Wild Animals and a Different Human Face

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Tennessee Williams

To understand portions of one’s own culture demands a lifetime; to become familiar with another’s depends upon a host of enthusiastic interpreters, attentive listening, experiencing a multitude of unfamiliar activities, a receptive heart, and good fortune. Throughout my life, a major focus has been the contrast between Northern (Western) and African perceptions (neither of which is homogeneous) and their relationships to wildlife and how these motives and practices have played out in conservation policies and through political-economic power. How have such policies affected local or indigenous populations? How thoroughly have they disrupted earlier relationships? What about the impacts on ecological interactions? Undoubtedly, my concern is part of a legacy from a childhood and youth spent equally in temperate North America and tropical Central Africa, of immersions in dissimilar cultural and environmental settings, an early absorption of three languages, of childhood roles and adventures under conditions favoring explorations in both cultural and environmental domains, and of subsequent career choices allowing the time, resources and the connections to follow these interests and to write about them (Marks, 1984,1991,2005, nd.).

This passion for different world views and for wild animals came as I reflected upon earlier experience while temporarily stationed among the Inuit in the Bering Straits in 1962. While there, I realized that my Inuit associates were not seeing the same animals that I was taught in graduate studies. My hosts on St. Lawrence Island possessed a more inclusive connectedness to the lives of neighboring creatures, expressive of longer term relationships, both spiritual and epistemological, upon which their welfare depended. These exposures and thoughts challenged me to expand my own awareness beyond what was considered then appropriate in the academy. Accepting this ordeal has taken most of a life time to observe cultural and environmental processes in just two small places. In the process of completing intermittent field studies with members of one central African society (Marks, 2008; nd), I am asked to share some musing with readers of On the Human. I will give some background and findings from this longitudinal study before posing some questions that may affect, if not implicate, us all.

In Zambia’s central Luangwa Valley, the Valley Bisa share their landscape with dense populations of large and small wild animals. These Bisa have been my hosts and teachers during intermittent stays spread over half a century. Like many of their neighbors, this society is matrilineal and organized into chiefs’ and commoners’ lineages. They are subsistence hoe cultivators, dependent upon rain-fed sorghums/maize, upon collecting and hunting wild products, as well as upon wage employment. Gender largely determines who farms, cooks, raises children, collects, hunts, or seeks wages. Residents’ numbers have doubled in fifty years (10,000 people in 2006), now skewed decidedly towards the younger ages while their communities are challenged by a weak government’s retrenchment in education and in other social services. Today most residents are experiencing growing poverty and persistent resource scarcities as shifting climate regimes affect their subsistence agriculture and as government edicts restrict their gathering and hunting of bush products. Unlike their neighbors, the Valley Bisa were a comparatively small and “marginal” group somewhat distanced from outside administration until recently (accessible by a rough, unimproved road since 1960), yet with sizeable portions of their land appropriated initially by the colonial and later the Zambian state as game reserve and as national parks respectfully. Today, they inhabit a narrow Game Management Area (a “buffer corridor” of some 2500 km2) surrounded on three sides by national parks with a steep escarpment on the fourth which separates them somewhat from developments elsewhere.

Since the 1980s, these imposed institutional boundaries, supported in the “mental furniture” of conservation officials, backed by considerable international funding and enforcement on the ground, have had a devastating impact on Valley Bisa welfare and culture. One way to illustrate this quandary is to list the names given to their domestic dogs, which, as the state has disarmed the local population, have become residents’ close associates in their conspiracy against the state’s limited economic vision for wildlife. Unlike the domesticated dogs found in many Northern societies’ households, which are brought into the family hearth, well-fed, and treated much as kin, the names of and condition of Valley Bisa dogs are symbolic of their despair and fragmenting social relations. Dogs are rarely fed or cared for and, in times of duress, are sold sometimes to safari operators for target practice. In 2006, these given-names reflect the recent individualization and social alienation taking place under increasing uncertainty and poverty, for the monikers were either derogatory or punitive evocative of unsanctioned sentiments (even in translation): “we have no relatives” [after no one came to inquire about a wife maimed by a crocodile], ”hatred”, ”not yours”, “no justice”, “remember me”, “not sure why I married this woman”, “if your marriage is unstable- you will travel”, “mistake”, “shut up”, “you offend the whole household”, “jealousy”, “rudeness”, “chaos”, “no appreciation”, “stinginess”, and “you will see.” To me, this litany is symptomatic of the depth to which a once brave and resourceful people have descended in their relationships with their neighboring animals and to each other.

Valley residents depend upon wildlife as an important complement to their agricultural products and especially as a safety net in times of famines. For some of their men, the hunting of and protection from wildlife are both necessary and customary. The necessity comes from the endemic presence of the tsetse fly, which prevents livestock husbandry, and from the need to protect human life and crops from wildlife competitions both in its large and smaller forms. Wild meats are important supplements in diets and the produce of a few men selected by their lineages. Gender roles dictate that women engage in “mundane” agriculture and serve as the structural core of villagers, while most men assume the expansive and chancy activities of hunting, trading, and local or migrant labor.

Valley Bisa relationships with the wild animals around them are diverse, complicated, and, in some cases, seem contradictory. While wildlife competes with cultivators and collectors for food, some animals reciprocally become important sources of meat and of power when used as medicines and in witchcraft. This dialectic is the basic social organizing principle in which matrilineally-related women, identified symbolically with subsistence agriculture and the “community”, are contrasted to wildlife and its potential destructiveness of human life and sustenance. Men (mainly marrying into the group) with their wide-ranging activities are identified with wild animals, hunting, trade, and the bush (Morris 1998). Local people employ familiar concepts to classify wild animals including their grouping, relations between these categories as well as the same images to interpret behaviors, “spirits,” and power. Their folk classifications express utilitarian and anthropocentric values. Historically, relationships with and knowledge of wildlife were the domain of few men belonging to specific lineages.

Whereas “mammals” are presumed to have their own autonomous reality, local hunters’ categories encapsulate lineage interests, needs, and uses as well as expressions of personal fears, histories, and experiences. Historically, hunters managed and addressed their roles tangentially through beliefs in spirits, through the tangible uses of culturally mediated rituals and prescriptions, and through following the normative distributions of its products and procedures. Lineage elders used unseen agents (spirits, ancestors) and observable agency to monitor the compliance of their subordinates while imaginatively structuring and legitimizing the ethical order in times of crisis and uncertainties.

Linguistically and historically, the Valley Bisa did not separate themselves from other forms of life nor do they typically objectify “nature.” No indigenous word exists for the Northern idea of “nature,” or “environment” as such, although their noun “nchende” is sometimes translated as such by outsiders pushing a conservation ethic. The vernacular meaning of this term includes people, place, and the resources (“fipe”-baggage, goods, or “properties”) necessary to sustain people within a particular site. The term to convey something of the meaning for a “natural resource” is “ifilingwa waleza” (literally God’s gifts). The ideal of wildlife “conservation” requires a whole phrase- “kusunga ifilingwa waleza” (caring for God’s gifts). Yet, this indigenous term denotes more intrinsic and spiritual meanings than the English term, as it assumes that humans and the other lives around them constitute a seamless whole. Both are integral parts: no “nature” exists outside the morality of the human community, for reciprocal obligations extend outward from the village embracing other forms of life as well as spirits. The bush becomes responsive and responsible to residents as their ancestral spirits reside there as former embodiments of the current community. Causality embedded in moral principles and human intentionality are the bedrock explanations for why “good” and “bad” things happen; the latter might happen even to “good” or innocent people because someone, somewhere has violated ethical expectations and norms. The “how” and the “why” questions of life are often embedded in the same search.

