Supernatural plays key role in forest use
CIFOR blog, 11 January 2012

BOGOR, INDONESIA: The power of supernatural beliefs to influence sustainable forest use in indigenous communities should be considered in  land management strategies, says a recent study by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Center for International Research in Agronomy and Development (CIRAD). “The fact is that for many communities, supernatural agencies are realities,” said CIFOR post-doc research fellow Masatoshi Sasaoka who, together with CIRAD scientist Yves Laumonier, studied the belief system of indigenous peoples in the Seram Island forest in eastern Indonesia and how it related to their use of natural resources. “Many indigenous resource management practices are closely related to their view of the supernatural world. If this is overlooked in new management strategies, and the role of the local people’s belief in the supernatural is under-evaluated, then the self-direction of local people in resource management can be depressed, and local institutions which could contribute to sustainable and socially equitable resource use can be lost.” The CIFOR study highlights how forest management and supernatural beliefs are linked in an upland forest community of around 320 people in central Seram, where cuscus (a tree marsupial), wild boar and timor deer make up 90 percent of the wild animal food resources consumed by villagers for protein. The villagers have divided the primary forest into more than 250 forest lots for hunting. When the number of animals decreases in a lot, the owners impose a temporary prohibition on hunting there, seli kaitahu, asking the forest spirits and ancestors to restore the game population. The only enforcement of seli kaitahu is the underlying belief that violation of the prohibition brings misfortune upon a violator and their family from forest spirits and ancestors. Infringements on seli kaitahu are rare, showing that people’s ideas about supernatural agencies and their powers still strongly influence the forest resource use mechanisms set in place. And because belief helps the people give supernatural explanations to misfortunes that befall them, the power of supernatural agents to keep these forest management laws is repeatedly reinforced. Read the blog post, including link to research …

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