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Pluto Press
Landscape, Memory and History: Anthropological Perspectives

Landscape, Memory and History: Anthropological Perspectives

by Pamela J. Stewart, Andrew Strathern
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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745319674
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 05/20/2003
Series: Anthropology, Culture and Society
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.46(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Both editors are at the Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh, USA: Dr Pamela J. Stewart is Research Associate in Anthropology and Dr Andrew Strathern is Mellon Professor of Anthropology.

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Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern

The topic of landscape has recently come more to the fore in anthropological interests. Ethnographers have realised from their field experiences how perceptions of and values attached to landscape encode values and fix memories to places that become sites of historical identity. Such perceptions shift, either gradually or dramatically, over time, so that landscape becomes a form of codification of history itself, seen from the viewpoints of personal expression and experience. This notion has proved particularly fruitful as a focus for work in parts of the world where social and cultural anthropology have had to make their way alongside history, sociology and politics. At the same time the concept of landscape has proved strategic for interpreting materials from many parts of the world.

In this collection of papers we highlight the significance of this topic for studies of identity. Thus, the materials here look at particular individuals, emplaced within a physical environment, who interact with others within their social environment through their remembered and imaginary experiences. These expressions of identity are not reified or locked in time but are historically positioned in the dynamics of temporal space. The generalised applicability of this approach is evident from the range of geographical locations included in this volume: Scotland, Ireland, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Australia, the Solomon Islands and Jamaica. One of the common tropes of ethnographic enquiry has always been that of 'setting'. The beginning chapters of most ethnographic treatises lay out the place in which the research was conducted and the temporal location of the study. But one of the criticisms of some ethnographic studies has been a lack of historicity in representation and of details on the intersubjectivity of the peoples being discussed. The authors here use history and memory to explore the economic, political and social events that impact perceived visions of landscape and the perceived placement of people within these settings.

In terms of identity, our view is that two crucial elements are at work: notions of memory and notions of place. Together these occupy a conceptual space analogous to that which community once held in the social anthropology of some societies. Memory and place, via landscape (including seascape), can be seen as crucial transducers whereby the local, national and global are brought into mutual alignment; or as providing sites where conflicts between these influences are played out. Such a theoretical scheme can also be seen as providing an alternative way of studying identity to the concentration on nationalism and national senses of identity as phenomena per se. It can help to re-establish a sphere of studies for social anthropology that would integrate aspects of earlier community-based approaches with approaches that emphasise political change, citizenship, national identity, historical influences, and similar broad factors.

Landscapes are also dramatically changed from time to time not only by urban planning, roads and factories but also by the wide-scale epidemics that affect farming, such as the spread of foot and mouth disease in the UK and elsewhere. These epidemiological disasters pose a challenge to understanding the experience of farmers and others who value the countryside in different ways (e.g. tourists who often come to rural farming areas in places like Scotland simply to see the farming landscape with its varied hues, odours, livestock and topography). The project that we pursue here should help to bring out a better understanding of the intertwining aspects of landscape, memory and history in ethnographic presentation and make readers in general aware of its significance.

The materials presented here explore the topic of landscape, memory and history in greater depth and in a broader geographical range than has previously been done. A strong emphasis on changing perceptions of history as expressed in ideas about landscape is central to this project, taking landscape in the broad senses laid out in the volumes edited by Hirsch and O'Hanlon (1995), Bender (1993), and Bender and Winer (2001). This involves the examination of landscape as seen initially by the viewer and 'a second landscape which is produced through local practice and which we come to recognise and understand through fieldwork and through ethnographic description and interpretation' (Hirsch 1995: 2).

The word 'landscape' was introduced into English as a technical term of painters (cf. Oxford English Dictionary). Thus, taken as a term to describe the artistic presentation of a scene, it can well be applied to the creative and imaginative ways in which people place themselves within their environments. No two people will paint the same landscape since no two people will mentally see the same images or be able to technically reproduce the seen images at the same level of expertise. Cultural knowledge gained from living within a social landscape determines the pictures that people construct. Ethnographers struggle to interpret the information given to them in terms of these verbal pictures.

One of the main ideas here is to incorporate history into these trends, and so to endow them with temporal depth and subjectivity. This project of incorporating history into our discussion gives strength to our perspective, in part differentiating it from previous work done on the topic. We see history as involved continuously in the making and remaking of ideas about place, realigning or differentiating place in relation to notions of community. Essentially, we argue that landscape provides a wider context in which notions about place and community can be situated. This context crucially includes historically defined power relations and how these are both imposed and resisted at local levels (see Head 2000 for examples from Australia).