For most Valley Bisa, their recent transformations have been precipitous and traumatic, brought on by many dynamics seemingly outside their influence, and expressed through the consciousness of increasing scarcities and decreasing welfare. Within this synthesis of progressive factors is a steady inflation in the national economy since the late 1970s, the death of a long-reigning chief in 1984 with an interregnum until 1990, a weak and truculent government unresponsive to local needs, uncertain rainfall regimes and climatic shifts. In addition, the AIDS epidemic and a doubling in population size (since the 1960s) mean that the majority of residents are young, with little formal education and facing local resource and productive land scarcities as well as few opportunities for employment. This demographic shift has brought its losses in cultural and local ecological memories as many residents reject the earlier “limited” communal worldview of ancestors for conversions to Pentecostalism with its individualistic expectations and anticipated rewards. Under donor pressures, government has further aggrieved local welfare by legally commoditizing the value of wildlife to generate revenues, thereby privileging access by safari hunters and international tourists rather than local users. Towards this goal, the administration employs large cadres of wildlife police officers to arrest those killing wildlife without formal licenses and harassing others while dispossessing residents of the firearms formerly used to feed and to protect themselves. Officials offer no proactive protection to residents or compensation for their losses. While enduring a high level of arrests and losses, residents resort to “hidden transcripts” (secrecy) and earlier devices (snares, downfalls) to deliver their protests, to protect their properties, and to acquire their animal protein. Another way is through the recent husbandry of domesticated dogs as co-conspirators in protection and for acquiring prey.

I do not pretend to present a final, definitive picture for these cultural dynamics or for the biological commons in this central Luangwa Valley. What I have witnessed will continue in various shapes and versions as current cultural tragedies and policies continue in that part of the world. Finding the words to match the meanings and expressions for my experiences in this distant valley has, for me, become an instructive hunt, if only a mental one. Nevertheless, this quest has enlarged my range in curiosity, taken me across new conceptual terrain and provided different “targets” of opportunity. The pursuit to reconfigure “the place of nature within the space of culture” essentially becomes one of redefining “ownership”, “possessions”, and “belonging” and remains necessarily elusive as the perpetrators in time often become victims (Buell, 2001). Comments of fellow trekkers, as well as those of others, are welcome as what I have learned leads me to some inferences about the acquisitive structures and presumptive natures of our (northern) societies. I conclude with a few of these reflections.

For an indeterminate past, wild animals were around and with us, in our minds if not in our stomachs, and vice versa. According to our myths, these associations were essential for humans evolving and for reflective definitions of our humanity. Humanity’s place within nature became a topic of modern European philosophers, who agreed on human superiority even as they differed on the specifics as to what humans had that other animals lacked. It is assumed that only humans have language and practical intelligence that allows imagination, speculation, and deliberation about death and what comes after. With European exploration and colonization worldwide, and later its own industrialization, wild animals began to disappear from human life as environments became fundamentally transformed under the egis of ideas about hierarchy, dominance, and utility. Today most descendants of and operatives within these European worldviews must travel far to witness the diversity of wild animals, even if these animals are now found in contrived surroundings elsewhere; otherwise, they remain surrounded by domesticated types bearing human utilities as pets and food. As human livelihoods and wants have become the major impact on the evolutionary trajectories of most forms of life, I wonder if animals, particularly in their “wilder” forms, will continue as a major epistemological category in human development and thought. If animals are no longer the standards, what might take their place as holistic contexts on life recede and comparisons become increasingly reductionist? (Thomas, 1963; Lippit, 2000)

Scott Atran and Doug Medin (2008) show how the remarkable breadth in biological and ecological knowledge of some indigenous people compares with that of modern literates in the United States. Some of these smaller groups, whose worldviews include spiritual and ethical links to their environments, strive to maintain “sustainable” resources within livable environments, often while in conflict with more powerful and imperial groups claiming privileged (but truncated) worldviews based in distant and “unsustainable” cultural appetites for material resources. Other indigenous groups, such as the Valley Bisa, resist the odds by persisting with their own claims and identities despite its high cost. What I find remarkable about this discrepancy in biological knowledge is that many people in the Northern Hemisphere, even those working for organizations proclaiming their mission as protecting the environment, seem oblivious to the limitations of their own perspectives and prefer to remain in the dark about the high “hidden” human costs in their own overseas activities. My view is that we would learn a lot from listening and learning from people who know about formal, and even informal, restraints and from long term perspectives that our histories have repeatedly yet to teach us. Unfortunately, we seldom venture beyond our invented environments and the comforts of our insulated lives, including the pets that bear our marks, as seekers rather than as tourists.

What I have described for the Valley Bisa is not a unique event, for similar episodes have occurred in the past and continue into the present. In many respects, these incidents are reminiscent of persistent biological drives submerged in imperial cultural demands for resources and territory. In this case, it would be a basic biological need for territory and resources sanctioned as a cultural necessity controlling (managing) disorder, unknowns, and diversity spatially (Sheets-Johnstone, 2009). In a recent remarkable book, Anderson (2004) depicts how colonists in North America used their domestic livestock to undermine indigenous Indians of their rights to land and resources, which once obtained, settlers then transformed into commodities that they considered more manageable. Anderson (2004:246) concludes this tragic story thus: “Indians found room in their world for livestock, but the colonists and their descendants could find no room in theirs for Indians.”

My experience leads me to think that those who strive to preserve biological diversity in terms of their own worldviews, restrictive in its visions of cultural diversity, are imperially pushing their own control of “nature” rather than broadening our common understanding about what “sustainability” of life might be about. For the Valley Bisa, the story begins with wild animals, a cultivated and cultured landscape; it ends with domesticated animals bearing the imprints of their makers, with the human vision dimmed, the land cartelized by new proprietors none the wiser. The national park might just be “America’s best idea,” according to the recent Ken Burns’ documentary; yet a closer look at this cinema graphic shows that it is really about our violent history and displacement of indigenous peoples, about our heroes and villains, about the cultured versions of our interpreters and scholars, about our technologies and acquisitiveness, about our class-based disparities in wealth, about our cultural concepts of work, play, and leisure, as well as our definitions of a “good life.” How can such an idea be expanded and disciplined to serve a more universal ideal?

Some References

  • Anderson, Virginia 2004. Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Atran, Scott & Douglas Medin 2008. The Native Mind and the Cultural Construction of Nature. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Buell, Lawrence 2001. Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment in the U.S. and Beyond. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Crist, Eileen 1999. Images of Animals: Anthropomorphism and Animal Mind. Philadelphia: Temple University Press
  • Diamond, Jared 2005. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Penguin
  • Goodman, Nelson 1978. Ways of Worldmaking. Hassocks UK: The Harvester Press.
  • Hughes, David M. 2008. Requiem for the Zambezi Valley? Conservation and protected areas under climate change. Policy Matters 16:108-115.
  • Lippit, Akira M. 2000. Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Marks, Stuart A. 1984. The Imperial Lion. Boulder, CO: Westview Press
  • _________ 1991. Southern Hunting in Black and White: Nature, History, and Ritual in a Carolina Community. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • _________ 2005. Large Mammals and a Brave People. New Brunswick, NJ: Transactions (2nd edition)
  • _________ 2008. On the Ground and in the Villages: A Cacophony of Voice Assessing a “Community-based” Wildlife Program after 18 Years in Zambia. under review
  • _________nd. Life as a Hunt: Thresholds of Identities, Images, and Illusions on a Central African Landscape. under review
  • Morris, Brian 1998. The Power of Animals: An Ethnography. New York: Berg
  • Posey, Darrell A. (compiler and editor) 1999. Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity. London: Intermediate Technology Publications for the United Nations Environment Program.
  • Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine The Descent of Man, Human Nature and the Nature/Culture Divide. Public Lecture given in symposium “Darwin Across the Disciplines” at Duke University, November 6, 2009.
  • Shepard, Paul. 1978. Thinking Animals: Animals & the Development of Human Intelligence. New York: Viking.
  • Sinton, John. 1993. When Moscow Looks Like Chicago: An Essay on Uniformity and Diversity in Landscapes and Communities. Environmental History Review 17(3):23-41.
  • Tambiah, Stanley J. 1990. Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Thomas, Keith 1983. Man and the Natural World: A History of the Modern Sensibility. New York: Pantheon Books.

18 comments to Wild Animals and a Different Human Face

  • John Sinton

    Another wonderful essay from Stuart Marks, who has been publishing his wisdom on relationships between human and animals for the past 30 years. Prof. Marks, as usual, presents us with various parts of his elephant, asking the reader to describe the entire beast. As the saying goes, Gracias por nada, but perhaps commentators on this essay can go part way to that whole.

    When Stuart Marks spins this essay into longer form, I think we’ll see, in wonderful and excruciating detail, the damage wrought by the the imposition of simplified worldviews on complex networks of relationships. Much of the value of Marks’ tale lies in the details. What, for example, would it say of American culture, if some of us called our mutts “take my dog, please?” Replace the word Bisa with American, and see how it flips your worldview.

