjonegoro, and Blitar; two villages in Central Java were located at residentie Rembang, and Pekalongan; two villages in West Java were located at Bandoeng and Soemedang; one village at gewest Soerakarta was located at residentie Klaten. Besides these, the name of Taloenamba was found at residentie Bandjarnegara, Taloenblandong at residentie Modjokoerto, Taloenkidoel at residentie Djombang, Taloenkoelon at residentie Toeloenagoeng, Taloenombo at residentie Wonosobo, and Taloenredjo at residentie Lamongan (Schoel 1931, 373–374). This information does not exclude the possibility that there are places called talun, or something similar outside Java, because Schoel’s dictionary only discussed names in Java island.

5) Taloenliaoe is in afdeeling Doesoenlanden, residentie Zuid en Oost Afdeeling van Borneo; on the other hand Taloen is located in three locations in East Java, five locations in Central Java, and two locations in West Java.

6) Rubber planting by smallholders in Indonesia starts with slash-and-burn (Gede Wibawa et al. 2005, 223). After annuals are grown for two to three years, rubber trees are planted but other perennials are left to grow. This diversified farming of rubber creates man-made forest that supports high productivity for both rubber and the household economy. Rubber would be replanted after 20–40 years of production, sometimes with an interval of slash-and-burn (Gouyon et al. 1993). The replanting of rubber for rejuvenating old rubber is preferred by local people to a cyclical system that slashes, cuts, and burns the old jungle rubber (Gede Wibawa et al. 2005, 225–231).

7) Rattan cultivation by smallholders in the man-made forest after slash-and-burn in Central Kalimantan (Godoy and Tan 1991) has boomed due to the good price for rattan.

8) Almost all current dictionaries of Indonesian—Indonesian-Indonesian and Indonesian-other languages —do not mention talun as a term relating to forest, or to agroforestry or land use in hilly areas.

9) Protected forest is government-designated forest that is protected for water source conservation, prevention from floods and erosion, and maintenance of land fertility (Article 3, Act No. 5, 1966 concerning Basic Regulations on Forest).

10) Production forest is forest that is designated by the government for the needs of the people, and for the purpose of development, industry, and export (Article 3, Act No. 5, 1966 concerning Basic Regulations on Forest).

11) This approach to social forestry is very different from the social forestry program implemented by the National Forestry Company in Middle Java where the National Forestry Company has not allowed people to slash-and-burn in the social forest company land, according to Dr Pujo Sumedi, researcher at Gajah Mada University (interview conducted by the authors on August 17, 2011).

12) Family members here mean parents and parents-in-law, and brothers or brothers-in-law of the respondents.

13) The number of household members may relate to the necessity of income and availability of household labor. Price of the land per hectare was not considered because we were concerned that the price may be more influenced by the distance of the plots from the settlement.