The sense of place and embeddedness within local, mythical, and ritual landscapes is important. These senses of place serve as pegs on which people hang memories, construct meanings from events, and establish ritual and religious arenas of action. Veronica Strang has described 'cosmological landscapes' in her prior writing on Australian Aboriginal peoples and Australian White farmers in Northern Queensland (1997). Simon Schama (1995) has explored what we might call an 'environmental landscape' that connects human and spirit dwelling places, including forests, mountains, rivers and streams. He looked at the topic of landscape and memory as expressed in artistic representations in paintings from certain parts of Western Europe and North America, focusing on what these images might tell us about the societies in which these individual artists were working. This is one way in which material culture can be used to represent meanings of landscape.

Two regions in which we ourselves have been interested to explore this topic are in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea (Stewart and Strathern 2000, 2002a) and in the Lowlands of Scotland (Strathern and Stewart 2001). In both of these regions we have shown the ways in which people manifest their local, and in some instances their national, senses of self-recognition and social identity. Folktales, myths, oral histories, ballads, ritual incantations and ordinary stories of daily life all invoke in real or imagined detail the spatial positionings of a community of people. Our research in Ayrshire, Scotland, has shown, among other things, how places with historical significance can be appropriated through their perceived cultural heritage status so as to strengthen political identities. Likewise, our work among the Duna people of PapuaNew Guinea has demonstrated how malu (genealogical narratives) identify groups of people with specific parts of the local area and that this knowledge of emplacement can be a strong tool in battles over compensation claims when outside companies come into the region to extract natural resources (e.g. oil).

While we see the concepts of place, community and landscape as intersecting or overlapping, we do not regard them as synonyms. The idea of landscape gives us a meaningful context into which we can set notions of place and community, but we need to give these concepts definitions that at least partially separate them. In our view landscape refers to the perceived settings that frame people's senses of place and community. A place is a socially meaningful and identifiable space to which a historical dimension is attributed. Community refers to sets of people who may identify themselves with a place or places in terms of notions of commonality, shared values or solidarity in particular contexts. Landscape is thus a contextual horizon of perceptions, providing both a foreground and a background in which people feel themselves to be living in their world. While we may tend to think of this in rural terms or as an aspect of 'nature' it may apply equally to urban and rural sites because they are all equally moulded by human actions and/or by human perceptions. It is such acts of moulding that give to landscape its character of being a process that Hirsch refers to (Hirsch 1995: 5). It is a process because its shape at any given time reflects change and is a part of change. Nevertheless it often serves as a crucial marker of continuity with the past as well as a reassurance of identity in the present and a promise for the future. Ideas about landscape often turn time into space or express time through space, as happens for example in New Guinea origin stories that describe pathways of migration taken by group ancestors to their historical locations (Stewart and Strathern 2001a).

The idea of landscape, then, both modifies ideas about place and community and may be called on to support or enrich them. It also grants a flexibility to concepts of identity and belonging as forged through individual historical experience. This point may help to reconcile two seemingly contradictory approaches or emphases in the study of place seen as 'home'. In one approach home and place are considered to be fixed points, while in the other the stress is on movement through points, in which travel itself provides the feeling of being 'at home' (see Rapport and Dawson 1998). While we can accept that either notion could form the basis of a sense of belonging, since belonging is essentially an idea and ideas are plastic, we can also suggest that persons travel with their own inner landscapes. They remember particular places through images of how they looked and what it felt like to be there; or they develop such images through photographs, films, or narratives from others. What they are remembering or creating here are landscapes, to which they have a connection; and such landscapes can travel with people, giving them a sense of 'home' when they are not 'at home'. The person who stays in one place may not see that place as 'home'. The person who travels may carry 'home' around as a tangible point in fluidity. Home may also be multiple: it need not be just one place, but numbers of places that show correspondences of association, landscapes that have relationships attached to them. While there may literally be some people for whom travel itself provides a sense of continuity, for other people the experience of travel coexists with senses of identity that are in counterpoint with it, and our argument here is that those senses of identity are often most forcibly tied up with senses of landscape, of how a place appears as an ordered form of environment within which place and community are perceived.

The sense of community that is established through emplacement encompasses both the living and the dead as well as the spirit world. For example, among the Duna people of the Aluni Valley in the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea the non-corporeal part of a human body (the 'soul', tini) is thought to reside in limestone shelters in the forested areas around the settlements after a person dies. The non-skeletal substance of the human body is said to be reabsorbed by the local ground (rindi) and is thought to replenish the fertility of the place in general. In the past the bones of the deceased were bundled and placed into limestone ossuaries, providing a 'home' for the person's tini. The tini is encouraged to depart to these ossuaries at funerals and afterwards at grave sites by mourning songs that women specialise in singing. These laments invoke local place names and describe familiar landscape features that serve to place the dead firmly within the environmental and community framework of the group while serving the equally strong function of embedding the singer within her social nexus. We refer to this as the 'embodiment of landscape'. This concept is one that is vital in understanding the phenomenology of emplacement. In these Duna songs the tini is often evocatively animated through a parallelism with birds.