    I’d have to disagree with Marks’ doubts that animals, in their wilder forms, may soon be absent from our landscapes. That depends, of course, “that” always depends on so many different conditions. Here, not far from downtown Northampton Mass. (pop. 30,000) in western New England, we see most members of the weasel family, save wolverines and pine martens, but there are plenty of weasel, mink, otter, and fisher, and beaver are a nuisance, as are the bobcats that eat our neighbors’ tabby cats. Were that more in common in other parts of America, however.

    In the end, Marks teaches us that walking in others’ shoes leads to humility, the elemental quality that might well save us from our “best ideas.”

  • Thomas Johnson

    History Dept, University of Massachusetts, Boston

    After winning independence in the years before and after 1960, Africans and Africanists alike hoped that the new nations would enjoy rising standards of living and create vibrant civil societies. Many researchers who worked in the continent developed lasting concern for the African people while building lifelong personal ties with local communities. Four decades on (and counting), many hopes have been cruelly dashed, but the friendships and concerns remain.

    Stuart Marks’s thought-piece neatly summarizes important aspects of relations between humans and animals in Zambia, among Zambians and between Zambians and expatriates. It is also a cri de coeur, as he witnesses his Valley Bisa friends in the Munyamadzi Corridor face increasingly difficult challenges resulting from dashed hopes. As a Zambianist who has researched and written on that country for over 20 years, I have observed similar processes and know well what Marks describes. I endorse his primary argument here, but will comment on some lesser points while expressing cautious optimism about the future of Zambia, animals and humans.

    Marks notes the harm done by commercialization, colonialism and Western-derived conservation policies. But Bisa involvement in wider networks of trade brought benefits in the past, at least for Plateau Bisa to the north, though the Munyamadzi Corridor has probably always been somewhat marginal. Their important role as middlemen entrepreneurs in the 18th and early 19th centuries helped secure trade goods (including firearms used by hunters), generated wealth and aided the emergence of big-men whose success likely led to creation of some chiefdoms. The rise of more powerful Bemba and Ngoni states halted this evolution, while colonial British land and conservation policies created today’s stark situation for the Valley Bisa. African national parks dedicated to Western-style paramilitary conservation are a huge burden for neighboring communities, not least including the menace of trypanosomiasis transmitted by tsetse fly. While tsetse was a scourge for much of the 20th century, more effective methods of control have been available for a couple of decades, freeing land for successful cultivation in Zambia’s Southern Province and elsewhere (Cliggett 2005). If the best practices of tsetse control are not available in Munyamadzi, this indeed does not reflect well on government. Impoverishment resulting in social stress is very real, and Marks’s point about eroding affective bonds between Bisa and their dogs is sad and poignant. But the phenomenon is hardly confined to the Luangwa Valley or human-animal relationships: in Brazil’s Nordeste poverty sunders even the “natural” bonds between mothers and children (Scheper-Hughes 1992). The final grim forecast that eventually there may be no place for wildlife in an anthropogenic world is quite depressing, but that story’s concluding chapters remain to be written.

    How to make sense of the processes described by Marks? My own work in Zambia’s Kafue River basin offers some parallels to the Bisa case. In both instances enlargement of scale initially led to somewhat higher living standards whether for the Bisa in the 18th century or for Ila and Tonga in the 20th due to technological improvements (plows, wheeled transport, new crops and medicines, etc). Three national parks bordering the Kafue Flats do not hem in the people of the Flats so severely, but two hydroelectric dams built at either end of the floodplain are hardly a gift (Johnson 1999). If national parks, forest reserves and flooding regimes altered by damming have something in common, it may be this: such projects and policies are usually designed and executed at least implicitly on utilitarian principles. Preserving trees or wildlife and generating electricity for economic development are (officially) intended to promote “the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people.” The irony is that the decision-makers rarely have to live with the most negative consequences; that is the burden borne by local communities. When locals have a say in adopting and controlling new but smaller-scale technologies or crafting new legislation, change may be good. But hydrodams and parks defended by state-sanctioned violence do not meet this criterion, and modern history is littered with numerous instructive tragedies.

    In concluding, let’s not be too hard on Zambia. It has more ethnic diversity and poverty, and fewer natural resources and hopeful prospects, than many other nations. But it has a high degree of national consciousness, without destructive wars of liberation or secession, and relatively less ethnic conflict (though the aftermath of the 2006 elections was worrisome). Zambianists continue to grapple with this conundrum, leaving plenty of work for all. Write on, Stuart.

    Lisa Cliggett, Grains from Grass: Aging, Gender, and Famine in Rural Africa (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 2005)
    Thomas Pyke Johnson, “Managing the Rain from Heaven: Dams and Downstream Residents in Southern Zambia,” Cultural Survival Quarterly 23, 3 (1999), 44-47
    Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992)

  • David Gordon

    Stuart Marks makes an eloquent and compassionate plea for the appreciation of other – indigenous – voices in our understanding of the human-nature interactions. Yet sometimes the appreciation of such indigenous knowledge may obscure the global, regional, and local histories that have gone into the making of those voices, cultures, and societies. In policy circles it is also unclear how the appreciation of these indigenous knowledge changes the processes that marginalize people like the Bisa or engages with concerns over biodiversity.

    Indigeneity and indigenous knowledge sometimes implies tradition, a timeless relationship to the land, and cultural conceptions closed to change and to outside influences. Marks even slips into the ethnographic present when describing the Bisa. Yet, as Thomas Johnson points out above, the Bisa were historical actors in centuries-old regional trade networks that reached out to the international world. The Ngoni and Bemba invasions of the 19th c. disrupted their prominence, and also disrupted older relationships with the land, perhaps leading to the proliferation of tsetse and wild animals, the abundance of game described by Marks. (Vail , 1977) Such pre-colonial histories, in addition to later colonial expropriation, form the background to the establishment of the huge colonial game reserves.

    Besides a plea for some history, though, we have to be precise about how the appreciation of indigenous knowledge changes developmental processes that continue to engage with and sometimes to marginalize indigenous peoples. Environmental and development projects that take indigenous knowledge seriously may seem to be an improvement on modernist projects that “see like a state,” as James Scott puts it. (Scott, 1999). And yet they still represent similar dynamics that expose local players to powerful international networks, bending the shape of the local state and civil society to international interests and agendas, even when concern for the marginalized through an appreciation of things indigenous is proclaimed. That anthropologists now accompany the development economists and agrarian scientists does not always change the project or process. In many cases, strategies of poverty alleviation and conservation are more neo-liberal than previous state-oriented strategies. Local economies are better exposed to global markets in commodities, international eco- and culture- tourism established, and freehold rights in property encouraged. The impact on poverty alleviation has been uneven at best. One of the most astute commentators on indigenous knowledge, Arun Agrawal, contends that in terms of measurable outcomes projects that claim to rest on indigenous knowledge offer little improvement to the most marginalized. (Agrawal, 1995, 2008).

    Marks claims that “those who strive to preserve biological diversity in terms of their own worldviews, restrictive of cultural diversity, are imperially pushing their own control of ‘nature’…” From the perspective of a conservation biologists, however, “biological diversity” and the biological requirements for certain species to prosper can be empirically and scientifically evaluated, albeit imperfectly. Strategies to preserve “biological diversity” may be best served by engagement with local people, rather than lording it over them (but even this politically desirable option is not always true). But, at least for the conservation biologist, the study of biological diversity is scientific and measurable, not culturally particular. If anthropologists are to claim the cultural subjectivity of biological diversity, they need to explain how such alternative notions of biological diversity can meet the goals of biological diversity as identified by the conservation biologist. It is not sufficient – and probably incorrect – to claim that biological diversity rests on cultural diversity.

    This is not to say that we should not understand local conceptions of the nature, such as those of the Bisa. But we also need to appreciate the historicity of those local understandings. And it is not to advocate for development and environmental projects defined by Western or Northern (perhaps distinct from scientific?) conceptions of the world. It is, rather, to measure such projects by their success in promoting biological diversity if that is their aim and/or (preferably?) their socio-economic and political support for the most marginalized people. The importance of alignment with a proclaimed tradition — a culture which always is advocated by certain members of society and ignores others, a culture which in its translation and mediation is often represented as a static other, rather than a dynamic and historically-specific view of the world — seems less convincing.

