Problematizing Ideas of Purity and Timelessness in the Conservation Narratives of Sacred Groves in Xishuangbanna, China
Keywords:sacred groves, conservation, traditional ecological knowledge, Xishuangbanna, ethnic minorities, political ecology
The recent promotion of sacred groves in conservation often assumes four problematic narratives of nature and culture based on ideas of purity and timelessness: (1) sacred groves are remnants of pristine forests; (2) nature is made sacred through the absence of human activity; (3) sacred groves are a-historical; and (4) sacred groves are removed from modernity. I problematize these narratives using ethnographic analyses of sacred groves protected by ethnic minority Dai communities in Xishuangbanna, a region containing China's richest biodiversity. I argue that the nature-culture divide inherent in conservation literature poorly describes sacred groves, which are dynamic entities integrated into modern Dai communities. Moreover, I contend that these narratives persist because they are deployed for political agendas by various outside actors (e.g., government, conservationists, tourism developers) and occasionally by Dai communities themselves during the co-production of landscapes, livelihoods, and identity corresponding to times of rapid transformation in a modern world.
Baker, Lauren, Michael R. Dove, Dana Graef, Alder Keleman, David Kneas, Sarah Osterhoudt, and Jeffrey Stoike. 2013. ‘Whose Diversity Counts? The Politics and Paradoxes of Modern Diversity’, Sustainability 5.6: 2495-2518. Doi: https://doi.org/10.3390/su5062495.
Balée, William. 2013. Cultural Forests of the Amazon: A Historical Ecology of People and Their Landscapes (Tuscaloosa, AL: University Alabama Press).
Bhagwat, Shonil A., Sandra Nogué, and Katherine J. Willis. 2014. ‘Cultural Drivers of Reforestation in Tropical Forest Groves of the Western Ghats of India’, Forest Ecology and Management 329.1: 393-400. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2013.11.017.
Bhagwat, Shonil A., and Claudia Rutte. 2006. ‘Sacred Groves: Potential for Biodiversity Management’, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 4.10: 519-24. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1890/1540-9295(2006)4[519:SGPFBM]2.0.CO;2.
Brockington, Dan. 2002. Fortress Conservation: The Preservation of the Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press).
Campbell, Michael O Neal. 2005. ‘Sacred Groves for Forest Conservation in Ghana’s Coastal Savannas: Assessing Ecological and Social Dimensions’, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 26.2: 151-69. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0129-7619.2005.00211.x.
Cao, Min, and Jianhou Zhang. 1997. ‘Tree Species Diversity of Tropical Forest Vegetation in Xishuangbanna, SW China’, Biodiversity and Conservation 6.7: 995-1006. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1018367630923.
Charbonnier, G., ed. 1969. Conversations with Claude Lévi-Strauss (London: Cape Editions).
Chun, Zhang. 2015. ‘China’s New Blueprint for an “Ecological Civilization”—China Wants Local Of?cials to Stop Ignoring the Environment in Favor of the Economy’, The Diplomat. September 30. Online: http://thediplomat.com/2015/09/chinas-new-blueprint-for-an-ecological-civilization/.
Cronon, William. 1995. ‘The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature’, Environmental History 1.1: 7-28. Doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/3985059.
Davis, Sara L.M. 2003. ‘Premodern Flows in Postmodern China: Globalization and the Sipsongpanna Tais’, Modern China 29.2: 176-203. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0097700402250738.
Davis, Sara L.M. 2005. Song and Silence?: Ethnic Revival on China’s Southwest Borders (New York: Columbia University Press). Doi: https://doi.org/10.7312/davi13526.
de Jong, Wil. 1995. ‘Recreating the Forest: Successful Examples of Ethnoconservation among Dayak Groups in Central West Kalimantan’, in Ø. Sandbukt (ed.), Management of Tropical Forests: Towards an Integrated Perspective (Oslo: Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo): 295-304.
Douglas, Mary. 1966. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge). Doi: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203361832.
Dove, Michael R., Percy E. Sajise, and Amity A. Doolittle (eds.). 2011. Beyond the Sacred Forest: Complicating Conservation in Southeast Asia (Durham, NC: Duke University Press). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822393078.
Dudley, Nigel, Liza Higgins-Zogib, and Stephanie Mansourian. 2009. ‘The Links between Protected Areas, Faiths, and Sacred Natural Sites’, Conservation Biology 23.3: 568-77. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2009.01201.x.
Durkheim, Émile. 1912. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (London: George Allen & Unwin).
Eliade, Mircea. 1959. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World).
Fabian, Johannes. 1983. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia University Press).
