Dr Sophie Chao2
1University Of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, 2Macquarie Univeristy, Sydney, Australia
Drawing from eighteen months of fieldwork in Merauke District, West Papua, this paper explores how indigenous Marind communities conceptualize the rising food insecurity provoked by deforestation and oil palm expansion across their customary lands. I begin by examining the bodily and social transformations provoked by the substitution of once-diverse, native, and forest-derived diets with nutritionally poor, imported, and processed commodities such as rice and instant noodles. I then analyze “hunger” among Marind as a plural, phenomenological, and moral disposition that speaks to the breakdown of social ties among Marind communities and between Marind and the kindred forest organisms from whom they traditionally derived their sustenance. At the same time, I demonstrate how hunger is considered by Marind to be a fundamental attribute of animate and inanimate entities that they associate with the palm oil sector – the state, government roads, bulldozers, and oil palm itself. Finally, I outline how an ethnonutritional approach to diet and food in Merauke and beyond can pave the way for a culturally informed understanding of diverse foods and diverse hungers across socioeconomic contexts. I also examine the applied value of this interdisciplinary approach in forging locally sustainable and culturally meaningful food systems for future Marind generations.
Dr. Sophie Chao is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry and the Charles Perkins Center, and an Honorary Postdoctoral Fellow at Macquarie University. Her research explores the impacts of deforestation on indigenous food systems in Indonesia.