    Many of these issues are further discussed in a forthcoming collection on “Indigenous Environments,” edited by David Gordon and Shepard Krech. Other references:

    Arun Agrawal, “Indigenous Knowledge and Power,” Keynote Address, “Indigenous Environments” Conference, Bowdoin College, 3 April, 2008.

    Arun Agrawal, “Dismantling the Divide Between Indigenous and Scientific Knowledge,” Development and Change 26(1995), 413-439

    James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).

    Leroy Vail, ‘Ecology and history: the example of Eastern Zambia’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 3, 1977, 129-55.

  • James Peacock

    Stuart Marks’ commentary, both poignant and wise, distills decades of hardheaded fieldwork. I know a bit about that, having “walked the walk” with him through the Luangwa Valley and to his village and back, in company with his noble companion, Kongwa. The sad evidence of Bisa naming their dogs with epithets tragically shocks or should shock us into realizing the loss of a special relation to nature. Copenhagen and other high thinking can learn from Marks’ deeply grounded commentary.

  • Hans Peter Hahn

    If history teaches anything, then we can learn that every century has its own missionary zeal. Possibly the 19th century was the time of Christian missionary initiatives, which believed to bring a better future to humankind. Then, it is plausible to describe governance and human rights as one of the great goals of the 20th century. An endless number of people and institutions participated in realizing this mission, building a new reality for the then citizens of most nations worldwide. Furthermore, it is possible to expand this historical perspective until today, in particular regarding the role of nature in the public discourse.

    Most probably one day in the future, historians dealing with the 21st century will describe how the protection of the environment and the wildlife achieved the status of the principal moral value and was regarded as the key for a better future. At that time, historians will ascertain, all domains of every day life became affected by the dynamics of the conviction that people have to act in favour of a higher respect for the environment and for a better protection for nature in general and wildlife in particular.

    It is not my intention to question the content of any of these aims. I will not discuss whether the topic “protection of the environment and the nature” is convincing or not. My intention is rather to point to the modes and strategies of promoting these aims, and thereby to contribute to more reflected ways of dealing with these most important issues of mankind.

    Referring to the historical perspective outlined initially it is possible to recognize some parallels between the three movements already mentioned. Each of the topics, at its own time, seemed to be inevitable, urging people to react immediately. Furthermore all topics were universal; no single individual is exempted from taking sides. The second parallel holds that each of these movements started from a minority or even a small group of people, who believe themselves to have a superior knowledge of the issue, and then expands to the general public. None of these issues can be addressed without the collaboration of many people, if not to say the majority of mankind.

    What Stuart Marks shows us is the perspective of those people who are the objects of all three movements, and in particular of the most recent initiative, manifesting in Africa in the creation of large national wildlife parks. We learn from his observation about the contradictions resulting from the missionary attitude and how ambivalent a topic may become, when perceived through the eyes of the men who are asked to sacrifice some quite relevant aspects of their habits and income generating strategies due to an idea that comes from abroad. By sensitizing the reader to this different perspective, Stuart Marks makes clear why anthropology is relevant for the future of our planet: Only by taking seriously the ways other people look at our missionary zeals we can overcome the shortcomings in the ways we deal with our supposedly superior knowledge about what is the most relevant issue for our planet’s future.

  • Todd French

    Stuart Marks’ provocative questioning of post-colonial projects to conserve biodiversity is a welcome addition to a number of voices demanding a reevaluation of such projects and the discourses that inform them. (Adams and McShane 1997, Neumann 1998, Brockington 2002, Igoe 2004, Dowie 2009) To point out the substantial “hidden” and not-so-hidden costs of protected-area conservation, such as displacement, political marginalization, and disruption of cultural identities, is not to deny the important ecological gains that have been secured. Just as with the cognate terms “democracy” and “capitalism,” “conservation” must find meaningful local expression in order to succeed in Africa and beyond. And this is where “attentive listening “and a “receptive heart,“ both clearly manifest in Marks’ essay, are most needed.

    To attend to local voices and narratives in conservation and development projects is not the same as advocating for uncritical inclusion of “indigenous knowledge,” which is commonly neither purely indigenous nor abstractly knowledgeable of ecological processes. It is, as David Gordon has pointed out, to heed the historical and political production of local understandings and practices in global context. It is to examine the political positioning and semantic practices that render “natural resources” as “god’s gifts.” It is to probe the incommensurability between local and global practices that have made “conservation” a hotly contested word in villages bordering protected areas around the world. It is to question the origins of sentiments expressed, for instance, by a Maasai herder in the recent documentary film, Milking the Rhino (http://www.milkingtherhino.org/film.php), who states, “a rhino is of no benefit to me… When I want to sell or kill a cow, I slaughter it for the meat… When it comes to an antelope, you need a committee of white men!”

    Attentiveness to marginalized worldviews also entails a recognition that local knowledge of wildlife does not, as in the case of many Western epistemologies, separate out fact from value. In Gorongosa, Mozambique, where I have conversed with people about these issues, wild animals were not the objects of practical knowledge so much as subjects encompassed within human moral communities. Current violence towards other people and landscapes, the perceived atomization of society, the proliferation of literal and figurative cannibalism of human and environmental fertility are often attributed to the disappearance of wildlife from Gorongosa during the conflict and post-conflict periods. Without lions, leopards, buffalo and other manifestations of local spirits to enforce the taboos and moral order of ancestral times, the social and natural landscapes of Gorongosa have become degraded and debased. Not true, many say, of the sites of ancestral villages within Gorongosa National Park, where spiritual animals have been conserved and the ways of the ancestors preserved, even if disconnected from everyday spaces and practices. Neither purely indigenous nor wholly an artifact of modern conservation, such hybrid worldviews will be critical to the success or failure of future conservation projects. We who care about both ecological and social justice are fortunate to have such an attentive and sympathetic translator as Prof. Marks.

    Adams, J. and T. McShane. 1996. The Myth of Wild Africa: conservation without illusion. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Brockington, D. 2002. Fortress Conservation: the preservation of Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania. Oxford: James Currey.

    Dowie, M. 2009. Conservation Refugees: the hundred-year conflict between global conservation and native peoples. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Igoe, J. 2004. Conservation and Globalization: a study of national parks and indigenous communities from East Africa to South Dakota. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/ Thomson Learning.

    Neumann, R. 1998. Imposing Wilderness: struggles over livelihood and nature preservation in Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Parakh Hoon

    In this essay, Stuart Marks takes us on a metaphorical hunt to search for how “place of nature within the space of culture” gets reconfigured. On the hunt, we glimpse the transformations in the lives of the Valley Bisa alongside their perceptions of wildlife, we “target” the actors and forces that attempt to capture the Valley Bisa. Marks’s nuanced narrative is based on five decades of interactions with and understanding of the trials and tribulations of the Valley Bisa. It opens an opportunity to reflect on contradictions of colonial and post-colonial interventions often taken in the name of development and conservation, and responses by the Valley Bisa and other rural people who live among wildlife in geographically remote places.

    Marks considers relationships of the Valley Bisa with their neighboring animals and to each other, as ‘symbolic of their despair and fragmenting social relations.” Underlying these patterns of immiseration, social alienation, and community fragmentation is the fracturing of the material and symbolic orders of the Valley Bisa evident in break down in gendered roles and responsibilities, redistributive mechanisms of lineage heads and male hunters who mediated with the spirit world and distributed meat. Perhaps most significant, is the transformations between Bisa and their relationship with wildlife.

    In the past, Marks tells us that, the Valley Bisa did not see themselves as separate from other forms of life nor did they embody Western conceptions of nature or environment. Instead, “no ‘nature’ exists outside the morality of the human community, for reciprocal relations extend outward from the villages embracing other forms of lives as well as spirits.” Now much of this is lost. As the younger generation among the Valley Bisa lose the cultural and ecological memories, they navigate between the Scylla of becoming “poachers” engaged in ‘illegal off take’ or the Charybdis of’ sustainable use’ and Community Based CBNRM projects. Further, these attempts at incorporation instead of leading to the creation of a entrepreneurial yeoman farmer class, has instead perpetuated a partially proletarianized class, “with little formal education facing local resource and productive land scarcities as well as few opportunities employment.”

