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The Banana Tree at the Gate: A History of Marginal Peoples and Global Markets in Borneo

Michael R. Dove

The "Hikayat Banjar," a seventeenth-century native court chronicle from Southeast Borneo, characterizes the irresistibility of natural resource wealth to outsiders as "the banana tree at the gate." Michael R. Dove employs this phrase as a root metaphor to frame the history of resource relations between the indigenous peoples of Borneo and the world system, standing on its head the prevailing view of resource-poor and economically marginal tropical forest dwellers.

In analyzing production and trade in forest products, pepper, and especially natural rubber, Dove shows that the involvement of Borneo's native peoples in commodity production for global markets is ancient and highly successful. This success is based on the development of a "dual" household economy, with distinct subsistence- and market-oriented sectors, which has historically made these "smallholders" extremely competitive with the large-scale, heavily capitalized, state-supported plantation sector. Dove sheds new light on the nature of smallholders and in particular their relationship with the global economic system. He demonstrates that processes of globalization began millennia ago and that they have been more diverse and less teleological than often thought. His analysis replaces the image of the isolated tropical forest community that needs to be helped into the global system with the reality of communities that have been so successful and competitive that they have had to fight political elites to keep from being forced out. The ubiquitous but historically inaccurate emphasis on isolation and resource-poverty disguises that the overweening characteristic of these communities is their political marginality and that their greatest want is not to be uplifted economically but to be empowered politically.

«[The] richness [of this book] comes from years of careful research and reflection.»
-Janet C. Sturgeon, author of Border Landscapes: The Politics of Akha Land Use in China and Thailand.

«This is a masterful summa of Dove's work. It will be required reading for environmental anthropologists and area specialists, and should command the attention of geographers and those interested in colonialism, globalization, and development as well.»
-Aletta Biersack, University of Oregon

«Michael Dove's historical ethnography of the Kantu Dayak in Borneo is far more than just a study of marginal peoples confronting new ways of doing things. Long awaited, this work breaks new ground in the study of markets and households, smallholders and globalization. A mediation on the making of power and materiality, community and sustainability, knowledges and representations, The Banana Tree at the Gate will become an instant classic.»
-Arun Agrawal, University of Michigan

«By placing the logic of small-scale farmers, forest-product collectors, and plantation workers at the center of his account, Dove is able to expose the mythmaking of the technical experts, and render it not just strange, but wholly unacceptable. This is engaged scholarship of stunning contemporary relevance, as global actors fixated on new riches such as oil-palm, or contracts to mitigate global warming, set out once again to lay claim to Borneo's landa and forests.»
-Tania Murray Li, author of The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics.

Michael R. DOVE is Margaret K. Musser Professor of Social Ecology in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; Professor in the Department of Anthropology; Co-Coordinator, Joint F&ES/Anthropology Doctoral Program; and Curator of Anthropology in the Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University.

publication year: 2012
351 pages
ISBN: 978-9971-69-617-7  Paperback  US$30.00  S$

Our edition is available only in East and Southeast Asia


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