Frazer, James George. 1890. The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion (London: MacMillan & Co.).
Gao, Lishi. 2010. A Study of the ‘Long Forest’ Culture of the Dai People (Kunming: Yunnan Minzu Publisher).
Gladney, Dru C. 2004. Dislocating China: Muslims, Minorities, and Other Subaltern Subjects (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
Goldman, Mara L., Paul Nadasdy, and Matthew D. Turner. 2011. Knowing Nature: Conversations at the Intersection of Political Ecology and Science Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
Guo, Xianming, Zhengbin Yang, Lanxin Wang, Jianwei Zhao, Zhengyang Yao, and Zhiyong Song. 2014. ‘Status Quo and Major Causes of Traditional Sacred Natural Sites in Xishuangbanna Prefecture’, Agricultural Sciences & Technology 15.9: 1558-61.
Hall, Stuart. 1990. ‘Cultural Identity and Diaspora’, in J. Rutherford (ed.), Identity: Community, Culture, and Difference (London: Lawrence & Wishart): 222-37.
Hammond, Jim, Zhuangfang Yi, Timothy McLellan, and Jiawen Zhao. 2015. ‘Situational Analysis Report?: Xishuangbanna Autonomous Dai Prefecture Yunnan , China Situational Analysis Report?: Xishuangbanna Autonomous Dai Prefecture Yunnan, China’, in ICRAF Working Paper 194 (Kunming: World Agroforestry Centre East and Central Asia).
Hathaway, Michael J. 2013. Environmental Winds: Making the Global in Southwest China (Berkeley: University of California Press). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520276192.001.0001.
Hillman, Ben. 2004. ‘The Rise of the Community in Rural China: Village Politics, Cultural Identity and Religious Revival in a Hui Hamlet’, The China Journal 51: 53-73. Doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/3182146.
Hobsbawm, Eric. 1983. The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Igoe, Jim. 2004. Conservation and Globalization: A Study of National Parks and Indigenous Communities from East Africa to South Dakota (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing).
Kangah-Kesse, L., D. Attuquaye?o, E. Owusu, and F. Gbogbo. 1997. ‘Bird Species Diversity and Abundance in the Abiriw Sacred Grove in the Eastern Region of Ghana’, West African Journal of Applied Ecology 11.1: 38-44.
Kent, Eliza F. 2013. Sacred Groves and Local Gods: Religion and Environmentalism in South India (New York: Oxford University Press). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199895465.001.0001.
Khan, M.L., A.D. Khumbongmayum, and R.S. Tripathi. 2008. ‘The Sacred Groves and Their Signi?cance in Conserving Biodiversity an Overview’, International Journal of Ecology and Environmental Sciences 34.3: 277-91.
Lee, Cathy, and Thomas Schaaf (eds.). 2003. Proceedings of the International Workshop on the Importance of Sacred Natural Sites for Biodiversity Conservation (Paris: United Nations Educational, Scienti?c and Cultural Organization).
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1966. The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
Li, Hongmei, T. Mitchell Aide, Youxin Ma, Wenjun Liu, and Min Cao. 2007. ‘Demand for Rubber Is Causing the Loss of High Diversity Rain Forest in SW China’, Biodiversity and Conservation 16.6: 1731-45. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-6444-9_11.
Li, Tania Murray. 2000. ‘Articulating Indigenous Identity in Indonesia: Resource Politics and the Tribal Slot’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 42.1: 149-79. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0010417500002632.
Liu, Hongmao, Zaifu Xu, Youkai Xu, and Jinxiu Wang. 2002. ‘Practice of Conserving Plant Diversity through Traditional Beliefs: A Case Study in Xishuangbanna, Southwest China’, Biodiversity and Conservation 11.4: 705-13. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1015532230442.
MacInnis, Donald E. 1972. Religious Policy and Practice in Communist China: A Documentary History (Basingstoke: MacMillan).
Mann, Charles C. 2005. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus (New York: Alfred A. Knopf).
Mclachlan, Jason S, David R. Foster, and Fabian Menalled. 2000. ‘Anthropogenic Ties to Late-Successional Structure and Composition in Four New England Hemlock Stands’, Ecology 81.3: 717-33. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1890/0012-9658(2000)081[0717:ATTLSS]2.0.CO;2.
Mitchell, Timothy. 2002. Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-politics, Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press).
Mueggler, Erik. 2011. The Paper Road: Archive and Experience in the Botanical Exploration of West China and Tibet (Berkeley: University of California Press).
Nadasdy, Paul. 1999. ‘The Politics of TEK: Power and the “Integration” of Knowledge’, Arctic Anthropology 36.1/2: 1-18.