    The Valley Bisa in this regard are not alone. Marks leaves us with a cautionary tale that is becoming all too familiar in different localities. The discursive space and material forces that encapsulate the Valley Bisa now seek to operate at scales that are beyond the local level. In these discursive spaces dominated by bioregional conservation science human-wildlife interactions are viewed as ecological processes that cross political borders, where management entails application of economic neoliberalism that reduce social and ecological processes to a single metric of profit or loss that can be tapped by the market. By privileging expert scientific privileging expert scientific knowledge, a transboundary territoriality and a market-driven standardization, the Valley Bisa not unlike rural people who live among wildlife in geographically remote places are becoming “govermentalized localities” linked through transnational spaces of wildlife corridors, buffer zones, and similar constructs.

  • Robert Cancel

    Stuart Marks, as usual, provides us with more than a little food for thought. His remarks cover a number of important concerns but considering the erudite and focused comments that precede my own on this list, I want to consider two of the concerns his essay evoked that seem most relevant to my own work and views. The first is Stuart’s initial observation on the difficulty of learning a culture other than one’s own, which to my mind also relates to the notion of being “captured” by the people we work with. The second is his ability to note and interpret dramatic social changes based on his nearly unprecedented five decades of studying the people and eco-system of the Munyamadzi Corridor of the Luangwa Valley.

    Stuart and I have more than once discussed the complex relationship experienced by foreign, or even local, anthropologists/researchers among the societies with which they work. To say a researcher has been “captured” is to say both that they’ve come to take an empathetic and at times proactive role in activities that benefit their hosts and also to say that the ideal scholar, the “professional stranger,” of ethnography is in danger of being compromised. The sad fact is that foreign and local scholars are often empowered by their class, institutions or funding agencies in ways that rural people are not. It becomes a natural and repeated act of conscience to bring to the attention of national and international authorities the issues that most affect the peoples and places being studied. This is a difficult thing to do, balancing the expectations and methods of scholarly/professional disciplines and the real life demands of people with urgent needs. One ethnographer has equated the practice with sorcery (West, 2008) and another has advocated for the anthropologist as “trickster” (van Meijl, 2005).

    My observation is that Stuart Marks is able to navigate these potentially treacherous waters with unusual clarity, engendered by amazingly detailed, innovative, research combined with a long-term familiarity with and cooperation by the Valley Bisa. As remarks by colleagues above observe, seeing the entire picture suggested by Marks’s textured and nuanced observations remains an ongoing process that must consider broader conceptions of history, culture and a global view. Yet, when we have a chance to see what will probably be the capstone book of Stuart’s decades of research in the Valley, we will see a rare and compelling documentation of not only a relatively small group of people but also the individual and communal constructions of self and society in a vibrant, interconnected environment. The only other comparable project conducted in Zambia is the research of Elizabeth Colson and Thayer Scudder, in part linked to the dramatic social and environmental changes wrought by the construction of the Kariba Dam on the Valley Tonga in Zambia.

    Reading the essay under discussion, I was pleased by how evocatively succinct Stuart’s observations were, but also realized how much more depth, of individuals and their environment, will be revealed in his upcoming monograph. Traveling with hunters and having them interpret their own methods and attitudes only reinforces the claims of the current essay when it comes to seeing what was always a flexible cultural process, with thick and nuanced local knowledge, come under dramatic and destructive duress in great part caused by outsiders “translating” their world for them. Zambian anthropologist Owen Sichone claims that “to be translated is as humiliating as to be colonized.” (2001) While David Gordon notes above that just because “… anthropologists now accompany the development economists and agrarian scientists [they do] not always change the project or process [for the better],” Sichone advocates for a kind of anthropology that “does” something, and sees a positive side in including “an anthropologist in any respectable team of development consultants.” (2001) They both make valid points and, again, Marks’s essay is a model for powerful interdisciplinary research paradigms and their practical applications to real problems. He is a “translator” in the best sense of the term.

    Finally, Stuart Marks and I visited each other’s research sites in 1988-89, with me recording oral narratives of the Bisa at Nabwalya and he and his associate Kangwa Samson meeting with hunters among the Tabwa at Nsama. The Tabwa of Kaputa District have since that time undergone a cycle of boom then bust, based first on their thriving then negligible fishing industry, causing economic hardship for many but this was also somewhat mitigated by the fact that residents can fall back on farming, salt-making and, for some, wage labor. In fact, in this relatively isolated corner of Zambia, small things continue to make life a bit better: new water wells, electricity (in only a small area of the district), a large thriving market in Kaputa, cell phone reception and availability. As Gordon observes above, there can be a slow but steady spread of the “global” in its more positive sense. I mention this only to contrast it to the situation for the Valley Bisa, who by dint of their location—physically, economically and politically—have been squeezed out of even the modest signs of growth and opportunity found in other parts of the country. The tone and texture of Stuart’s essay makes this obvious, but it is worth reiterating the ironic situation of animals being protected and preserved by ambitious programs while humans are ignored. Just as much as they constitute a source of nourishment, animals represent for the Bisa a way of seeing themselves in the world, which reminds us that there are many ways in which people can be starved. While Marks intends for us to read his essay dispassionately in a scholarly, potentially policy-creating, light, even in his understated tone he also reminds us that as field researchers we always, or should, form links between ourselves and other cultures that should be mutually beneficial. These are sites where social sciences and humanities need to work in concert.

    Works Cited

    Sichone, Owen. “Pure Anthropology in a Highly Indebted Poor Country,” Review of Expectations of Modernity, Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2, Special Issue on Fertility in Southern Africa (June 2001), pp. 369-379.

    van Meijl, Toon. “The Critical Ethnographer as Trickster,” Anthropological Forum, Vol. 15, No. 3, November 2005, 235–245

    West, Harry G. Ethnographic Sorcery. Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press, 2008.

  • Marks begins his essay with a statement about becoming familiar with cultures – our own, and others. Knowing other cultures requires interpreters, close attention, experience, openness, and good fortune (and I would add, long term involvement, such as Marks’). Towards the end of the essay he points out that many people in the Northern Hemisphere seem oblivious about how their perspectives produce profound human costs in distant places. In this statement I see a full circle to the original statement: knowing other people and places requires interpreters. Beyond our academic circles, we need interpreters who can “make known” distant people and places for a lay audience willing to act, but blinded by their own perspectives. Stuart Marks is such an interpreter, and this essay is one example of how we can translate “foreign” ideas, people, actions, and worldviews, for an audience who hasn’t had the good fortune to experience, give attention, and interpret for themselves. I have long believed that education and research can, and should, be a form of activism. I hope that students exposed in the classroom to different ways of being human and to new worldviews will absorb something that triggers meaningful action outside of the classroom.

    Concepts of environment, conservation, and sustainability, as Marks points out, produce some of the most conflicted debates between differing worldviews (i.e.: people). Conservationist agendas typically undermine local people’s livelihoods; the Valley Bisa are just one example, out of so many, of a population suddenly being declared “a problem” to the environment by outsiders. Northern Hemisphere tourists in search of an ancient, pristine “nature” will spend thousands of dollars for a one week sojourn in Disneyland style African huts (equipped with plumbing and screened windows to keep malaria baring mosquitoes at bay) and tremble with excitement at seeing a lion lounging in the afternoon shade. Next door, a local family living in the buffer zone to that pristine nature, sleeps in real mud-brick, grass roofed houses with no mosi-netting, draws milky grey water from a shallow well, and buys food with the ten dollars earned from selling tourist crafts (in a good week), instead of provisioning themselves through farming and hunting – since those activities, they have been told, disrupt the pristine nature.

    The struggle for all of us – researchers, policy makers, conservationists, and a concerned public – depends on “broadening our common understanding of what ‘sustainability’ of life might [really] be about.” I come back to my earlier point: we need excellent interpreters to make foreign/ exotic people and places more familiar- and thus less easy to dismiss- to Northern Hemisphere actors who knowingly or not, frequently undermine local populations’ ways of being human.

  • Matt Cartmill

    Marks’s essay rests partly on an image of industrial peoples as living in an artificial environment, alienated from nature and wild creatures, “imperially pushing their own control of ‘nature’,” and correspondingly unwilling or unable to appreciate the insights and understandings of people who do not see themselves as separated from “nature.” “With European exploration and colonization worldwide, and later its own industrialization, wild animals began to disappear from human life as environments became fundamentally transformed under the aegis of ideas about hierarchy, dominance, and utility,” he writes. “Unfortunately, we seldom venture beyond our invented environments and the comforts of our insulated lives, including the pets that bear our marks, as seekers rather than as tourists.”