My daughter, like a ribbon-tail bird,
As demonstrated by Duna mourning songs, an important aspect of how landscapes gain their meanings has to do with naming. The names of locations within areas record the forms of human experience that have occurred within them. Such names may also provide a kind of archaeology of meanings, recording aspects of history that may otherwise be forgotten, or environmental features that are no longer there. From our experience in Papua New Guinea, this is one of the strikingly abundant ways in which people see and negotiate their relationship with the environment itself, and their perception goes well beyond the boundaries of their own small place or community, while within such a place their knowledge is likely to be more detailed. For example, in the Hagen area, in the Western Highlands Province, a given clan area is exhaustively divided into small locality names identified with garden spots, pathways, past battle sites and other locales where events make up a maze of local history. Those who know these names best are most able to handle disputes regarding access to land. They also know how the names appear in songs that commemorate emotive aspects of history (see Stewart and Strathern 2002b). Ongka, of the Kawelka group in Hagen, had such a knowledge of songs relating to pre-colonial times of fighting between groups, including songs reportedly sung by leaders among the enemies of his group, or songs made against such leaders by his own people, which gave an emotive and epic dimension to the politics of conflict. One song by Ongka's mother's people, the Kawelka Kundmbo, describes how an enemy, Tape of the place Komapana, went to hide in the hills of Mokla, and they came to muster at a lookout point called Ekit Kuk 'with big black plumes in a bamboo tube', ready to pursue him if necessary (Strathern and Stewart 1999: 122). The plumes in the song are of the mek bird, the Astrapia stephaniae, Princess Stephanie's Bird of Paradise (Beehler et al. 1986: 228), used both as a striking part of ceremonial headdresses and to adorn the tops of war shields. When not immediately in use these plumes might be carefully stored in long bamboo tubes. The clansmen in the song picture themselves as holding their plumes in latent readiness for wear as they contemplate the territory, including Komapana and Mokla, into which their enemy had for the time being fled. This enemy would also be lying in wait to make his return. The name Ekit Kuk means 'the place of flowers where one emerges'. It is a striking high point in a clearing from which the land dips sharply to the south, clad in forest beech trees, down to a valley and then rises again in another set of hills on which grasslands and gardens intermix with forest, framed further away by the massive flanks of the Mount Hagen mountain range (a similar view appears on the back cover of our book Arrow Talk: Transaction, Transition, and Contradiction in New Guinea Highlands History, Strathern and Stewart 2000a). Ekit Kuk is just at the intersection between Kawelka territory and the land of the Minembi, a more populous and powerful group whose members have in the past been largely traditional enemies of the Kawelka. A colonially constructed road runs through it and down to Minembi territory. In the mid-1980s, many years after the time of the Kawelka song about Komapana Tape, a Christian cross was set up at Ekit Kuk marking a truce between the Kawelka and the Minembi following renewed fighting between them, this time with guns (Strathern 1992, 1993; Strathern and Stewart 2000a). Mention of the name Ekit Kuk can trigger powerful memories in people. Its position in the landscape lends intensity to the meaning of the song. Fifty such named places appear in the index of Ongka's life narrative, representing just a selection of the names he probably knew and held in his mind's eye as a part of his life (see Strathern and Stewart 1999).


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Copyright © 2003 Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern.
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Table of Contents

1. Introduction; Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern
2. Iconic Images: Landscape and History in the Local Poetry of the Scottish Borders; JohnGray
3. Ceide Fields: Natural Histories of a Buried Landscape; Stuart McLean
4. Landscape Representations: Place and Identity in the Nineteenth Century Ordnance Survey Maps of Ireland; Angele Smith
5. Memories of Ancestry in the Forests of Madagascar; Janice Harper
6. Moon Shadows: Aboriginal and European Heroes in an Australian Landscape; Veronica Strang
7.History, Mobility and Land Use Interests of Aborigines and Farmers in the East Kimberly in North-West Australia; Ruth Lane
8. Co-present Landscapes: Routes and Rootedness as Sources of Identity in Highlands New Guinea; Michael O'Hanlon and Linda Frankland
9. Island Builders: Landscape and Historicity among the Langalanga, Solomon Islands; Pei-yi Guo
10. Biography, Ecology, Political Economy: Seascape and Conflict in Jamaica; James G. Carrier
Epilogue; Andrew Strathern and Pamela J. Stewart

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