Neumann, Roderick P. 1998. Imposing Wilderness: Struggles over Livelihood and Nature Preservation in Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press).
Nimachow, Gibji, R.C. Joshi, and Oyi Dai. 2011. ‘Role of Indigenous Knowledge System in Conservation of Forest Resources: A Case Study of the Aka Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh’, Indian Journal of Traditional 10.2: 276-80.
Ormsby, Alison A., and Shonil A. Bhagwat. 2010. ‘Sacred Forests of India: A Strong Tradition of Community-Based Natural Resource Management’, Environmental Conservation 37.3: 320-26. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0376892910000561.
Pei, Shengji. 1985. ‘Preliminary Study of Ethnobotany in Xishuang Banna, People’s Republic of China’, Journal of Ethnopharmacology 13.2: 121-37. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/0378-8741(85)90001-7.
Pei, Shengji. 1993. ‘Managing for Biological Diversity in Temple Yards and Holy Hills: The Traditional Practices of the Xishuangbanna Dai Community, Southwestern China’, in L.S. Hamilton and H.F. Takeuchi (eds.), Ethics, Religion, and Biodiversity: Relations between Conservation and Cultural Values (Cambridge: White Horse Press): 112-18.
Pei, Shengji. 2010. ‘The Road to the Future? The Biocultural Values of the Holy Hill Forests of Yunnan Province, China’, in B. Verschuuren (ed.), Sacred Natural Sites: Conserving Nature and Culture (Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge): 98-106.
Peters, Charles M. 2000. ‘Precolumbian Silviculture and Indigenous Management of Neotropical Forests’, in D.L. Lentz (ed.), Imperfect Balance: Landscape Transformations in the Precolumbian Americas (New York: Columbia University Press): 208-23. Doi: https://doi.org/10.7312/lent11156-011.
Pinedo-Vasquez, Miguel, and Christine Padoch. 1996. ‘Managing Forest Remnants and Forest Gardens in Peru and Indonesia’, in J. Schelhas and R.S. Greenberg (eds.), Forest Patches in Tropical Landscapes (Washington, DC: Island Press): 327-42.
Pungetti, Gloria, Gonzalo Oviedo, and Della Hooke. 2012. Sacred Species and Sites: Advances in Biocultural Conservation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Qiu, Jane. 2009. ‘Where the Rubber Meets the Garden’, Nature 457.7227: 246-47. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/457246a.
Ramachandran, Pavit. 2005. ‘Xishuangbanna Biodiversity Conservation Corridors Project, People’s Republic of China: Pilot Site Project Pro?le’ (Bangkok: Asian Development Bank).
Reuse, Gaetan. 2010. ‘Secularization of Sacred Space: An Analysis of Dai Farmers Planting Rubber Trees on Holy Hills in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, China’ (Master’s Thesis, Simon Fraser University).
Robbins, Paul, and Sarah A. Moore. 2013. ‘Ecological Anxiety Disorder: Diagnosing the Politics of the Anthropocene’, Cultural Geographies 20.1: 3-19. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1474474012469887.
Saxena, K.G., and U.M. Chandrashekara. 1998. Conserving the Sacred for Biodiversity Management (New Delhi: Oxford & IBH).
Scott, James C. 1999. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press).
Shapiro, Judith. 2001. Mao’s War against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511512063.
Sheridan, Michael J. 2009. ‘The Environmental of African Sacred Groves?: A Tanzanian Case Study’, African Studies Review 52.1: 73-98. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1353/arw.0.0149.
Singh, H., P. Agnihotri, P.C. Pande, and T. Husain. 2013. ‘Role of Traditional Knowledge in Conserving Biodiversity: A Case Study from Patal Bhuvneshwar Sacred Grove, Kumaon Himalaya, India’, Journal of Biodiversity Management and Forestry 2.2: 1-5. Doi: https://doi.org/10.4172/2327-4417.1000108.
Spence, Mark David. 1999. Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Sponsel, Leslie E. 2007. ‘Sacred Places and Biodiversity Conservation’, in C. Cleveland (ed.), Encyclopedia of Earth (Washington, DC: National Council for Science and the Environment, Environmental Information Coalition). Online: http://www.eoearth.org.
Sturgeon, Janet C., Nicholas Menzies, and Noah Schillo. 2014. ‘Ecological Governance of Rubber in Xishuangbanna, China’, Conservation and Society 12.4: 376-85. Doi: https://doi.org/10.4103/0972-4923.155581.
Sturgeon, Janet C., and Nicholas Menzies. 2006. ‘Ideological Landscapes: Rubber in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, 1950 to 2007’, Asian Geographer 25.1-2: 21-37. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/10225706.2006.9684131.