    I think Marks is right to see the dichotomy between the world of nature and the world of the human as a Western construct. But it isn’t clear to me that “wild” animals have disappeared from human life in, say, modern North America. Non-domesticated animals recede or vanish from human settings for two reasons: either they are hunted out of existence, or they are unable to adapt to human-transformed environments. Where hunting is prohibited — or, even more effectively, given up — many non-domesticated species move into those transformed environments with alacrity. Some of these are perceived as pests (rats and mice), but others are tolerated as guests or fellow citizens.

    Sinton notes the persistence of an extensive “wild” fauna in an urban area of Massachusetts. In my neighborhood in the middle of an average urban area in Durham, North Carolina, characterized by house lots averaging about a quarter of an acre and some sequestration of green space in small parks and watershed areas, I encounter seven species of non-domesticated mammals — gray squirrels, chipmunks, cottontails, gray foxes, raccoons, opossums, and white-tailed shrews — on a daily basis, along with some less common or less visible mammal species and a large number of birds. Half a mile outside of town, one regularly sees white-tailed deer and woodchucks. Canada geese and beaver have returned as a regular feature of the suburban landscape, and coyote and black bear sightings are becoming frequent. Most of the species lost in this area since 1492 are either very large mammals (elk and forest bison) or animals that could not adapt to widespread deforestation (e.g., the largest woodpeckers and the passenger pigeon). Suburban North Americans routinely encounter more medium-sized to large wild animals than was the case fifty years ago.

    The characterization of domesticated animals as “pets that bear our marks” seems to me to embody the same sort of mistaken distinction between the wild and the civil that Marks rightly repudiates in other contexts. All terrestrial animals bear our marks in one way or another. Wherever modern human beings have lived, they have transformed the landscape and the ecology. Where humans are an ancient component of the fauna (Africa and South Asia), most of the Pleistocene megafauna managed to adapt to our evolving presence early on and are still hanging on today. Where modern humans appeared as sudden intruders, the largest megafauna became extinct: moas in New Zealand, aepyornis and giant lemurs in Madagascar, mammoths and woolly rhinos in Europe, ground sloths and mastodons in North America. Domestication is one way of adapting to the human presence. Wild horses and cattle are extinct and wolves are barely holding on, but dogs are fantastically successful and horses and cattle flourish and co-evolve with humans. The deer, opossums, and raccoons in the backyard, the mice in the pantry, and the cage-bred tigers and lions in the zoo represent other modes of co-existence.

    I think it is misleading to draw symbolic oppositions between domesticated and non-domesticated animals, or between alienated industrial Westerners and “indigenous peoples” who know how to fit into nature. We all live with non-human animals that have adapted to the human presence in various ways. They and we have been changed by our co-occupation of the same areas. If we want to continue that co-existence, we need to draw on everybody’s experiences of the various ways in which it can be successfully maintained.

  • SINTON, JOHNSON, AND GORDON recognize the difficulties of compressing the confines of a much truncated elephant and decades of experiences into a few paragraphs. SINTON reminds us that “wildlife” may always be at hand contingent upon the latitude at which one lives and earns a living. No doubt we will always have our “wild” cockroaches, Norway rats, and weasels that live upon what humans leave behind or in the outback. A creative fiction writer might morph these creatures into terrible beasts that consume readers’ imagination and perhaps flesh; yet, living in the towering shadows of elephants, hippos, buffalos, lions and their ilk while growing grains and eking out a living from a parsimonious landscape is, at least in my mind, a much more instructive, if not humbling latitude of coping. Other contributors have filled in additional contours, attached limbs and literature to this metaphorical elephant.

    JOHNSON and GORDON mention the history of earlier benefits and challenges of past Bisa middlemen and entrepreneurs in the long distant trades and their losses later under more powerful warlords affiliated withe the Bemba, Ngoni, Portuguese (Chikunda), and Arab states. Through their own studies and those of others, TODD and KOON extend the range of the Bisa experence in southern Africa by showing similar processes elsewhere. CANCEL counsels about some of the difficulties faced by observers in their studies and the decisions they must make to remain judiciously relevant to their various audiences and sponsors. CLIGGETT discusses the inherent problems in interpretations and attemps to move othrs beyond their familiar boundaries. HAHN and PEACOCK note that “walking the walk” of a discipline on the ground is different from the rarified atmospheres of theories and talk of good intentions, while HAHN further reminds us that every century produces its missionaries whose zeal and vision compel them outward onto other social and cultural turf.

    This difference between the very human domains of walking and talking, between theory and practice, between what is said and what gets accomplished helps to foreground some quibbles I might pursue with GORDON as he seems to annoint conservation biologists as suitable candidates for this century’s missionaries. Having walked on their walk and spent time in their shoes, I have found conservation biologists to be “camp followers” on the coattails and payrolls of more powerful political and economic sponsors (Chapin 2004-05). Saving biodiversity might be a greater good for us all, yet it is the human costs in its current global practices that show its truncated, reductionist, and ethnocentric format. Their “buffer zones” around “inviolate” national parks are solvent mediators protecting the wilderness of the Northern imagination from the supposedly “cultural chaos” of different values and visions. These “buffers” impose a “catch-22” spaces (Holt 2005) upon their residents as most are kept in cultural, if not identity, limbo as they spiral increasingly downward into despondency and uncertainty.

    The irony is that in the recent past, the valley Bisa had the space to create and the will to construct their own management system which they understood and in which they actively participated: this system worked reasonably well to distribute its wealth, and the biodiversity wasn’t mined or denied them as it is today. To resurrect this history is not to claim that these same forms would work today, but to indicate that conditions were favorable to empowering residents as actors and crafters of their own futures. And it is not to claim that “biological diversity rests on cultural diversity” but to assert that biological conservation is, after all, a human construction and cultural enterprise whose dimensions are not dismissed through lack of recognition. Put another way, what is left out of theories and models (those black holes or boxes)remain challenges or become their eventual Trojan Horses (Blaikie 2006). The current academic and donor discourse of conservation and development centers mainly upon the economic, yet while money discourse remains important (both for practitioners and residents in “buffer zones”)this singular concern must not be pressed to the exclusion of other ways of reckoning values and of knowing. Thick history and memory remains in place on the ground and their more meaningful episodes may not be transcribed in archives or through conversations with passing strangers.

    To paraphrase Walter Firey (1960), all research and planing is either innovative or conventional; it either builds toward a new social/cultural order or strives to reinforce an existing (status quo) one. For me, the high costs and plights of the Bisa and others indicate the limits of current biodiversity theories and practices on the ground. I think those concerned about the welfare of people, wildlife, and the world we live in can do better. I hope the edited Gordon and Krech volume will address many of these issues and I look forward to reading and learning from them.

    Some references:

    Blaikie,P. 2006 Is small really beautiful? Community-based natural resource management in Malawi and Botswana. World Development 34 (11):1942-1957.

    Bowker, G.C 2005. Time, money, and biodiversity, pp 107-123 in A Ong & S.J.Collier (eds) Global Assemblags: Technology, politics, and ethics as anthropological problems. Maiden, MA:Blackwell Publishing

    Chapin, M. 2004 A challenge to conservationists. World Watch (Nov-Dec issue):pp 17-31 and Responses from readers World Watch (Jan-Feb issue): pp.5-20.

    Holt, F.I. 2005 The Catch-22 of conservation: indigenous peoples, biologists, and culture change. Human Ecology 33:199-215.

    Firey, W.I. 1960. Man, mind, and land: a theory of resource use. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press of Glencoe.

  • Chris Annear

    Stuart Marks offers a thought-piece that is at once scholarly and visceral. He characterizes Valley Bisa communities as physically and figuratively hemmed in by policies meant to preserve animals and land, while benefiting Zambian citizens generally, if not the people already living in this specific “incende.” He references his own experiences growing up in a betwixt and between space that was neither fully Western nor African, as well as his time spent learning about how differently he and Inuit peoples viewed animals. The sketch he draws of Valley Bisa peoples is thereby enriched by long-term fieldwork and enlivened by personal investment.