Sukumaran, Selvamony, Solomon Jeeva, Appavoo Deva Sobhana Raj, and Doraipandian Kannan. 2008. ‘Floristic Diversity, Conservation Status and Economic Value of Miniature Sacred Groves in Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu Southern Peninsular India’, Turkish Journal of Botany 32.3: 185-99.
Tansley, Arthur G. 1935. ‘The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms’, Ecology 16.3: 284-307. Doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/1930070.
van Gemerden, Barend S., Han Olff, Marc P.E. Parren, and Frans Bongers. 2003. ‘The Pristine Rain Forest? Remnants of Historical Human Impacts on Current Tree Species Composition and Diversity’, Journal of Biogeography 30.9: 1381-90. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2699.2003.00937.x.
Vartak, V.D., and M. Gadgil. 1981. ‘Studies on Sacred Groves along the Western Ghats from Maharashtra and Goa: Role of Beliefs and Folklores’, Glimpses of Indian Ethnobotany: 272-78.
Verschuuren, Bas. 2010. Sacred Natural Sites: Conserving Nature and Culture (Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge).
Wen, Tiejun, Kinchi Lau, Cunwang Cheng, Huili He, and Jiansheng Qiu. 2012. ‘Ecological Civilization, Indigenous Culture, and Rural Reconstruction in China’, Monthly Review 63.9: 29-35. Doi: https://doi.org/10.14452/MR-063-09-2012-02_2.
West, Paige. 2006. Conservation Is Our Government Now: The Politics of Ecology in Papua New Guinea (Durham, NC: Duke University Press). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822388067.
Whyte, Kyle Powys. 2013. ‘On the Role of Traditional Ecological Knowledge as a Collaborative Concept: A Philosophical Study’, Ecological Processes 2.1: 7.
Wilderness Act. 1964. Public Law 88-577 (16 U.S.C. 1131-1136), 88th Congress, Second Session. Online: https: www.wilderness.net/nwps/legisact.
Xu, Jianchu. 2006. ‘The Political, Social, and Ecological Transformation of a Landscape’, Mountain Research and Development 26.3: 254-62. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1659/0276-4741(2006)26[254:TPSAET]2.0.CO;2.
Xu, Jianchu, Erzi T. Ma, Duojie Tashi, Yongshou Fu, Zhi Lu, and David Melick. 2005. ‘Integrating Sacred Knowledge for Conservation Culture and Land Scape in Southwest China’, Ecology and Society 10.2: 7. Online: https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol10/iss2/art7/.
Yu, Kang. 2006. Traditional Culture and Life Practices of the Dai People in Xishuangbanna [???????????????] (Kunming: Yunnan Chuban Group Corporation [????????]).
Zeng, Lily. 2018. ‘Transformations of Indigenous Identity and Changing Meanings of Sacred Nature in Xishuangbanna, China’ (PhD dissertation, Yale University).
Zeng, Lily, Deepti Chatti, Chris Hebdon, and Michael R. Dove. 2017. ‘The Political Ecology of Knowledge and Ignorance’, Brown Journal of World Affairs 23.2: 159-76.
Zeng, Lily, and Gaetan Reuse. 2016. ‘Holy Hills: Sanctuaries of Biodiversity in Xishuangbanna, South West China’, in B. Verschuuren and N. Furuta (eds.), Asian Sacred Natural Sites: Philosophy and Practice in Protected Areas and Conservation (London: Routledge): 194-205.
Zhang, Jianhou, and Min Cao. 1995. ‘Tropical Forest Vegetation of Xishuangbanna, SW China and Its Secondary Changes, with Special Reference to Some Problems in Local Nature Conservation’, Biological Conservation 73.3: 229-38. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/0006-3207(94)00118-A.
Zhu, Depu. 1996. Dai Spirits Worship [????????] (Kunming: Yunnan Minzu Chuban She [???????]).
Zhu, H., H. Wang, and S.S. Zhou. 2010. ‘Species Diversity, Floristic Composition and Physiognomy Changes in a Rainforest Remnant in Southern Yunnan, China after 48 Years’, Journal of Tropical Forest Science 22.1: 49-66.
Zhu, H., Z.F. Xu, H. Wang, and B.G. Li. 2004. ‘Tropical Rain Forest Fragmentation and Its Ecological and Species Diversity Changes in Southern Yunnan’, Biodiversity and Conservation 13.7: 1355-72. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1023/B:BIOC.0000019397.98407.c3.
How to Cite
© Equinox Publishing Ltd.
For information regarding our Open Access policy, click here.