    I agree with Tom Johnson and David Gordon that Marks portrays Valley Bisa people as living in a present that is unnecessarily divided from the past. Without the incorporation of previous economic, social, and political events and processes, they might be read to be powerless victims of a transgressing neoliberal conservation regime. I do not believe this is Marks’ intention. His valuable fieldwork insights derived from listening carefully over many years of fieldwork show people who actively express themselves and their frustrations through a variety of media. He highlights one such locally comprehensible vehicle that carries such social meaning: animals.

    Names in Zambia and elsewhere are very often given to express a sentiment or mark a moment in time. Just ask Celtel Banda or Gearbox Phiri. Marks makes perceptive use of a series of names given to dogs in 2006. Singly each moniker seems like the product of an individual moment of annoyance, but aggregated as a group they do indeed appear conspiratorial. But, while I find the concept of reading social events through the given names of animals to be intriguing, I wonder just how much we can conclude. If dogs are billboards for advertising anger or sadness, how do we read the many that remain throughout their lives nameless? Is there evidence of dog names that memorialize hunting success and sated appetites? Most germane to this discussion, how do we know that dog naming and other emic forms of social expression are meant to communicate anything to the uncomprehending outsider?

  • Robert K. Hitchcock

    Stuart Marks’ eloquent discussion of wild animals and the ways in which humans interact with them and with each other is an important statement on contemporary African society and on north-south relations. His work is important not only because of the detailed diachronic perspective and quantitative and qualitative data he has provided on the Bisa but also because of his rich discussions of world views and belief systems. His work demonstrates the effects of globalization, economic downturns, HIV/AIDS, government policies and programs, and the influence of international organizations and the significance of the varied experiences of the Bisa and their neighbors in Zambia.

    As Dr. Marks has noted in his work, a major conservation and development strategy employed by the Bisa and their neighbors as well as others dependent in part on wildlife in southern Africa is community-based natural resource management (CBNRM), also known as community-based conservation (CBC). The main idea behind CBNRM/CBC projects is that local communities would get the rights to the benefits from natural resources and, as a result, they would be more willing to conserve them. This is in contrast to the approach in which the state (i.e. the government) controls natural resources and the benefits from those resources go to the government or to private companies that get leasehold rights from the government.

    CBNRM in southern Africa projects were based on a number of assumptions. First, it was assumed that southern African governments would be willing to devolve authority over wildlife resources to the district or local level and would enact legislation to make this possible. A second assumption was that government authorities would be willing to consult local people and have them be involved in planning and decision-making. Third, it was assumed that if local people had the rights over wildlife resources and received the benefits from them, they would work to conserve them. It was also assumed that local people would reduce the pressure on wildlife resources and therefore the numbers of wild animals would increase.

    It was also assumed that if local people were able to have access to wildlife resources, they could get meat, materials, and other benefits. Local communities could contract out the rights to wildlife to private companies who then paid them for the right to bring in hunters or tourists. These companies would sometimes employ local people as guides or safari camp assistants. The clients of the companies would also purchase products from local people, including handicrafts, thus enabling them to generate some income.

    Some of the social and natural scientists working on CBNRM projects, including Dr. Marks, realized early on that the promotion of biodiversity conservation could have significant impacts on human populations. Human-wildlife conflicts (HWC) are a major issue for rural peoples such as the Bisa. An increase in the number of large mammals such as elephants or lions was not always viewed all that positively by the Bisa and their neighbors. There were incidents where local people were killed or injured by wild animals. A position taken by Bisa was that if the government of Zambia was going to promote CBNRM in the Manyamadzi Corridor, then efforts would have to be made to compensate people for wildlife-related damages.

    As Dr. Marks has emphasized in his work, CBNRM projects have had their downsides. There were situations where safari operators took advantage of local people and did not provide the benefits that they claimed they would. Concerns have also been raised about the equity and gender impacts of CBNRM projects. Some of the CBNRM projects in southern Africa saw the benefits flow to district-level authorities rather than local communities.

    Another important issue raised by Dr. Marks relates to the ways in which knowledge and information relating to wildlife is conveyed from one person to another and from one generation to the next. As he points out, much human communication is done through speech and language. Parents teach children about how to act through modeling behavior and by correcting them. The young also learn social and technical skills in cultural contexts in which direct information is transferred to them, as occurs, for example, during initiation ceremonies. Conveying of information can also include facial expressions, such as raised eyebrows or pursed lips. Hand gestures are sometimes used by people to communicate information to other people. This is done, for example, by hunters when they are sneaking up on prey and want to communicate to their fellow hunters what the animal that they are targeting is doing.

    Training of Bisa young people in hunting is described by Marks (1976:86, 127) in his ground-breaking book Large Mammals and a Brave People. Unlike the Ju/’hoan San of Namibia and Botswana, where most of the young are no longer learning how to hunt and track (see Biesele and Barclay 2001), the Bisa learn to hunt through the lineages of which they are a part. Liebenberg (2001), working among the !Xoo San of Botswana, has underscored the importance of tracking animals. Knowledge of tracking is useful not only as a means of finding prey, but also learning about the presence of predators or of government officials such as game scouts out looking for people engaged in illegal hunting. Tracking knowledge, therefore, can increase both subsistence and social security.

    Bisa and other southern African peoples share information about their habitats and the organisms and materials in them. They provide people with updates on resource abundance, distribution, and quality, and they note the land use patterns of other groups utilizing those resources. Information on the state of the environment or the presence and activities of other people is used to assist people in decision-making. As Stuart Marks illustrates so well, decision-making about such issues wildlife resource utilization, common property management, mobility, and participation in government projects and programs is based in part in part on people’s experiences and their culturally transmitted knowledge about the history of places and events that took place on the landscapes in which they reside.

    References Cited

    Biesele, Megan and Steve Barclay. 2001. Ju/’hoan Women’s Tracking Knowledge and Its Contribution to Their Husband’s Hunting Success. In African Hunter-Gatherers: Persisting Cultures and Contemporary Problems, J. Tanaka, M. Ichikawa, and D. Kimura, eds. African Study Monographs, Supplementary Issue 26:67-84.

    Liebenberg, Louis. 2001. The Art of Tracking: The Origin of Science. Cape Town: David Philip.

    Marks, Stuart A. 1976. Large Mammals and a Brave People: Subsistence Hunters in Zambia. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press.

  • Derrick Muwina

    Stuart has excellently captured some of the controversies that surround conservation of wildlife in Africa. Rosaleen Duffy argued persuasively in “Killing for Conservation” that environmental movements outside Africa have largely driven the conservation agenda on the African continent. It seems therefore that conservations policies in their present form in most African countries are not locally developed but thrust upon African government to serve the global North’s environmental agenda. While I would love to comment on the role of the global North in Africa’s conservation policies and African government’s responsibility, I wish to draw attention to Stuarts’ translation of Ifilingwa waleza since this has implications on our understanding of Bisa worldview.

    Stuart translates ifilingwa waleza as “God’s gifts” suggesting a utilitarian and anthropocentric African view of nature. However, in my understanding the best rendering should be “created by God” Ifilingwa means created not “gift”. The Bemba and Tonga use a similar term. In Tonga hilengwa Leza and in Bemba, iflilengwa Lesa refers to the natural world and things beyond the explainable. Ukulenga in Bemba is to create, to cause, to bring into being. An old Tonga song has the line wakalenga masamu, in praise of Leza, the Tonga term for God as “the one who created trees.” It is a term used to explain broadly the origin of things especially animals, plants, rivers and used to explain away occurrences that defy the natural or “freaks of nature.” Thus, this term is not limited to the animal world but applicable to humans as well such as Albinos or people born with deformities. The Tonga use great caution when approaching hilengwa Leza and often leave them untouched for fear that doing so would create cosmological imbalance. The notion then, that this term means “God’s gift,” supporting an anthropocentric view seems misplaced. However, the article highlights the environmental challenges in Africa.

  • I.P.A. Manning

    As Stuart has done for so long, I too question the alienation of customary land by profit seekers, or planners: 1) to national park status where the former land owners receive none of the benefits promised by the state in exchange for the land, or 2) to Game Management Area status where the Government, by making dubious statutory claims, obtains rents from the hunting of wildlife and from the sale of tourism leases on land which is customary land, paying little for it and unable at the same time to conserve adequately the natural resources or to deliver benefits to the villagers, and 3) the alienation of large tracts of customary land to 99 year renewable leasehold.

    The view that conservation and development can and must be apolitical in objective and method must be challenged.

  • This is not at all my area of expertise, and I have found the conversation fascinating and enlightening (and of course disturbing). If I may just mention one passage in Marks’ original statement that links to my own special interest in ethics and meta-ethics:

    no “nature” exists outside the morality of the human community, for reciprocal obligations extend outward from the village embracing other forms of life as well as spirits. The bush becomes responsive and responsible to residents as their ancestral spirits reside there as former embodiments of the current community. Causality embedded in moral principles and human intentionality are the bedrock explanations for why “good” and “bad” things happen; the latter might happen even to “good” or innocent people because someone, somewhere has violated ethical expectations and norms. The “how” and the “why” questions of life are often embedded in the same search.

    One possible reading of this is that moral concern is taken to be both “reciprocal” and “human.” In other words, there is no nature/human divide because all of it is human, encompassing human ancestors, etc.; and there is no community/other divide because all belong to one community.

    But this runs counter to two (other) common conceptions of moral regard as (1) incumbent on an agent regardless of the “patient’s” mutual capacities (children, the relatively incompetent, disadvantaged, or powerless) and (2) directed at others even if they are conceived as “radically” different (human strangers, other species).

    But I am not sure that my reading of the passage was what was intended … maybe even the opposite. Clarification or comment would be appreciated.

  • Joshua Garoon

    I’ve just had the pleasure of reading Stuart Marks’ essay and the varied responses to it today, and my only regret is that I’m late in joining the conversation. I hope I’m not too late, and that this terrific exchange still has legs.

    A brief note by way of background: my recent research investigates health effects of CBNRM implementation in a Game Management Area (GMA) on the western border of North Luangwa National Park – a GMA historically populated by Bisa. Over the last few years, I’ve had the great fortune of getting Stuart’s feedback on my project. His innovative work has been an inspiration, and I’m happy to have the chance to discuss it here (though as other respondents have noted above, I can’t possibly do it justice in a few hundred words).

    A number of the responses to Stuart’s essay have focused on frequently challenged divisions, such as those between “human” and “nature” and “wild” and “modern.” I’d like to focus on another trope that’s emerged, one often employed in demarcating the physical and social geographies of the Luangwa Valley: the dichotomy between “inside” and “outside” knowledge and actions.

    Critiques of models like CBNRM often draw this boundary, particularly with reference to the ways in which “expert” or “scientific” knowledge is “imposed” on residents of places like the Munyamadzi. Such critiques often portray these discourses and practices as impenetrable and unalterable, especially from the perspectives of residents. At the same time, these arguments tend to circumscribe the mobility of people, things, and ideas.

    There’s no doubt that a lot of imposition and circumscription is going on in Zambian GMAs. The Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) has (as Stuart’s richly illustrated in his work) taken a hard line on “poaching,” defined as the illegal hunting of wildlife. Zambian wildlife policing too often relies on coercive investigations, abusive interrogations, and extrajudicial punishments.

    I argue that these often draconian enforcement efforts, coupled with the introduction of CBNRM, have fostered “poaching” of another sort. This is the “poaching” that occurs between humans and other humans, as they compete for the resources that CBNRM implementation (alongside other processes) has made available. While this “poaching” is not always illegal, or even illicit, it does involve various impingements on and infringements of property claimed by others. These daily occurrences instantiate Michel de Certeau’s observation that “everyday life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others.”

    GMA residents are constantly maneuvering to secure resources, hoping not just to survive, but also to thrive in an environment that constantly shifts in response to their efforts. Such maneuvers certainly include residents’ movements in and out of physical localities: Valley and Plateau, village and town, upcountry and capital. But they also encompass people’s navigation of shifting social spaces, delineated by their ideas and experiences of kin, kith, and community. And these ideas and experiences are themselves in continual flux.

    As a result, we should bring a critical eye to analyses that present the discourses and practices of CBNRM as fixed in time or place, or as unresponsive to the competing – or, importantly, collaborative – discourses and practices of the people on whom we often assume CBNRM is unilaterally “imposed.”

    While GMA residents are almost always playing with a decked stacked heavily against them, they are certainly capable of taking (by playing) a trick or two. Figuring out how these dynamics unfold is vital to understanding how conservation and development efforts are changing the practice of everyday life not just in Zambia, but globally.

  • In answer to the questions by J. MARKS and MUWINA, I confess to struggling with the translations of my experiences, observations and conversations with “others” into English modes and work to choose the appropriate words to convey their respective meanings. Since the mid-1990s, I have found that many Bisa also struggle to provide answers to the many unprecedented puzzles in their lives (identities and welfare) as well as to my inquiries. These difficulties might be one of the reasons why so many of them have flocked to the reassuring answers and potential resources of the Pentecostal churches. I am not sure how to answer or to entertain J. Marks’ ethical question about my attempt to summarize a different worldview other than maybe it won’t fit his categories or definitions. Five decades encompasses a range of intermittent observations and I still grapple with trying to assimilate the effects of the recent mass conversions.

    Bisa explanations to the why questions of life often occur after consultation with elders or with those with similar experiences. In 1973, I was present when an elderly man told of his mauling by a lion. The encounter occurred as he was warming himself by a fire outside his field hut; the deep claws marks were clearly visible on his back and chest. When asked what might have brought on this attack, he demurred and said that he would wait “respectively,” for that revelation would come in time. Subsequent information, including that a lion had previously killed his “sister” and that the game scouts were stymied in following the lion’s spoor, confirmed that this was no “ordinary lion” but one “sent by a sorcerer” (nkalamo yakutuma). These combined with other events fingered an aberrant relative as the likely sorcerer, who eventually consented and repented as lives, with retained memories, resumed.

    Lions continue to maul occasional humans, one of the last being a scout in May 2005. In recounting his story, this scout never claimed it as a “sent lion” (how could he without losing face?), but several of his acquaintances gave plausible theories as to who might have controlled and sent this lion in retaliation. The scout’s main puzzlement was why this lion had attacked him while he was sleeping in the bush surrounded by other members of a larger poacher patrol unit, then stalked and followed him as he went through several wildlife camps in subsequent days, before finally breaking down the door and cornering him in his own household. Another scout shot this aged lioness as she was atop her victim with her worn teeth and emaciated jaws surrounding his head. (Yes, I saw the indents of its teeth.)

    I appreciate MUWINA’s contribution about the dilemmas of translating terms and the ways these idioms may be used by local speakers. When I asked residents about their meanings of “ifilingwa waLeza” several gave their meanings as Muwina notes, “created by God.” Yet in my conversations with a past chair of the Munyamadzi Community Resources Board (CRB), he said that the term meant “created by God” and extended that by including the idea that these were “God’s gifts.” The idea of “gift” implies reciprocity and a relationship; a connection which, with my writer’s license, I was hoping to convey in the conciseness of my paper.

    ANNEAR asks about the “emic forms of social expressions” and what they might mean, if anything, to the “uncomprehending outsider.” Here’s a recent incident that suggests a prospective role. In 2004, safari hunters apprehended several villagers and their dogs in hot pursuit of game. The offenders were brought before the CRB and the wildlife scouts, where, together with safari operators, a decision was made that dogs in that vicinity were too plentiful and must be killed (“cropped”). The following year after the villagers were notified of this unilateral decision, the scouts, supplied with fuel and ammo by the safari firm, allegedly killed 63 dogs. This incident caused such an outrage that the local safari manager agreed to pay over one million kwacha (about $250) of compensation to their owners. The manager gave this sum to the wildlife Unit Leader to dispense to the dead dogs’ owners, each amount depending on the size of the dead dog. In 2006, the manager and villagers complained to me that the Unit Leader had “eaten” (or “trousered” — both local expressions) those funds; and no one, for varied reasons, seemed willing to bring him to book. None of the dead dogs’ names appeared on my list in the paper, yet the meaning of some of the survivors’ names reflects this incursion.

    I greatly appreciate GAROON’s insightful extension of the British idiom of “poaching,” as it helps to explain many activities that take place as residents seek out and exploit opportunistically chances to experience the “good life” (“goot milile”) as they appear. In this, the Unit Leader was onto something that many others seemed begrudgingly to respect.

    I wish to thank all respondents for their contributions.